Below is an op-ed that I have written for the Ham & High on Camden scrapping the full council debate on education and Labour eschewing responsibility for local services:
The Ham & High is a great newspaper – and very generous when asking for my views. They’ve never censored them or told me what to write. But for this piece, they told me one thing: “Don’t mention the election.” Sorry, I guess I just did – won’t happen again.
“Keep to local issues, not national politics.” And I’ve got to tell you – this was music to my ears.
In Camden Council, Conservative councillors have a policy of only discussing issues within the control of the council. Barnet Conservatives do the same. While other parties table motions on things the council has no control over, our motions are about tackling Hampstead’s appalling school run or improving Camden’s very low recycling rate.
After all, there are plenty of other people whose job is to discuss national policy – there are just 54 whose job it is to actually deliver for Camden. Our job is to keep our streets clean and safe, provide housing and social services, educate our children, and much more.
On that last point, Conservative councillors have pushed long and hard for Camden to debate the slide in Camden’s school standards compared to other boroughs. I was pleased that a debate had been organised to take place later at Monday’s council meeting
Shockingly, though, Camden’s administration then cancelled it. They said that it was not possible to discuss Camden’s falling school standards locally without trying to score political points nationally – which councils aren’t allowed to do before an election.
The Ham & High covered Camden’s falling education standards post-16 last month – with Camden’s state schools and colleges getting the lowest grades in London at age 18. Even excluding colleges, Camden’s state schools are in the bottom third of London boroughs at ages 14, 16, and 18.
This reverberates for generations, as Camden’s poor results lead to far worse life chances. A third as many Camden state school pupils go to a top university as do in state school pupils in Kensington & Chelsea and half as many do as in far more deprived Newham.
And even within Camden, it’s a tale of two cities. While at UCL Academy, a third of pupils go to a top university, the short walk down Adelaide Road to Haverstock School sees that number fall to less than one in twelve.
Meanwhile, more pupils in Camden go private than any other council in the country except Kensington & Chelsea. That’s despite Camden receiving the sixth-most schools funding per pupil of any local authority in the country. Indeed, including all areas of funding, Camden has the third-most of any local authority.
That’s a lot of stats all in one go, and I don’t blame you if your eyes have glazed over or moved to the erudite editorial opposite. But getting to grip with these facts and the details behind them is exactly what councillors should do and should have debated this week so we can tackle the problem.
It is a shame that it wasn’t debated, and it’s a shame that when I raised these falling standards on Monday anyway, the Cabinet member refused to believe what her own schools’ statistics say – because it would make her record look bad.
Whoever wins the election nationally – and I obviously hope it’s the Conservatives – the local council has a key job that must be done with a minimum of point scoring. When outcomes are so much worse locally in Camden than in neighbouring boroughs, councillors can’t just pass the buck and blame someone else.