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Malice in Blunderland

June 3, 2018 9:18 AM

Wiltshire Conservatives' vicious and unprovoked attack on the two Outdoor Education Centres used by the county's children was debated at the recent council meeting, as a result of which the administration agreed to do some consultation on their secretive decision to close the centres.

The decision was seen by many as malicious and unnecessary, with some dodgy destructive accounting being used to try to justify the move.

The Tories then had the nerve to put out a press release praising themselves for holding off on finalising the closures. Scroll to the depths to see that. First here's an article by Ian Thorne:

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Great example of "people power"

The success of the campaign run by Lucy Gomes to reverse the potential closure our County's two Outdoor Education Centres at Braeside and Oxenwood is a great example of "people power". I congratulate Lucy, all those who spoke in support of the petition she organised and presented to last week's full Wiltshire Council meeting and all 16,000 Wiltshire residents who signed it.

Thanks to you, Wiltshire Council had to debate the closure decision. As Lib Dem Group Leader I was able to amend the Cabinet's resolution on the Centres. My amendment called on the Cabinet to use their very best efforts to sustain the Centres and to give equal weight to their social value and not just the price they might fetch if sold.

It was quite clear that Lucy and many other residents were shocked by the Cabinet's closure decision. This was taken in‎meeting‎closed to the public and media alike. The decision gave little time for consultation with staff and groups that might want to take over these Centres. That error was compounded by the setting of a needlessly high bar of an "outline business case" being required from those thinking about taking on the Centres rather than a simple "declaration of interest".

As a responsible opposition, the Lib Dem Group on Wiltshire Council "called in" the closure decision to a special meeting of the Council's Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, this opportunity to rethink was rejected by majority vote despite two Conservative Councillors voting with the three Lib Dem Committee members.

What has emerged since that meeting is a disgraceful attempt by the senior Conservative Councillor on that Committee to impose a Party whip on its Tory members to back the Cabinet's closure decision. The text of his leaked email suggests a threat to the two Conservatives who voted with their conscience.

As the relevant Cabinet member said in answer to my question at Council, Party whips have no place in Scrutiny Committees. We await the translation of those words into appropriate action by the Conservatives against the individual Councillor concerned.

Lucy's hard work, supported by many others, has won a potential reprieve for Braeside and Oxenwood. But the battle to save them is not over‎. We now need the Cabinet to work positively with those community groups who have expressed interest in the Centres to remove barriers, provide constructive help to them and safeguard the excellent Centres' staff.

For my part, I and my Councillor colleagues will pay very close attention to the Cabinet's conduct. We will do all we can to ensure that Wiltshire's young people of today and tomorrow can enjoy these outstanding Centres for many years to come.

Councillor Ian Thorn

Wiltshire Council Leader of the Opposition and Lib Dem Group‎ Leader

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WC release:

Full council agrees to consider all issues on outdoor education at June cabinet

Petitioners attending full council this morning were thanked for their contribution to the debate on the future of outdoor education in Wiltshire.

Members listened to petitioners and agreed a motion that the issues raised would be taken into account when considering offers from alternative providers at the next cabinet meeting on 12 June.

A number of parties have sent expressions of interest in running Braeside and Oxenwood following last month's announcement that Wiltshire Council can no longer afford to run the centres.

This is due to the high costs required for repairs while vital funds are needed for frontline services, including protecting vulnerable children and providing sufficient school places while ensuring high standards in schools.

Wiltshire Council cabinet member for children Laura Mayes said: "This has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as cabinet member. I fully support the benefits of outdoor education, however Wiltshire Council is not the right body to run the centres.

"Our budgets are tight and we need to spend our money wisely and fund those areas where it is most needed, including supporting our vulnerable children and investing in other education priorities. I'm also pleased there is already a wide range of facilities available which many of our schools already use.

"I welcome these expressions of interest and the motion agreed today to consider the issues raised at our meeting in June."

A number of interested parties have come forward looking at future possibilities at the site. The closure date for expressions of interest was 21 May to allow time for the proposals to be developed.