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Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tom Levitt, "Critical Friend"

Tom Levitt MP sent the following letter to several constituents at the beginning of July, giving his assessment of the 'state of play'.

Letter from Tom Levitt. Click on the image for a larger view.

(Click on the image for a larger view)

In the letter, Mr. Levitt says:
I committed myself from the beginning to helping make sure that this process was conducted in a manner which was transparent, open and fair to all concerned. To that end I have:
  • Visited the school and met children, staff and (on several occasions) parents

  • Worked closely with the Chair of Governors and other campaigners

  • Contacted DCC on several occasions, not least to challenge claims made by the authority, and made my findings available to the campaign

  • Tabled a Parliamentary Question on the criteria for closing rural schools, which produced a reply which was helpful to the campaign

  • Advised campaigners on which elements of your campaign to concentrate upon and which to refine; and on tactics

  • Highlighted your campaign on my web site and invited the public to comment

  • Contributed to a debate at a High Peak Constituency Labour Party meeting which voted to support your campaign.
What I have not done is behave in a way which raises your expectations unduly, hijacks your campaign to my own ends or supports claims which are not relevant or cannot be substantiated.

Meanwhile, you have generated an excellent campaign web site, several powerful documents about the school and its role in the village and significant support from third parties such as High Peak Borough Council.

It is clear that the impact on surplus places and the capitation levels of other schools, were Combs to close, would be minimal. What will not be clear for some time yet is whether these arguments are sufficient to win the day.
In an earlier letter to a constituent, defending himself against a charge of being 'limp and pathetically non-committal', Mr. Levitt wrote:
I do not have a say in the final outcome. I am not part of the decision-making process but I do want to see justice be done. The best way to achieve this is not by screaming opposition to the County Council but rather by helping the campaigners mount a strong, credible and well-argued case.
He laid out the steps he has taken so far (similar to the letter above), and went on:
I have also said that I understand the position of the County Council in needing to reduce the number of 'surplus places' in the school system. Quite frankly, any school that spends over £5,000 per year on each child would be able to produce 'excellent' results and it is difficult to justify maintaining the existence of a small school to serve a small community when most children do not live in the immediate environs of that school.

Tom Levitt, Critical FriendSo I think that I have been 'a critical friend' to both sides in this argument and I believe the campaigners have a strong chance of saving the school.

I should also tell you that I have had several letters of concern from parents of children in other schools, asking in strong terms why it is that children at Combs merit having 50% more cash spent on them than their children do at other schools.
Mr. Levitt has been made aware of the following by the campaign:
  • Cost per pupil is not £5,000 at Combs: it's significantly lower. This has been acknowledged by DCC's finance department.

  • There is no evidence of a simple correlation between amount of money spent and the results that a school produces. There are more expensive schools than Combs which achieve lower ratings. Results are determined by how well resources are used.

  • Most of the students attending Combs School do live in the valley. That's also true for the projected intake in the next few years.

  • Larger schools tend to have a lower cost-per-pupil because of economies of scale.
Mr. Levitt was asked at the beginning of August if he will correct misleading information on his web site (relating to per-pupil costs, school roll numbers, and location of students) which is a restatement of inaccurate information supplied by DCC. He has not replied.

What do you think? Could Tom Levitt do more? Should he?

Have your say in the comments, or e-mail Tom Levitt.


combsman said...

I'd like to see our MP express an opinion. Should the school close, or should it stay open, Tom? If it should stay open, then use your position to be a champion for the campaign.

CH said...

Your MP might be more active on your behalf if you were fighting a council of a different political colour to his.

As it is, you seem to have put together a strong case, and I hope you will win the battle without needing more support from your MP.

It's an excellent web site. Good luck with your campaign.

webmaster said...

You're able to see Tom Levitt's voting record in Parliament here. It gives you an idea of which causes he is prepared to give his whole-hearted support to, against the run of play.