Just days after the 1999 local election, Cheshire's Halton Borough Council announced the closure of several schools in Runcorn. The fact that no consultation or notice was given serves as a warning to anyone who might imagine ‘open government' exists.
Predictably, the public rose to the challenge with a series of initiatives including leaflets, posters, petitions, letter writing campaigns. More direct forms of action included the ambushing of the mayor's car at local events by banner-waving children and parents and turning up at consultation meetings to confront the handful of councillors with enough brass neck to show up and face them. Eventually, the council was forced to back down in the majority of cases owing to the opposition shown by a determined public, and leave most schools untouched.
Unfortunately, two out of four secondary schools are to close and re-open under a new name on one existing site next academic year. Noticeably absent from the public meetings were Mike Hall, M.P. for Weaver Vale and Tony McDermott, leader of the council. Both are former teachers and Labour Party members. It was pointed out that two Labour councillors were sending their children to schools in more prosperous areas of Cheshire and both were members of the Education Committee. Indeed, one is a Governor and former teacher at one of the affected schools.
One set of pupils will now have to make a daily journey using Runcorn's privately run, expensive and unreliable bus service. Meanwhile, the Director of Education made the ludicrous statement that the decision has nothing to do with saving money but is to raise standards. Labour's last Election Manifesto, specifically stated on page 7 that “Labour will not close good schools”. Both secondary schools in Runcorn New Town received very good Ofsted reports, so Blair's promise was not worth the paper it was printed on. Neither are any of the current ones this Election.