Slightly worried that our new style controller will be down on me like a tonne of bricks after yesterday's entry but hasn't happened yet. A very full Executive Committee Agenda yesterday. As usual I’m not proposing to go through every item but will spend a bit more time on it than I normally do. There were a lot of important decisions taken yesterday. Some were easy decisions to make.
The decision to buy Manchester's oldest surviving theatre, The Theatre Royal, and turn it into a new home for the Library Theatre Company was both easy and attracted a fair chunk of positive publicity. Perhaps slightly more obscure was the decision to extend discretionary housing benefits for people going off benefit back into work, a decision which was equally easy and, although very different, equally important. For unemployed people getting back into work there is a real risk of a gap between benefits stopping and wages starting and doing something to minimise that gap makes it easier for people to take up jobs which of course saves money for the benefits system (and the taxpayer) in the long term.
Not all the decisions yesterday were easy. We have just carried out a review and consultation on a range of provision for some of our school children with special educational needs. The outcome of the review was to propose that more, though not all, of this provision should be in mainstream settings, and that as a consequence one special school should close and another should both reduce in size and develop a new specialism. This is not the first time we have carried out reviews of this sort and some of the reaction is predictable. I do not recall ever a case where the Headteacher, staff, and governors of a school facing closure have supported the proposal, and in this case we are talking about schools that within their own terms of reference have been performing well. This is not simple self-interest on their part as we would hope that the people running schools of this sort or indeed any sort would have a real emotional commitment to them. Some, though not all, parents of children in these schools will also oppose change. They have often had bad experiences of inadequately resourced mainstream provision and having found a secure environment for their children are justifiably anxious about a change. This one of the many cases where politicians have to take all the advice they can, set aside the issue of popularity and then have the courage, with no certainty that they are right, to take the decisions that they believe are the best for our young people in the future. Even if what we have is good, if it could be better, then it should be better. (Just to be clear, this review wasn't about cuts, rather it was about investment - around £28m to improve the educational environment for the children concerned).
There was at least one other difficult decision yesterday concerning a report from the Ombudsman who had judged us to be guilty of maladministration in using bankruptcy proceedings to recover (seven years) unpaid Council Tax from a resident. We have the greatest respect for the role of the Ombudsman as an independent arbiter on behalf of individual citizens who believe they have been badly treated. We don't always agree with Ombudsman's findings, but since I became leader we have always accepted their recommendations. So to reject, as we did yesterday, a report from the Ombudsman was not a step to be taken lightly. There were a number of reasons for the rejection, but perhaps the thing that most stuck in the throat was the recommendation that we should use Council Tax payers' money to pay 'compensation' to somebody who spent seven years avoiding paying a penny. What sort of message would that send out?