The Plastic Hippo

December 9, 2010

Sharing the pain

Filed under: Education,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:20 am

Quite how a secretive private company that regularly and systematically abuses children in its supposed care is allowed to run Walsall schools and children’s services is beyond the comprehension of this particular numbskull hippo. But be of good cheer, our supine council leaders are on the verge of fighting back.

The budget setting process for Walsall is under weigh and the draft proposals have been presented to Cabinet. The nautical term “under weigh” is relevant given the weight of the anchor that must be lifted if the good ship Walsall is to make any progress in the treacherous seas of Cameron and Clegg`s Britain. The very final statement in the “Working Smarter – Saving Description” (Appendix 3 item 17 for those interested) states:

“Negotiate reduction in cost of education services contract with Serco.”

If approved, this would “save” the council seven and a half million pounds over the next three years. Blimey, that’s good news. Or is it?

The contract is worth £345million to Serco over 12 years and was signed in the days before corporate greed brought the planet to its knees. Walsall council, clearly incapable of providing even the most basic of public services, was happy to outsource the difficult task of providing a decent education and happily handed over the keys to the school minibus to the operators of child detention centres. The actual deal remains a closely guarded secret but our civic representatives continue to claim that the Serco contract offers value for money. If cabinet actually believe that, they are deluded.

Since taking over education, Serco have overseen a planned reduction in the schools estate. Two major secondary schools, Shelfield and Darlaston were abandoned and left the control of the local authority to become Academies against the wishes of parents, staff and children. The closure of a third school, Sneyd, is being accelerated with cost being cited as the reason. Serco justifies walking away from schools by blaming poor standards, inadequate teaching and weak leadership and rather than supporting expensive lost causes, allows standards and results to deteriorate to the point where intervention and closure are the only options to protect profit margins. If that were not enough, standards and achievement have become worse under the stewardship of Serco and school buildings have been neglected to the point of dereliction. Value for money?

Rumours are beginning to circulate that at least two, probably three and even a possible five secondary schools are about to be sacrificed on the alter of Serco profitability. If previous tactics are to be repeated, watch for an “unofficial” leaked announcement, probably on the last day term of the possibility of a school, or schools, being closed down to make way for yet another privately run Academy. This ruse is designed to flatten the morale of staff and encourage parents to panic. Then will come talk of falling numbers of students and a school being not financially viable. Then an intervention to replace the headteacher and governing body, the announcement of an unidentified Academy sponsor and then a formal notice to close the school. A “consultation” will take place, the results of which will be ignored and then Serco will be able to dump another profit sapping liability.

Easy, seven and a half million “saved” and 6,000 kids abandoned.

Serco, as a global parasite, have made their position perfectly clear in the maelstrom of coalition slash and burn ideology. In October, the Serco Group finance director wrote a threatening letter to 193 of his biggest suppliers demanding that they, and not Serco, pay for the consequences of government cuts. Not just in the future, but also backdated. Andrew Jenner, who 12 months earlier made an extra £1million over and above his vast salary by selling some of his Serco share options, wrote:

“I am asking you to offer us a rebate of 2.5 per cent (exclusive of VAT) on Serco`s full-year spend with you for the 2010 calendar year in the form of a credit note. Like the Government, we are looking to determine who our real partners are that we can rely upon. Your response will no doubt indicate your commitment to our partnership but will also be something I will seriously consider in our working relationship as Serco continues to grow.”

In other words, you take the pain or you get no more work. In the first half of 2010, Serco`s profits rose by 21.6 per cent and the recently announced £650million contract to empty bins in Sandwell will clearly benefit Mr Jenner with further share options.

Once upon a time, about two months ago according to Secretary of State Michael Gove, Academy status was only available to those schools judged to be “outstanding” by Ofsted. Now, in desperation, Academy status is being forced on schools that have been failed by corporate sharks like Serco who, to use an overworked cliché, are not fit for purpose. Dedicated teachers are having their professional reputations ruined and families desperate for a semblance of adequate education service are being frustrated by a headlong rush to a divisive, cynical and deliberate crushing of hope and ambition. Deficit reduction is a smokescreen to cover a return to an education system intended to keep the lower orders in their place. Increasing university tuition fees, the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future and the withdrawal of EMA are not emergency measures to keep us out of the poor house. Instead, they are part of a political ideology designed to achieve the very opposite and deny quality education for all but the privileged wealthy.

What is clear is that the seven and a half million in “savings and efficiencies” that is being asked for will not be allowed to impact on shareholder dividends or the salaries of various managers and assistant managers currently destroying Walsall education in the name of Serco. Instead, the already poor strategic management of schools will get worse and the many dedicated Serco employees who actually know what the inside of a classroom looks like will find themselves out of a job. Achievement will go down the plug hole, schools will fall apart and the real losers will be the students.

Forget for the moment the almighty betrayal of the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees. That pledge was made when they didn`t really expect to be anywhere near power. Remember instead one of their first pronoucements just days after selling out to Cameron. They pledged to end child detention.

Colnbrook and Yarl`s Wood are still detaining children, are still physically, emotionally and racially abusing children and are still run by Serco.

Serco know how to share the pain.

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