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Lib Dems invite Tory rebels to join forces in fight for Wetherby High School

by Wetherby Liberal Democrats on 24 January, 2019

Wetherby High School is in a state of disrepair

Wetherby Liberal Democrats have welcomed the resignation of two Conservative councillors to serve as independents and offered to campaign alongside them to fight for a better future for Wetherby High School.

Leeds City Council has warned in the Yorkshire Evening Post today that Wetherby High School is one of three dilapidated Leeds schools that could face a move to temporary modular accommodation if funds are not urgently found.

Leeds’ Labour council says that its plea has been ignored since it first wrote to the Conservative education secretary, Damian Hinds, in September.

The Wetherby News has also reported that Councillor Sue Bentley, who has been a Conservative for 16 years and is chairman of Welcome to Wetherby, and Councillor Kazia Knight, who is chairman of the award-winning Sandringham Park play park and has been a councillor for six years, will serve as independent councillors until the local elections on May 2.

They will join Denise Podlewska, a member of Welcome to Wetherby and a governor at Wetherby High School, who already serves as an independent.

Tensions grew within the Conservative ranks last year over the debate over the future of Boston Spa and Wetherby schools with the education funding crisis to some extent setting the two communities against each other in a battle for survival.

The chaos over Brexit and the feeling that the Conservative Party is still putting party interests first has only confirmed that our decision to resign is the right one

Boston Spa won the right to academy status, leaving Wetherby facing an uncertain future.

Coun Bentley was unsparing in her criticism of the Tories in the Wetherby News: “Kazia and I feel that the whole Wetherby High issue was very badly handled at both a national and local level with Wetherby’s interests not being given adequate consideration.

“It was this situation which precipitated our decision to resign from the Conservative Party.

“The chaos over Brexit and the feeling that the Conservative Party is still putting party interests first has only confirmed that our decision to resign is the right one for us.”

To add to the pressures on Wetherby High School, Coun Jonathan Pryor, Labour’s executive member for learning at Leeds City Council, has even recklessly imagined a scenario where the school could close because of lack of improvements.

Wetherby Liberal Democrats campaigned from the outset for the retention of both schools, not believing that Leeds City Council’s plan to close Boston Spa to raise an estimated £25m towards a claimed £100m backlog of repairs was an acceptable way to bale-out Wetherby.

David Hopps, secretary of Wetherby Liberal Democrats, says: “We make no secret of the fact that we have always championed the need for two good schools in this area. We believe the potential pupil numbers justified that stance.

“But the good news that Boston Spa has been saved, and is now thriving, cannot mean that Wetherby suffers as a consequence. Some education cuts were unavoidable at the start of the financial crisis – and, yes, the Lib Dems were in coalition at the time – but it has gone way too far. The reduced funding for our schools cannot be justified.

“Wetherby deserves a solution to its deteriorating school facilities and until it gets one parents will continue to vote with their feet and many will cross the border to educate their children in North Yorkshire.

“That said, Labour scaremongering over potential closure makes the situation even worse. A school with great values and dedicated support for its pupils deserves better.

“Meanwhile, as the resigning Tory councillors have stated, it appears that no expense is spared on a botched Brexit which prevents us concentrating on improving our vital services in health and education.”

Wetherby Lib Dems have repeatedly said while out campaigning in the past year that the break-up of the Conservative stranglehold over Wetherby can be a good thing. And the three independents on the town council are known as a highly-respected community-minded trio.

Hopps believes: “A political monopoly in any walk of life is never a good thing. Fiercely independent, alternative views are healthy for the town.

“It may be that we also have our differences in some areas, but I personally look forward to hearing their views on how to get the best outcome for Wetherby High School.”