FERGO IGNORES REPORT; HIDES CLOSE LINKS TO SCHOOL; FORCES THROUGH LIBRARY DEAL…WHY?
The SCANDAL over how vital space in Bristol’s publicly-owned and much-used Central Library has been given over to what until recently was a fee-paying private school continues, after Mayor George Ferguson’s Cabinet decision to rubber-stamp the move was confirmed in a ‘calling in’ council meeting in January. This followed Fergo ignoring a December scrutiny report which was highly critical of the deal on almost every count.
This means Cathedral Primary School (CPS), a new ‘free school’ set up by the formerly fee-paying Bristol Cathedral Choir School (BCCS), could take over two basement floors of the library from September 2015 if central government approves it. CPS opened the doors to its first intake this past September, and currently occupies the Abbey House building alongside BCCS’s administrative block, the Deanery.
But exactly how did this behind-closed-doors deal get to be hammered out? And what can be done now?
The PRIMARY SCHOOL PLACES CRISIS in Bristol is real – current estimates show that Bristol needs an additional 30% on top of current primary school places over the next five years – but the most acute shortages are in north and south Bristol, which this school will not address.
Since 2008 a state-funded but independently managed academy (thanks to severe financial problems forcing it to go cap-in-hand for government cash), BCCS has only been open to all children for 36 of its 873 years of continuous operation. In other words, it has been a BASTION OF PRIVILEGE and closed doors – and is judged to be in the bottom 1% nationally for social inclusion. Like its parent school, CPS will most directly benefit middle and upper class families in Clifton – whilst the school boasts of appealing to similarly affluent parents in South Gloucestershire and North Somerset!
Relocating the primary school into the library will mean two floors-worth of books – many in regular use – will now be shipped over to the B Bond warehouse on Cumberland Basin, where they will be MAROONED along with unwilling staff (minus convenient ‘wastage’ or ‘rationalisation’ – which will help Fergo trim down his wages bill). Bristolians wanting to access those books will likely have to wait days instead of minutes, and even face fees for the inconvenience.
So how did it all come to this?
George Ferguson has been careful to trying to appear neutral on the issue, but no matter how hard he tries, he can’t hide the facts.
As a longtime member of that smug, self-satisfied band of local sub-Freemasons, the Society of Merchant Venturers, ex-private schoolboy Ferguson has been kept abreast of the plans from the outset. Ferguson resigned from the MVs in 2012 – only after announcing his candidancy for Mayor – much as he stopped paying dues to the Lib Dems: because it was politically expedient.
A fellow MV is Stephen Parsons. As well as being Chair of Trustees at both the Bristol Cathedral Trust and Cathedral Primary School, as well as Chair of Governors at BCCS and CPS, and Vice-Chair of Trustees at BCCS and an honorary Canon at the Cathedral, Parsons also runs the Quartet Community Foundation. A way for RICH BASTARDS to feel good about themselves by doling out a few grants here and there, Quartet just so happens to administer Fergo’s own ‘Mayor’s Fund for Bristol’.
Parsons is also – alongside George Ferguson, of course – a board member at the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership quango. Perhaps he needs a hobby?
Fergo’s Cabinet chum, Lib Dem councillor Simon ‘Casualty’ Cook, has been another key driver behind the annexation of the library. Not himself a Merchant Venturer, Cook is however a member of the MV-linked ‘Antient Society of St Stephen’s Ringers’. He also went to school (in Norwich) with former BCCS head Kevin Riley. It is thought that this close friendship with Riley brought Cook into PARSONS’ INNER CIRCLE.
Grabber George’s own close connections to BCCS, and the cathedral to which it is linked, stretches back for years. His ex-wife Lavinia Ferguson was for the best part of a decade a director of Bristol Cathedral Concerts Ltd, seven years as its company secretary. In the 90s Fergo himself worked directly with the Cathedral’s Dean to block any harbourside development that didn’t put money in his RED TROUSERED POCKETS.
But not all the pressure has been from a clique within Shitty Hall. Considerable resources have been put at the disposal of BCCS Principal Neil Blundell – the man widely seen as driving the project from the Cathedral side – from ideologically-driven quarters.
Consider the Centre for Market Reform of Education (CMRE), a champion of ‘free schools’ which whilst nominally independent shares its premises and some personnel with the Institute for Economic Affairs. (Yes, that’s right, Margaret Thatcher’s very own BATSHIT CRAZY right-wing thinktank is also in the picture!) CMRE appears to have been used to channel funds into the marketing effort to ‘sell’ the CPS library snatch to Bristolians – not because it’s a good deal for the city, but because it fits a certain agenda.
Key to implementing this has been Wotton-based communications agency Edge Media, which has worked for the Cathedral and BCCS for a number of years, and is now additionally contracted to CPS. Certainly the amount of work Edge has put into the P.R. OFFENSIVE far outstrips the £6,961 that CPS itself directly spent on communications, or the £2,084 BCCS spends with them annually. But then it is unusual for Edge to represent what is nominally a state school: virtually all its clients are private schools or organisations connected to them.
These include the School Proprietors’ Association, for owners of private schools; the Tutors’ Association, for private tutors; the Society of Education Consultants; and iSBi, a search site for private schools. It’s almost as though Edge Media doesn’t really like mixing with us ordinary folk!
But it’s not all bad news. The push to relocate CPS into the library building is not unanimously popular within BCCS – either with staff or governors – or even with the
Cathedral. It seems that many consider it a vanity project of Parsons, Ferguson, Blundell and Cook. Sources say even Blundell was surprised that Cook managed to get Cabinet approval for the DODGY library deal.
Meanwhile, the murkiness of the whole sordid affair has attracted the interest of both the Department for Education and the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.
So watch this space…