Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Councils Take a Leaf out of John Lewis's Book: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Councils Take a Leaf out of John Lewis's Book: News

Article excerpt

Schools will be stakeholders in money-saving cooperatives.

Local authorities are resorting to setting up John Lewis-style cooperatives in a bid to provide schools with vital support services after drastic cuts to their budgets.

Sandwell Council has become the latest town hall to set out plans for a non-profit-making cooperative, of which schools will be the majority stakeholders, after a 30 per cent reduction in funding.

The move follows a similar decision by Birmingham Council, which has proposed to move 3,000 of its staff to a schools cooperative after a decision by the council to make Pounds 300 million in savings.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the decisions by town hall chiefs to set up cooperatives are part of a growing trend across the country as councils attempt to fill the increasing void between schools and central government.

"Creating a cooperative is one of a number of ways to provide central services that would otherwise be under huge pressure because of government savings," said councillor David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's children and young people board.

Sandwell Council said its planned cooperative, called the Sandwell Industrial and Provident Society, would hire nearly 500 staff currently employed by the council if approved by a cabinet meeting next month.

Councillor Bob Badham, Sandwell Council cabinet member for children and families, said the project had already received encouraging feedback from headteachers, adding that it would be "good for jobs and good for schools".

"The proposal is to place control of the services schools need into their own hands," Mr Badham said. "Education shouldn't be about making profit, so the industrial and provident society set-up ensures all the money made stays within schools."

The new company will provide a range of services such as school meals, broadband, health and safety, and staff and governor training, on which schools in the area spend nearly Pounds 9 million a year. A shadow board of directors made up of heads, governors and council representatives has already been put in place, in preparation for the plans being given the go-ahead as expected.

Chris Evans, head of Moat Farm Junior School in Oldbury, West Midlands, and chair of the shadow board, said that if the project works it will give schools more control. …

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