Multimillion-pound school plans not going ahead as promised

An artists' impression of the school plans, which were unveiled earlier this year.
An artists' impression of the school plans, which were unveiled earlier this year.

A multimillion-pound scheme to transform education in Amble will not go ahead as promised.

In February, the then Labour-led administration of Northumberland County Council announced the £9million project for James Calvert Spence College (JCSC).

The scheme intended to bring the middle and high schools together onto one site. The aim was to relocate the South Road-based middle school onto the high school plot on Acklington Road. A major refurbishment of the high school was also planned.

The funding was said to be coming from the county council’s capital investment programme and it was hoped that the new-look facilities would be up and running by the end of 2018/beginning of 2019.

Ahead of the county council’s Cabinet meeting earlier this week, the Capital Works Programme Cabinet Advisory Group recommended that a £11.2million budget requirement be approved for improvements at JCSC,

However, during Tuesday’s meeting, Coun Peter Jackson, Leader of the new ruling Conservative group, said that the proposal is not being supported by the Cabinet and that it would instead be considered as part of the wider review of the school and college developments in Northumberland.

But he did say that full support would be given to JCSC to access funding through the proper channels.

The snub has sparked outrage from Labour councillors in the area.

After the meeting, Coun Jackson said: “In recent years, JCSC has received more than £1.2million in repairs, ensuring that its buildings are fit for purpose.

“The new council has given a clear public promise to work with the College to draw up a viable, sustainable scheme to take education in Amble forward and to actively support all applications for future funding for JCSC.

“As yet I have seen no detailed business case for the scheme that was previously proposed, and no plan for how it was intended to be paid for, aside from producing more debt for the council. The scheme had never been formally agreed by the previous council and was just one of a number of projects that were considered before May.

“Earlier this week, Cabinet members agreed that proposals for JCSC will be considered as part of the wider review of school and college developments in Northumberland and I would like to reiterate my wish to work with the school to come up with a detailed and viable package of improvements.

“Our responsibility is to work in partnership with all schools in our county.”

However, Coun Scott Dickinson, Labour ward member for Druridge Bay, has criticised the Tories’ approach, accusing the Conservatives of ‘voting against the children of Amble’.

He said that work had been underway with the school since 2015 to create a plan that provided the best possible educational facilities to help drive up standards and give opportunities to the young people of Amble and surrounding areas.

Coun Dickinson, who was chairman of governors at JCSC until October last year, said: “We had been working on this for a long time. This was about working with the council to invest in facilities that can help teaching staff raise standards of educational provision in Amble and the surrounding areas.

“While Alnwick, Ponteland, Prudhoe and others had commitment and facilities built I was determined Amble would be part of the educational investment from the county council. Clearly, with this Tory administration, we are moving back in time to where only major towns are cared about or invested in.

“In a recent meeting the new Leader said the project hadn’t reached business case stage and therefore couldn’t be approved. The former Labour administration pointed out that email correspondence had a business case being ordered by the then Chief Executive back in March 2016 so it should have been easily ready by now to provide to Cabinet in support of the Cabinet Advisory Group’s recommendations.”

The stance by the Tories has also been slammed by Coun Terry Clark, Labour county councillor for Amble.

He said: “I see that the Tories are once again ignoring Amble, while pushing ahead with pouring money into new schools in Ponteland.

“It’s noticeable that the new schools there, sitting in the Tory Leader’s ward, will have many millions poured in to support some the wealthiest kids in Northumberland, yet some of the county’s poorest young people from Amble are to be denied similar levels of investment. To the Tories, Amble’s children just don’t matter.”