'Stop talking down Northumberland' call in row over plans for children and young people

‘Please stop talking down our county’ was the plea from the deputy leader as Northumberland County Council agreed its children and young people’s plan.

Tuesday, 3rd December 2019, 7:28 pm
Councillor Wayne Daley (left) and Councillor Susan Dungworth (right)

The document, which was approved at the full meeting of the authority on November 6, aims to guide the strategic direction of the council and its partners over the next three years.

Intended to be more accessible to children, young people, families, partners and council employees than the previous version, the starting point was a large-scale survey involving more than 1,000 youngsters.

The plan has six priorities: Children and young people know that their voice will influence decisions that affect them; children and young people have the best start in life; to ensure all services work together towards tackling any form of disadvantage; children and young people have access to the best quality education to prepare them for adult life; children and young people feel safe and supported and are able to cope with life’s ups and downs; promoting and supporting children and young people to be healthy.

Presenting the report, Coun Wayne Daley, the cabinet member for children’s services and deputy leader, said: “It’s a plan that is very much focused on outcomes and I would hope that it commands the support of everyone in this chamber.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson, said: “There’s nothing in this plan we wouldn’t support, it’s a positive plan and it’s timely as health and other partners refresh their strategies around children and young people.”

However, the party’s leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, said that while she welcomed the report and recognises the good work of the authority’s children’s services in often difficult circumstances, the aims of the plan are undermined by Tory cuts in Northumberland.

“It is about the Conservative Government making a choice about austerity that the current spate of announcements about public spending prove that that’s what it was, it was a political tool, nothing more,” she said.

Turning to schools, Coun Dungworth, who is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Blyth Valley, added: “I will acknowledge that this administration and the portfolio holder, you’re doing a lot and I give you credit for that Wayne, however, we’re talking about £11.5million-worth of cuts to education over the past five years in Blyth Valley, that equates to £296.26 per pupil.

“Let nobody be under any illusions that our outrage is faux, it is not, it is absolutely real our outrage about what has been done in the name of politics to our communities in the last 10 years.”

Hitting back, Coun Daley said: “When we took over the council two years ago, there was a significant backlog of building repair works to be done on our school stock and this administration has committed to invest the best part of £150million in our school stock.

“If I could just remind you as well that the previous (Labour) administration bought a shopping centre, this administration is building schools in Seaton Valley, Berwick, Amble, over in the west of the county, in Hexham.

“In terms of school revenue, there has been an announcement to level up school funding which means every first and primary will get £3,750 per pupil, which will have a significant impact on a lot of schools in Northumberland, for secondary schools it’s £5,000.”

He highlighted that one of the key phrases in the children and young people’s plan was aspiration and belief, adding: “Don’t continue to talk down our county.

“We need our young people inspired, we need our young people to see what job opportunities there are, what fantastic education opportunities there are.

“I’m impressed by our young people. I don’t want to go around saying to them, you’ve got no hope, you’ve got no chance, there is no money, give up.”