Thursday, 8 April 2010

Lambeth Council pull out of Beaufoy Institute deal, losing £11.4 million central government money

I've been sitting on this story for months now, but have finally got the go ahead from my source to release it. I'm afraid the story rather long and complicated, so I'm going to simplify what I've been sent as much as possible. See the sections in bold for particularly bad behaviour on the part of Lambeth Council.

Background:

Since 2000, the Beaufoy Institute building on Black Prince Road has been empty, despite a succession of proposals for use that have come to nothing.

Timeline:
2005 - Lambeth Council invited local groups to submit proposals for the Beaufoy Institute. Lady Margaret Hall Settlement (LMHS) and Riverside Community Development Trust (RCDT) put forward a proposal for an artisan-based vocational school to train local young people, which was rejected by the Council.

2006 - LMHS made contact with the Young Foundation who were developing the concept of studio schools across the UK and together put forward the idea of such a school at the Beaufoy Institute. The Settlement also made contact with the Prince of Wales’s private office and initial discussions were held about the concept.

2007 - LMHS then made contact with the De Morgan foundation and added the possible connection of an Arts and Crafts Museum to the Artisan School. De Morgan were introduced to Lambeth Council Regeneration Department and proceeded to negotiate a possible occupation of the Beaufoy with them. The Council Regeneration department refused to engage with the concept of the school and ideas based on an arts community.

Late 2008 - Lord Adonis, the Minister responsible for academies, approached Prince Charles seeking Royal sponsorship for an Academy. The Prince expressed interest in the Studio Schools concept and in the Beaufoy Artisan School. In December a meeting was held on site between the Prince’s Charities, The Young Foundation, LMHS, RCDT and De Morgan and it was agreed to work together to take the concept forward. It was also agreed to seek the participation of Lambeth Council. A steering committee was formed.

2009 - The Young Foundation had for some time been in negotiation with Department for Children School and Families about a national programme for studio schools, with 7 other local authorities already on board and were preparing their submission to the government. It was necessary therefore to move quickly to fit the Artisan School within the time frame. Lambeth produced a first draft which met no one’s objectives and after long discussions a new draft was agreed and submitted. Negotiations on the final draft submission were left largely between the Young Foundation and Lambeth Council. The steering committee continued to meet and two sticking points were identified: the methodology of work placement and the timetable. The Steering Committee rejected the Council’s proposed timetable.

Lambeth Council then proposed that the Studio School became a specialist in hospitality skills which the community groups found not to be an acceptable alternative to artisanship. Work continued between the Young Foundation and Lambeth Council and the difficulties were apparently cleared. The Young Foundation shared their views and experience of these negotiations with LMHS, but Lambeth Council continued to refuse to engage. (The community groups only received Lambeth’s first draft submission 10 weeks after it went to government and only after repeated demands from Sir Hayden Philips, the Steering Committee chair.) It was at this time it became clear that De Morgan had no realistic strategy for raising the money to convert the old building. De Morgan left the Steering group and the views of the government were sought on whether they would agree to the incorporation of the Institute buildings into the school instead of a new building on the site. This was accepted and a new scheme drawn up.

Lambeth Council and the Young Foundation (now called the Studio Schools Trust) continued to work on the final submission. In July 2009 the Prince’s Charities chaired the last steering group in anticipation of the final submission going to government almost immediately, to keep the Artisan School within the programme going forward for ministerial approval. At that last meeting John Wotherspoon (representing Lambeth Council), at the insistence of Sir Hayden Philips (Steering Committee Chair) agreed to send LMHS a copy of the Council proposals. In September 2009 LMHS were approached by the Young Foundation/Studio School Trust to help then get responses to key questions from Lambeth Council. However LMHS received no response and to date have still not received the promised copy of the Council’s proposals. LMHS had previously met with Cllr McGlone and received assurances that everything was going ahead. Shortly afterwards LMHS and Cllr McGlone met with Kate Hoey MP to express concern at the Council’s sudden failure to engage with the proposal.

LMHS heard from a private source that Lambeth Council had sought a meeting with the Department for Children, Family and Schools to propose that the monies be reallocated for a new Lambeth proposal which they were preparing. This was refused and Lambeth then informed the Ministry they were withdrawing from the Studio Schools’ Project which the Minister had been due to sign in two days time. At this point Lambeth Council resumed contact with the Young Foundation to advise them of their decision. LMHS / RCDT were not informed and apparently nor was Cllr McGlone. At this point LMHS / RCDT attempted to meet the leader of the Council, the Chair of Education and the Chief Executive to seek an explanation for the withdrawal, and to see if a way ahead could be found. Local councillors were asked to intervene. Only Cllr Stephen Morgan replied.

January 2010 - LMHS / RCDT met with the Young Foundation (Studio Schools Trust) to verify the timeline and reasons for Lambeth Council withdrawal from the Artisan School. It was agreed that the local friends of the Beaufoy group would now take the lead in pursuing a campaign to get an Artisan School on the site. The Studio Schools Trust agreed to continue working with this group.

February 2010 - the local groups met again with the Studio Schools Trust who confirmed that Lambeth Council had lost the £11.4 million from government. There continues to be no direct contact with Lambeth Council.

---

Issues regarding LBC’s claims as to why the Studio Schools proposal was unsuccessful:

* Lambeth Council claim the loss of the Museum in the project meant that the Prince’s Charities withdrew. This is not true. The Prince’s Charities agreed to host the steering committee until Lambeth Council assured us the process was almost complete.

* Lambeth Council claim that the Department for Children, Families and Schools did not agree to proceed with a solvent tenant for the old building. In fact DCFS agreed to house part of the school in the old building and Lambeth architects drew such as scheme.

* Lambeth Council claim that the DCFS did not accept the basic tenets of the Studio Schools Trust and Lambeth could not then proceed. In fact two days after Lambeth’s withdrawal, the Minister approved the other seven schools and supported the concept in a key note speech. (The DCFS website initially included Lambeth in the announcement.)

* Lambeth say the Studio Schools Trust withdrew – this is also not correct. Right up to a few days before ministerial approval the Trust was still trying to get answers from Lambeth Council. The Department response was to not answer emails, telephone calls or letters.

* Lambeth Council say they had strong educational/philosophical differences with the Studio School model, in particular citing differences on curriculum and work placement. The Studio Schools proposals were "not suitable for Lambeth Young people". At no point did the department explain to the steering committee what made the work placement impossible for Lambeth Youth but clearly acceptable to those of seven other Councils. Beyond a verbal request from John Wotherspoon on timetabling no substantive differences were ever expressed or presented.

9 comments:

Mark Harrison said...

I've spoken to Paul McGlone several times about this issue, and it's clear that your source has a very different interpretation of events to his.

Paul says:

'So many of the allegations are inaccurate that it is not worth attempting to dissect them all.

'What is a matter of fact is that for many years Lambeth Council has failed to find a useful educational purpose for the listed Beaufoy Institute building. It has only been since 2006 when a Labour Council tool control that serious proposals have been persued with great vigour and serious intent.

'It is also true that a proposal for a studio school was progressed to an advanced stage. There were many competing interests who wanted to be involved and direct the educational outcome and use of Lambeth owned assets. But the basic outcome Lambeth wanted, and we as councillors wanted, was a new local school with local community access, funded by new Government Building Schools for the Future money that fitted in with Lambeth's family of schools. Most importantly, the school had to be there for Lambeth children.

'For many reasons the competing visions of what would work educationally could not be reconciled and there was no guarantee that the Young Foundation proposal would have been there for Lambeth children. Importantly, is it untrue that Government ever got anywhere near allocting money to the proposal that failed.

'What has been progressed since late 2009 with the blessing of the Department of Children, Schools and Families is a vocational academy on the Beaufoy site that will give Lambeth children an innovative and challenging school offer. Discussions are at an advanced stage and an announcement could be made before the end of April.'

We haven't been shouting publicly about this deal as it hasn't been finalised, but we are on the verge of a move which will finally transform the Beaufoy into an innovative school serving Lambeth's students. Some interested parties might be angry that the long negotiations didn't turn out as they hoped, but the important issue is that Lambeth gets what is right for its pupils, the Beaufoy site, and the North Lambeth area.

SE11 Lurker said...

Cllr Harrison,

Thanks for the response. I'll let my source know that you've added a comment from Paul McGlone and see if they want to come back with anything.

I'm going to lay out the facts, as it seems you've stated them from Paul McGlone, and then ask some questions:

Lambeth Council: The studio school proposal was progressed to an advanced stage.

My question: Can you confirm what is meant by an "advanced stage"?

Lambeth Council: It is untrue that the government ever got anywhere near allocating money to the failed proposal.

My question: Can you definitely confirm that this proposal was not to be imminently signed by the Minister? That's quite a crucial point because it would imply that an untruth is being propagated by one of us. If it's Lurking about SE11, then I need to correct it.

Lambeth Council: Discussions about a "vocational academy" have reached advanced stages, and an announcement could be made before the end of April.

My question: Is this stated in the Lambeth Labour manifesto anywhere? If discussions are exceedingly advanced, I'd expect to see this in the election materials somewhere, since it's more concrete than the "Lilian Baylis" hub stuff.

Anonymous said...

I gave up halfway through, as it bored me. Sorry.

But such "citizen journalism" by untrained, somewhat self-important people lacks the same scrutiny of a more regulated medium. Just throwing up allegations based on one anonmymous source, without attempting to get a response, seems a bit harsh. Then we're supposed to sit and wait and watch each side slog it out piece by piece.

Sloppy.

SE11 Lurker said...

Some stories would simply not see the light of day were it not for "citizen journalism". Our local newspaper, the SLP, isn't interested in scrutinising North Lambeth in the same way, and our other local newspaper is run by the Council.

In at least one recent incident, it was the "regulated medium" who regurgitated a number of facts that they'd been fed by the local authority without bothering to obtain more information, and then failed to respond once I emailed to point out that there was another side of the story.

I realise that I risk being wrong, but I'm willing to correct the facts if that does turn out to be the case and I'll always enter into dialogue. Sometimes risks do need to be taken to uncover truth and lies. Approaching the Council direct if they've made serious mistakes would just unleash whitewash. One of the reasons that the piece is so long is that I wanted to state the facts (as I was given them) so that there was ample evidence to be disputed.

Part of the problem with anonymous comments is that I do not know whether they originate from people that work at Lambeth Council or who are party political and have been told to defend the party line.

Mark said...

Can you confirm what is meant by an "advanced stage"?
>getting to the point of negotiating the nitty gritty of how the site would be configered, the teaching philosophy of the school, the admissions policies etc. > all problematic issues which the Council had serious concerns about

Can you definitely confirm that this proposal was not to be imminently signed by the Minister?
>Yes

Is this stated in the Lambeth Labour manifesto anywhere? If discussions are exceedingly advanced, I'd expect to see this in the election materials somewhere, since it's more concrete than the "Lilian Baylis" hub stuff.
>It's not finalised so we're not going announce a success before we're sure it's going to be delivered. The site's been empty so long people aren't going to believe us unless the deal is signed and sealed. Lilian Baylis IS more concrete, in that the Sports Action Zone are already on site delivering many fantastic services for the community. We are committed to setting up a community trust to continue and expand this work on the site in a sustainable way.


Re the comment by anonymous, I'm not afraid of having Labour policies scrutinised, and local blogs do a much better job of this than the local press. However I would say that at least two of this blog's 'anonymous sources' in recent months are people with axes to grind who have put out misleading information, so I'd always urge extreme caution in reporting their allegations as the truth.

SE11 Lurker said...

Mark,

I'm awaiting an email from my source re. the question of whether the proposal went to the minister. If it didn't, I'll apologise and publish a clear retraction.

Also, can you advise which the other post had an anonymous source with an axe to grind, as I'm not sure what we're talking about.

Mark Harrison said...

I don't think your source will agree, so we will be going round in circles!

The other source I'm talking about is this one: http://southeasteleven.blogspot.com/2010/01/proposed-service-charge-increases-for.html

SE11 Lurker said...

I definitely want to avoid going around in circles.

I've submitted a request (not a FOI) for some clarification from the DCFS re. whether any proposals re. the Beaufoy were received by them, but essentially the problem is that I've got no access to either Council or DCFS papers on the matter, so I'm always going to be relying on heresay to some degree. The problem with FOIs (which I'm considering) is that unless the wording is entirely correct, they tend to be rejected. I'm going to wait to see what the initial enquiry yields.

I didn't realise that the Service Charge stuff was even that contentious, but again, I think that that info. was partially obtained from somebody who was at a Labour insiders meeting (if I remember correctly), so again, I'm on the outside. I can only publish what I'm party to, and then correct later if it turns out that I've been spun. Not ideal, I'm afraid, but I can't see any other way of doing it.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated to find this. I don't know who is Lurking about SE11 but his/her account rings pretty true to me.
I am a buildings conservationist who has tried over several years and various administrations to prevent the continuing decay of this very important building. I had a charitable organisation based in the borough that wanted new premises and could have given a great deal back to the area, but found that each time I thought Lambeth were about to take a positive decision, they pulled back and moved the goalposts once more.
If it's any comfort, even if the studio school proposal had been signed off, it would probably have been scrapped in the current coalition cull.
Maybe now the Big Society can take over in its own right - there are mechanisms for community asset transfer and so on available, if local authorities have the wit to use them. The problem here is that Lambeth insist they have a valuable asset, whereas in fact they have a decaying building whose restoration costs go up every year. The building site alongside is another matter, but Lambeth have delayed so long there's now probably no-one with the resources to buy and develop even that. Not only have they lost £11.4m of government money - they must have spent a considerable amount themselves in abortive discussions over the years.
Now I have another contact who could possibly make use of the building - what are the odds this time?

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