Tuesday, 21 July 2009

School Clothing Allowance Reductions

Councillor Mellen has just made an Executive Portfolio Decision to reduce the grants available to low income families to help pay for school uniforms.

The reductions, to be implemented next year, range between about £10 to £48.

The allowances are hardly generous to start with and only pay for one basic uniform per child.

I admit I don't have any children myself but in my previous career as a child (grades small to teenage) I'm pretty sure I got through clothing like a good'un by growing inconveniently fast and indulging in the usual range of childish adventures. Cheap school trousers rarely stand up to a 10 year old running full tilt across the playground before tumbling arse over tit (having not seen the skipping rope stretched across his path) and sliding to a halt on his knees for instance.

There was, of course, a consultation which resulted in the shock result that consultees disagreed with the idea to reduce the allowances, so Cllr Mellen did it anyway.

To soften the blow eligibility has been widened and schools are to be told to be more 'inclusive' with their uniform policies and not to favour single clothing suppliers, a point raised in the consultation as being a factor increasing uniform prices.

Aside from the obvious callousness of reducing any allowance or benefit to low income families during a recession there is an issue of procedure here.

Regular readers will know that I've been banging on about the use of 'Executive Portfolio Decisions' for a while. Certain decisions cannot be taken by Executive Portfolio holders alone because they are defined as key decisions and therefore must be taken by the Executive Board (see page 22 of this document).

There are financial limits involved but the definition of a 'Key Decision', importantly in this case, also includes a decision that is likely

"...to be significant in terms of its effects on communities living or working in an area consisting of two or more wards in the City."

Surely this latter condition would include a decision to reduce school clothing allowances across the entire city? In the decision notice Cllr Mellen claims it doesn't but he's clearly off on a working break to cloud cuckoo land if he truly believes that.

In my view this decision is unconstitutional so it shouldn't be allowed to stand. Wonder if any opposition councillors would feel able to take the issue up? I also think that the matter could be subject to judicial review as well so if there are any affected parents (who would probably be entitled to legal aid if they are entitle to school uniform vouchers) they might want to consult a solicitor.

The constitution issue is maybe one for the train spotters but it could provide a route to challenge it. And I doubt that there'll be a press release from NCC heading over to the Evening Post on this one.

Update 3 Aug Eve Post finally catches up.


Anonymous said...

Sorry but on this one you are not in possession of all the facts. David Mellen knows that there is scope for a reduction in the annual uniform grant with no disbenefit to the parents/carers involved. In fact every parent with a child attending a city school will benefit.

Watch this space.

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

Well, I have to confess I'm intrigued. Has Mellen got a magic rabbit up his sleeve that's gonna go hopping round the city distributing tenners?

As to whether I've got all the facts I got what I know from a decision notice signed by Cllr Mellen and backed up by a report from the Corporate Director. You appear to be suggesting that they are trying to mislead the public in some way by not giving the full story.

But I digress. If there is a plus side why hasn't that been announced at the same time as the cuts? Unless the PR strategy is to hide the bad bits in a portfolio decision that nobody will read and announce the good bits in a press release to the Evening Post? I'm inclined to guess that you know what the PR strategy is.

As for 'watch this space' I doubt Cllr Mellen is likely to announce new policy via this humble little blog, although he is of course welcome to do so if he so wishes.

But I'll wait to see what the magic rabbit brings, if its really good I might even write about it.

Anonymous said...

I there such a word as 'disbenefit'?

There probably is in the City Council dictionary... next to dishonesty.

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

Its kind of like a Bushism isn't it?

Btw anon, the equality impact assessment attached to the decision accepts that there will be a general loss in income and even accepts that parents may have difficulties paying for uniforms resulting in bullying.

Which kinda means you're talking shit.

Anonymous said...

I am a parent in receipt of benefits and received a questionnaire earlier in the year about proposals to reduce and even scrap the uniform grants in Nottingham. I filled out the questionnaire so that hopefully my voice would be heard as I am appalled at the idea of them doing this.
What they give us is hardly enough to buy one decent pair of shoes let alone a whole school uniform and I feel the proposals are wholly discriminatory towards people on benefits.

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

Hello Anon 28 July.

I'd be interested to know if you've had any information about measures to offset the reduction in allowances, as suggested by the first anon poster?

Ryan said...

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allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...