Cabinet Reshuffle Rocks York House

[UPDATED: See end of item for updates.]
Strange times at York House. In a short and to-the-point press release that raises as many questions as it answers, Richmond Council announced that Virginia Morris, Cabinet Member of the Environment, was being replaced in that role by Pamela Fleming “with immediate effect”.

The reason? Nope, not a defection to UKIP or anything like that, but rather because “she has indicated that she intends to commence legal action against the Council”. Do what? Yep, that’s what it says. It goes on to quote Council Leader (and her fellow East Sheen ward councillor) Lord True as he points out that in the circumstances it would not be appropriate for her to continue with her cabinet post and thanks her for the work she’s done up to this point.

And what is this legal action about we ask ourselves. It would be rude to pry. Rude but interesting and possibly even relevant. And maybe even relevant to Twickenham! Is it a cabinet matter, a council matter or a private matter? Needless to say the Press Release doesn’t go into that kind of thing. But do stay tuned for any further developments.

UPDATE 1:It turns out that the reason for the legal action is school places, or rather the absence thereof. Cllr Morris claims that despite battling hard for many months the Council have still not provided a suitable school place for her four year old daughter. She is quoted in the R&TT as describing her experience of dealing with the Council on this matter as ‘horrific’ and that legal action is a last resort. Obviously it’s an important personal issue for Cllr Morris but also a potentially embarrassing one for El Brute who’ve placed a lot of PR emphasis on their schools admissions policy and the choice it offers. There’s more about it all in the R&TT.

UPDATE 2: And now the Evening Standard reveals that it’s all about the address used for allocating places. Apparently Cllr Morris’s daughter was not offered a place at the oversubscribed Sheen Mount Primary despite it being “50 metres from her front door”. It seems the Morris family have been living there for 9-10 months while their Hampton home is being developed. The child was offered a place at Buckingham Primary as the Hampton address is the one on which council tax is being paid. So, are El Brute just being brutish? Or is the Council simply applying its admissions policies fairly? How long do you need to live 50 metres from a school to stand a good chance of getting a place, anyway? And if your house in Hampton is being developed why move several miles away to rent a house next to a very desirable school in East Sheen? What happens if you then move back to Hampton once the work is complete? Do you give up that valuable place and have to ‘settle’ for the local primary? Like the LBRuT Press Release, the Evening Standard article raises more questions than it answers.

There may be plenty of good reasons behind all this but at the moment it’s all rather confusing. Confusing and interesting.

* El Brute Press Release
* Richmond & Twickenham Times
* Evening Standard


Filed under Council, Local Issues & News

42 responses to “Cabinet Reshuffle Rocks York House

  1. David

    Couldn’t the Council have encouraged a school rather than a Travelodge and supermarket to open in the former office buildings In East Twickenham?

    • The East Twickenham Village News reported in August:

      ‘ . . We now hear from Cllr Scott Naylor that the site owners, Harmsworth Pension Fund, have fallen out with the developers, Sowdens. That would fit with the investigation of new options. Cllr Naylor understands that they are looking at housing or elderly care. And of course the government has just made it easier to convert office blocks into housing without specific planning permission.

      . . it has been confirmed that the council’s planning department has been approached by the developers of two alternative proposals: an independent primary school and sheltered housing. These are early stage enquiries, so any official planning application is a long way off. But they do suggest that the hotel plus supermarket proposal may no longer be on the table and that there is active consideration of other ideas.’

  2. Purple Haze

    Renting properties near desirable schools has been going on for years in this area. From my experience as far back as 20 years, and there have been a few folk that have made a tidy sum out of doing this.
    A bit like in the old days when folk used to rent flats in Chelsea for a week so that could get married at the once trendy Kings Road registry office.
    The trouble is, over privileged, self serving individuals with a massive sense of entitlement will never think it’s wrong or shameful to do this.

  3. Mrs. Little

    It seems as though Cllr Morris is playing up after she was subjected to the same rules that everyone else is. If you do the math, living in a property 9 months prior to now would be around February. Weren’t the reception applications due by mid January?? The maths don’t add up. Why wouldn’t you apply for a school in Hampton if that is where you are renovating your house?? Everything about this seems fishy…. Just like the planning application debacle.

    • Alexis

      As always, the question of school places is probably the most hotly and articulately debated issue in our borough – remember that there were well over 100 letters and posts on the R&TT pages about the controversial Catholic School which has just opened on the old RACC site on Clifden Road?
      Here we have most correspondents rushing to judgement and crying foul about Cllr Morris who is taking the Council to court over her failure to get her child into Sheen Mount Primary School. We also failed but were very pleased with East Sheen Primary School, our 2nd choice until we moved to Twickenham.
      Since this is obviously such a hot button, perhaps we should all draw breath before the case is heard and judgement given. It’s a very foolhardy person who risks the costs of a legal action unless they have very good grounds for complaint. I wonder how many of those who have already judged the situation have thought about that?
      Could it be that Cllr Morris and her partner planned to develop their Hampton house for sale to finance a move to East Sheen where she is a Councillor?
      All credit to LibDem Cllr Gareth Roberts, Opposition Education spokesperson, who has been uncharacteristically quiet about this issue despite his relentless hounding of Riverside Cllr Salvoni for decamping to Cornwall and Cllr Naylor for defecting to UKIP. His question about absentee Cllr Salvoni at the recent “Question Time” event was rather ill-judged and quite rightly slapped down by NT. He’s obviously promising but needs to work on his Irritation Quotient and to grow into his brief (in my view).

    • Ex-Twickenham Resident

      ‘Since this is obviously such a hot button, perhaps we should all draw breath before the case is heard and judgement given.’ Alexis.

      But Alex this is the internet! Facts and a fair hearing are so analogue! Now pick up your digital pitch fork and digital flaming torch and get with it!

    • Alexis

      Sorry for my naivety, ex-Twickenham Resident. I have always been impressed by the decorum of most of those who post on this site – perhaps thats why I feel free to voice a few anachronistic ideas of common decency and behaviour. Sadly I am characterised by e-TR as still stuck in the time when the 405-line monochrome analogue television standard was the only one. I rather miss the flickering picture on my old floor mounted Bush TV. Sadly times must move on and my TV is now digital and colour – wow, what a revelation!
      However, I still think that pre-judging litigation is wrong and best left to the courts and the sort of people who populate the e-pages of our national dailies since their comments are totally pointless – perhaps e-TR is one of them?

    • Ex-Twickenham Resident

      Alexis, I was being ironic and agree with your original point. I can assure you I do not populate our national dailies with comments, and concur that the decorum on this site is respectable.

    • Alexis

      Oh dear e-TR,
      I really should engage brain before attacking keyboard – thank you for your polite correction.

    • The judicial review will examine the correctness of the council’s actions and the reasonableness of its decision in the light of the evidence available to it at that time. It will not examine Cllr Morris’s motives or evidence that has been produced after the cut-off date.

  4. Mumto1plus2

    So she didn’t get a place although renting close by, yet so many parents who rent properties in Amyand Park Road, Twickenham near St Mary’s School for exactly a year do get places for their children in that school. Once in, they return to their previous address.
    In other parts of the country, you’d have to move to another school if you did that but here it seems all the schools are full so once you’re in, you’re safe. No wonder she’s miffed although I struggle to have much sympathy. It does seem rather suspicious.

  5. George

    Despite her quotes in the paper, I don’t think that Evening Standard article actually evokes much sympathy for Ms Morris. It looks as if the Council are the ones being consistent and fair here.

  6. anonymouse

    Unfortunately ‘shit happens’, especially to Councillors and MPs who own two or more properties and forget which is their main residence.
    At least Twickenham Riverside Councillor Salvoni has made it clear that she now lives in Cornwall. It was rather ironic that during Twickenham Rediscovered last week Lord True defended her by saying that ‘she wasn’t here to defend herself’

  7. anonymouse

    Judging by the various press articles it seems that Cllr Morris expects ‘special treatment’ from Council Planning and Education departments and John Lewis or she has a ‘hissy fit’.
    She needs to be introduced to the naughty step!

  8. And there’s more…

    It’s in the Standard today.
    Apparently Cllr Morris’s daughter was not offered a place at the oversubscribed Sheen Mount Primary despite it being “50 metres from her front door”. It seems the Morris family have been living there for 9-10 months as their Hampton home is being developed. The child was offered a place at Buckingham primary as the Hampton address is the one on which council tax is being paid. Interesting:

  9. Purple Haze

    …and now the trees in Whitton have been saved too!

    If The Blue Baron and his entourage all resign can we save Twickenham from the undesirable railway station development?

  10. The RTT has:
    Cabinet member takes Richmond Council to High Court over schools admissions
    . . Coun Morris said her case was unique and not driven by the “black hole” situation some families face, but said another 100 children may be affected by her problem, which is down to admissions criteria . . She said: “Since we have pursued court action we have discovered that what has happened to us has also affected many families within the borough. Maybe this way we can not only get answers for our daughter but also enable those other families who have been affected to understand what happened to them.” . .

  11. Parent

    I think the vultures should hold off circling. This is about the Council’s Education Officers being taken to court because they have failed to find a suitable school place for a child. We know that it is not connected to the overall issue about school places. Ms Morris is one of the few parents who can easily access Buckingham School, which is undersubscribed, and being one of the few undersubscribed schools in the borough, one of the schools parents without places in other parts of the borough are allocated even though it is not a choice and difficult, if not impossible, for them to access.

    A high court action suggests the issue is around finding a “suitable” place within the context of legislation, possibly disability legislation and I think privacy should be respected.

    Of course if it turns out that she is having a hissy fit because she doesn’t think her local school, Buckingham is good enough or a faith school doesn’t think she is “good” enough, circle away.

    • Well, no, they HAVEN’T “failed to find a suitable school place for a child” have they? In Councillor Morris’s case, her daughter *has* been offered a place near to where she actually lives, rather than where she’s pretending to live in order to get a school place.

    • Parent

      Ric, I wrote this before the last update.

      My daughter was not offered a place at Sheen Mount though I had lived, and paid Council tax, in the then catchment for 8 years and was first on the waiting list (and our neighbour in the next small terraced house ) was sixth. Reason? Sibling priority for the children of parents who had moved into catchment to rent a property which would get a place for first children and then moved back to their usual residence, in eg Chiswick and even Chelsea. We never did get a waiting list place. I am glad the Council have developed strict rules to stop that happening and just hope they have been fairly applied.

      Would I wonder Councillor Morris be going to court if the situation was reversed and she lived in Hampton but had only been offered a place at Sheen Mount?

    • Hi Parent

      When I worked in Croydon, there was a parent who applied to Forestdale School, whose back garden backed onto the school’s grounds, who also didn’t get in – why ? Because it was a 1 form entry school and there were *23* siblings that year, leaving 7 open places. Croydon’s schools at that time used ‘closest safe walking distance’ and there were 7 pupils closer to the front gate than she was. The parent was understandably upset, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Shit happens, as they say. There simply wasn’t the space at the school.

    • Parent

      Yes of course shit happens, there are not enough local places for children in Sheen so it is important to ensure it is scrupulously fair shit and the Council has rightly acted to ensure parents know that buying a place via a temporary address is not fair. The admissions brochure is clear

      “Owning more than one property
      You should state the address which is your family’s
      main residence and at which your child lives most of
      the time.
      Temporary addresses
      You are not permitted to use a temporary address to
      secure a place for your child. If you own a property
      and are living at a different address, we will assume
      that the second address is temporary and the property
      you own is where you normally live.”

      As a Cabinet Member Councillor Morris has collective responsibility for Education Strategy, she has signed off the admissions code but thinks she should now be exempt and entitled to a school of her choice, something the strategy denies to a lot of other parents.

    • Anton

      This is probably the fourth incidence of this kind of thing in Hampton that I know of – although generally it seems to involve moving to Twickenham to get your daughter into Waldegrave. On each occasion the family has arranged for ‘home improvements/development’ in the very year that school places are allocated – and, on each occasion, the family, once in possession of the coveted school place, has moved back within three months.

      I wonder if they will need more work done on their house when their daughter is 10?

  12. School places not planning:

    ‘Cabinet member takes Richmond Council to High Court over schools admissions: A cabinet member has stood down after taking Richmond Council to the High Court over failures to find her daughter a school place.
    Councillor Virginia Morris said she has battled with the council for the past eight months to try to apply for a school for her four-year-old, Bluebelle Hills, but has made no progress.

    She said: “We are not satisfied that they have dealt with our application in the correct manner so we are now challenging them on this issue. As a result the leader of the council has asked me to stand down as a cabinet member.” . . ‘

    • Steve Topol

      At a public meeting yesterday evening, ‘Leaders Question Time’, held at York House, Councillor Paul Hodgins, Cabinet Member for Schools, claimed that the Council had increased the supply of primary school places, to match the increasing demand for them. He painted a very rosy picture, but one that I’m sure he knows didn’t illustrate all the facts. His former Cabinet colleague, Councillor Morris, is not alone in being dissatisfied with the Council’s allocation process.

      Many parents across the borough know that their children are not being allocated places at local Primary Schools of their choice. The East Twickenham area has been described in the local press as an education black spot. The Council must and can do more to ensure that children are allocated places at local primary schools of choice.

    • Disenchanted Riverside Voter

      Is this an announcement of a change in Libdem policy? You comment that many parents across the borough know that their children are not being allocated places at local primary schools of choice, or you might for many parents in the borough have omitted the last two words. That has been the case for at least the last sixteen years, almost certainly longer. Any Councillor, and our MPs too, who has served that long, libdem or conservative, will have had many parents contacting them every year as a result of not being allocated a local school place for their child, or not being allocated any place at all.

      The Councils Education Officers have long pursued a strategy of, rather than planning for the recommended 5% spare capacity to help ensure choice, filling every last school place even if it means offering parents places at schools it is difficult, if not impossible for them to access, in the process leaving many parents feeling they have no choice but to move or go private. That is why there are Twickenham parents with their 4 year olds at home today, either because they were offered no place at all or the places offered were at Buckingham or Heathlands which are both difficult journeys from Teddington and Twickenham, which would involve parents and their 4 year olds and their younger siblings being dragged on long journeys on foot or via changes of buses. for in excess of an hour every day (with the parents and younger siblings spending even longer.) Many parents across the borough know families who have moved away or gone private and that the local communities built up in our nurseries and anti natal groups break up. Not to mention the tension caused around families using meeting the faith criteria as a means to leverage an advantage in gaining a school place in a very difficult environment .

      So are the libdems going to make offering a place at a local school to every school child a priority and take the concrete step towards achieving it of overturning a strategy adopted by successive Education Officers, thereby forcing him to plan for the recommended 4 to 5% spare capacity in Twickenham. Matthew Paul disengeuously blamed the difficult economic climate in the Richmond and Twickenham Times but this strategy has been adopted through boom and bust. Would the libdem a have rejected the recommendation that there was no need for further school places in Twickenham last year as the Conservatives did, and insisted on the provision of 4 to 5% spare capacity in our local schools? I am sure most parents would be happy to be given a space in our local schools, let alone a choice.

    • Steve Topol

      Disenchanted Riverside Resident – thank-you for your very well informed response.

      You ask if there has been a Lib Dem policy change. The brief answer is that the policies of the Lib Dems, as well as the Conservatives & the Labour Party, on the issue of the provision of education, have all changed. It is the intention of the Academies and Free Schools to not only increase standards of attainment in education, but to ensure that parents can find places, and places of choice, for their children at local schools. It is the intention to make new schools easier to establish, thus increasing the availability of places, and places of choice, at local schools.

      There is clearly a problem in the Borough with the supply of school places that parents want for their sons and daughters. I am currently investigating how the provision of new schools could solve or reduce this problem

    • Government policy is fund new schools in old buildings that van be bought and converted cheaply. The challenge to us is identify such sites in C/E Twickenham or Richmond town. They are very rare.

      We’ve benefited from 2 in the 40 years I’ve lived here: the Clifden road site, given to the Catholics but yielding us 10 community reception places; and the former St John’s hospital which allowed St Mary’s school to add 30 reception places.

      I have racked my brains but can’t think of anywhere else that might do. Our other 2 schools, Orleans and St Stephen’s, were expanded on their sites (+ 30 places). St Mary’s also expanded onto part of Orleans High school’s playing fields (+ 30 places).

      When the Brunel site in north St Margaret’s was developed 10 years ago local families pressed for a new school. The then as now Conservative administration said it would cost too much and as now was ’not needed’, which was patently untrue. Unstated was the real objection: the site is close to the borough border so Hounslow kids would crowd out those from St Margaret’s.

      So when (as I expect) Steve Topol and co. are elected Councillors in May I look forward to their fresh thinking on this old and intractable problem.

    • Disenchanted Riverside Voter

      I am sure all parents are aware of the Free School programme, we have after all a very popular parent led free school opening next year, subject to site. However in planning, the cart has to follow the horse. And the first step is the Councils assessment of need. The Free School process though opaque seemingly relies to a great extent on the Councils own assessment of need and there is also the mechanism for Councils to invite bids to open a new school. Questions of site etc are for the DOfE to resolve after a bid is approved. Funding of course comes from Central governemnt and follows the child.

      The issue is therefore how the Council kicks off the Free School process in defining need. As long as need is defined by the priority being to fill every last school place in the borough, then parents will continue to find themselves with no local school place. Only when need is defined by the priority being to offer every parent a place in a local school, via planning for the recommended small level of spare capacity, 4-5%, will the Free School process have a chance to meet the needs of parents.

      Clearly the Libdems have not yet addressed the issue but I am sure parents will be interested to hear the substance of their policy rather than empty statements and the two parties hurling spin at each other. The Conservatives may have made themselves unpopular locally with the giving away of the best local site for just 10 places for local children but going forward I am sure parents will appreciate knowing that the Libdems are going to do something substantially different to an education strategy that has failed parents for decades.

    • DRV: re ‘an education strategy that has failed parents for decades’:

      I think you underestimate just how much extra capacity has been added in recent years. Since 2000 24.5 permanent forms of entry have been created, equal to 5145 extra school places, an increase of 35 % on the 1999 capacity. It is true that this has turned out not to be enough as young families have continued to crowd into the borough but it is not surprising that the officials and teachers who made this happen fell they have done as much as they could do.

      Only a quarter of this extra capacity has come from new sites; the rest has come from cramming more classrooms onto schools’ existing sites; this has often been resisted by those who didn’t stand to benefit from it and which has been taken as far as it can

    • This is the source for details of the expansion since 2000:
      I have added to the 21 FEs listed the 3 new schools opened this month: St Mary’s Hampton 1 FE; St Richard Reynolds 1FE; and Thomson House 1.5 FE. So total = 24.5.

    • Vicky Phillips

      As Chris says many places have been added but it hasn’t been enough. Predictions were clearly showing that in the run up to the Conservatives’ decision to give away the Clifden site to the Catholic church although it was the only possible site, from a space and cost point of view, for local community schools open to everyone and it was formerly a state school. Turing House free school is clearly having terrible trouble finding a site or it would have announced where it is going to be located long ago not left it until local parents are actually having to make decisions on secondary school admissions for next Autumn. Future new schools may well have to be located in inadequate leased premises with insufficient outdoor space.

  13. This may be connected to the row last year about a planning application Cllr Morris made for an extension to her house and what she may or may not have said to council staff about it:

    ‘Richmond Council planning chief ‘got special treatment’: The council’s planning chief got “special treatment” when she consulted her department’s director about a restriction on her own house, it has been claimed.’ RTT March 27 2011

  14. twickerman

    Who’s going to Ask His Leadership tonight at the #TwickenhamRediscovered Question Time’ish event?
    Let’s hope that ad hoc questions are allowed, after all the pre-selected pre-prepared stuff (yawn).

    • michelangelo

      Ad hoc questions were allowed, and many were asked (and answered). The pre-selected questions were selected not by the panel, but by officers.
      It would obviously not have been appropriate to ask about Cllr Morris, as (a) the matter is sub judice, and (b) questions were only about the Twickenham area

  15. Ed

    Has anyone actually bothered to ask her?