Computers for disadvantaged kids in Leeds still not distributed after months, claims Councillor
A war of words has broken out between Leeds City Council’s ruling Labour group and the opposition Conservative group over how many disadvantaged children who are isolating due to Covid-19 have access to computers.
A senior opposition councillor has claimed dozens of pieces of computer equipment handed to Leeds by the government to help disadvantaged children with remote learning during the pandemic have so far remain unallocated.
But a senior Labour councillor said the scheme was “ongoing”, adding that almost 1,500 devices had already been given out by the council.
It follows concerns raised last week by the headteacher of a school in Seacroft, who said he discovered his school’s laptop allocation had been cut from 61 to 13, following a communication from the Government it was changing the way it distributed resources to schools.
But Coun Ryan Stephenson, the opposition Conservatives group’s education spokesman, said “more than half” of tablet PCs and internet routers received by Leeds City Council had still not been distributed to the children who needed to use them during the pandemic.
Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families Coun Fiona Venner insisted officers have worked hard to provide vulnerable families with help, adding that Government broke its promises to the council around wider funding help around Covid 10.
According to Coun Stephenson, Leeds received 2,181 laptops and tablets and 303 routers for vulnerable learners to help assist with their learning while schools were shut during lockdown – he said more than half of the iPads and more two thirds of the routers have not so far made their way to learners in Leeds.
Coun Stephenson accused the council of not distributing what they had been allocated, while telling government they had not received enough.
He said: “The government launched a number of schemes to help pupils learn at home during lockdown. Among them was the initiative to provide free laptops, tablets and routers for vulnerable learners, offering a way for young people to stay connected and access vital learning materials while schools were closed.”
Coun Stephenson did not reveal how many laptops were distributed, but claimed “less than half” remained unallocated several months down the line.
He added that £1m of £8m of business support grants given to the council by Government were unspent by the deadline, meaning the remaining money had to be sent back to central government, rather than helping struggling businesses.
He said: “Again, it’s likely that businesses missed out on vital support. Meanwhile on the one hand the council argues that it hasn’t had enough support from government, and on the other hand it can’t seem to distribute all of the funding and support it does receive.”
Coun Fiona Venner (Lab), Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families, said: “It is disappointing to hear the opposition criticising Leeds City Council officers who have worked hard, at pace, to set up thorough allocation schemes for the distribution of laptops to vulnerable children; and financial support to businesses in need.
“At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, the Government promised local authorities it would compensate us to provide what we needed to protect and support our citizens.
“They broke their promise on this and Leeds alone has been left with a funding gap of £95.1m. Whilst we welcome these two schemes they only provide short term support to longer term issues.
“Leeds City Council received an allocation of digital devices in the summer, and worked hard to establish a safe system to ensure that devices were distributed effectively and safely, matching eligible children and households. This included an assessment of every child’s individual circumstances to ensure that the right level of support and guidance was provided to them and their parent or carer; as well as Covid-19 related risk assessments to ensure the safe delivery and set up of the devices.
“This was essential to ensure appropriate levels of safety given the pandemic and the vulnerabilities of children who are looked after or subject to a child protection or child in need plan.
“We have so far distributed 1,454 devices and have this week allocated a further 135 to individual children and families which are now being issued, this is an ongoing process with increasing numbers of eligible children and households receiving devices on a daily basis.
She added that schemes to provide equipment to vulnerable families was separate from the Department of Education programme to help schools support learners from home.
She said: “The local authority is working closely with headteachers to maximise effective targeting of need and anticipate an increased demand following the recently announced reduced allocations to schools from the Department for Education.
“As for the Discretionary Business Grants, we mobilised our discretionary fund within weeks and were able to support 715 businesses with grants to the value of £6.621m. Unfortunately whilst we and other local authorities wrote to the government to ask them to extend the scheme, it sadly ended on September 30. We are yet to receive a response from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”