A MAJOR political row has broken out within the Leeds City Council chamber over the controversial issue of free schools.
It follows revelations that the city could lose almost £1m in potential revenues because it is effectively being ordered by the Government to hand over a former primary school building in North Leeds to a new free school for nothing.
At a full council meeting, Tory opposition group leader Coun Andrew Carter asked Coun Judith Blake, the city’s cabinet spokeswoman for education, to retract statements she made at a previous meeting about the apparent lack of consultation with the council’s administration about the proposals to transfer the disused Fir Tree school site to the Khalsa Science Academy with no recompense to the city.
Coun Carter said he had copies of emails and papers which showed a dialogue stretching back to the end of last year about the issue.
“It’s not about the Government taking away Fir Tree from the council, it’s about truthfulness in the decision-making process,” he said.
Shadow education spokesman Coun Alan Lamb accused Coun Blake of giving the impression that “this was done behind closed doors and the council knew nothing about it”. “It is simply not true,” he said.
“Either Coun Blake is misleading...this council or she’s totally incompetent. Either way, I don’t think she’s fit to hold the office that she’s in.”
However Coun Blake accused opposition colleagues of “a complete and utter misrepresentation” of her previous comments and of the issue.
“The whole issue is the fact that free schools don’t have to come to the local authority for submission,” she said.
“Khalsa got approval to become a free school in 2013.
“I think you are trying to defend the indefensible.”
Council leader Keith Wakefield also waded into the row, hitting out at “unacceptable” targeting of his cabinet colleague.
“It is absolutely right that we can have a debate about whether we agree with free schools or not,” he said.
“[But this is] a deflection from that debate.
“When you start personally abusing people, that is what I find unacceptable.”
He lambasted opposition colleagues for their “uncalled for and rather thuggish” behaviour.
“The truth is simple,” he said.
“We are guardians of the people’s assets. We have a threat from this Government taking it away with no recompense for Leeds.”