Changes to term times and the academisation of schools were two of the major policy announcements made by the leader of Peterborough City Council as he set out his agenda for the coming years.
Standing in front a newly elected council dominated by Conservative blue, Councillor John Holdich declared his intention to try and solve the issue of parents seeking cheaper holidays by taking their children out of school.
The council leader, who is also cabinet member for education, will speak to neighbouring authorities in Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire and Norfolk to see if anything can be done for future years.
He said: “Probably 12 times a year somebody writes to me saying it’s not right. I’ve got cases where a family of four kids save £2,500 by going away in term time.
“It’s not going to go away.
“I’m going to send out letters to start the process. It might not work but let’s try something.”
Cllr Holdich, a vocal critic of the government’s policy to turn all schools into academies, believes every school in Peterborough will be run by an academy trust by 2025.
In order to pre-empt the change, he wants to group a number of schools together so that they can be run by a single academy provider with shared expertise.
He said: “I’m not convinced by academies. [Education secretary] Nicky Morgan has said she’s withdrawing the idea of all schools becoming academies, but if you read the white paper I’m not sure she has.
“We do not want to see Peterborough’s schools picked off in isolation.”
Cllr Holdich also does not want a repeat of what has happened recently at Gladstone Primary, which is to become an academy after being rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
He said: “My guess is we will set up our own academy trust which will take at least two years to set up. Schools would then have to express an interest to join us. I hope they will stick with the city council.
“I do not think it’s good to have them picked off - if they have bad Key Stage 2 results or it fails its Ofsted then an academy trust comes in.”
Responding on Monday evening to the council leader’s list of policies, which includes a grot spot hotline, leader of the Labour group Cllr Mohammed Jamil said: “Just because a school becomes an academy does not mean it will become successful as we’ve seen at Voyager.”
Discussing Labour’s priorities, he added: “We welcome that jobs are coming in but have to make sure there are good quality jobs and give people enough money to live off.”
Cllr Nick Sandford, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “It’s good the council has an emphasis on education, but I’m disappointed there’s nothing in the remarks for aspirations for Peterborough to be the environment capital. I wonder if that’s been forgotten.”
Cllr Chris Ash, leader of the Liberal Party group, expressed approval for attempting to change the term times. He added: “One of the biggest issues we face is funding housing at affordable rates.”
Cllr John Whitby, the new leader of the UKIP group, said: “One of the things we hope the council is going to do is work with the Police and Crime Commissioner on low level crime.”
The Conservatives won 31 of 60 seats in May’s local elections following boundary changes.
And not only do they now have a majority, but they will also have the chair and vice chair of every council scrutiny committee and commission. That is after the Tories voted down an amendment by Liberal Democrat Cllr Darren Fower for scrutiny committee chairmen to be appointed by the minority group members.
The new cabinet
There was no place for former council leader Marco Cereste, but the new cabinet is:
Councillor John Holdich - council leader and cabinet member for education, skills, university portfolio and communications.
Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald - deputy leader and cabinet member for integrated adult social care and health.
Cllr Samantha Smith - children’s services and social care.
Cllr Janet Goodwin - city centre management, culture and tourism.
Cllr Irene Walsh - communities, enforcement and cohesion.
Cllr Diane Lamb - public health.
Cllr Peter Hiller - growth, planning, housing and economic development.
Cllr Gavin Elsey - waste and street scene.
Cllr David Seaton - resources and lead on Digital Peterborough.
Cllr Graham Casey - advisor for city centre management, culture and tourism and champion for heritage.
Cllr June Stokes - advisor for children’s services and education.