14/01/2020

Saddened by attempts to remove votes from Trade Unions and Church Reps on Education

At the first set of Dundee City Council meetings of the year I was sad to have to speak and vote against plans to remove voting rights from trade union representatives and church and other faith community representatives in the education section of the Children and Families Services Committee.

Earlier in the evening there had been a welcome outbreak of cross-party consensus about the need to regulate fire works more.  The attempt to remove voting rights from church and trade union representatives saddened me.

I agreed with the Lord Provost that it would have better if the item had been withdrawn.

Fundamentally, I do not know what the problem is that this proposal is meant to fix.

An Administration which lost any vote at the Children and Families Services Committee could take the item back to a subsequent Policy and Resources Committee and with a political majority win a vote.

We were told that, in particular, the role of the churches was an anachronism.  If that is the case then we need to have a good understanding of the history which got us to this point.

It is said that the Reformer John Knox wanted a school in every parish and there is no doubt that the Church of Scotland and the other Presbyterian denominations have played a crucial role in promoting education in our country.

It could be argued that it was, in part at least, the Church of Scotland and the distinctive Scottish education system which helped to maintain a strong Scottish identity and prevented the complete assimilation of Scottish identity into British identity after the Union of Crowns and the Union of Parliaments.  I think that this is a good thing and suspect that many people in the council chamber thought it was even more important than I do.

The 1872 Education Act was in some respects the beginning of state education in Scotland and brought about a partnership between schools, local authorities and some of the churches.

I would want to pay tribute to the work of the Church of Scotland representatives on the Education Committee and its successor since my election.

Prior to my election I was for a couple of years a member of the Church and Society Council of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  As a member of that council with responsibility for education I recognise the seriousness with which the Church of Scotland supported their representatives on education committees across Scotland.

Likewise the Catholic Church's representatives have been assiduous in their efforts on behalf of all aspects of education in our city.

Essentially, the Catholic Church's place comes from the 1918 Education Act.

I want to pay tribute to that act and to the foresight of those who brought it into being. An Act that legislated for multi-culturalism before the term had been invented.  An Act which allowed a significant minority of the population of this country to integrate.  An Act which brought Catholic Schools into the state system, although it is important to note that it was not just Catholic schools.

The centenary of the 1918 Act was marked with much fanfare in 2018 with, for example, the First Minister giving a lecture extolling the virtues of the Act and of Catholic Schools in particular.

In Dundee I would also want to pay tribute to Mr Bashir Chohan who fills the third place on our committee for the Faith Communities, representing the Muslim community.

I also want to say as a trade unionist that I am appalled by the proposal to take votes away from employee representatives on the committee.

I think that these external voices with votes make a difference to our committee and to our decisions.

Whilst I recognise that as elected representatives that the buck must stop with us I think that there is a case for worker representation to be a part of other committees and we should certainly be listening to workforce and their trade unions in particular.

As I said earlier I do not understand what the problem is that these proposals attempted to fix.

It was suggested that unelected people should have no say over decisions which impact on the public.  If that is the case can we expect motions to be brought forward to abolish the Dundee Partnership, bring Leisure and Culture Dundee back fully under council control and calls for the Health Board to be democratised?

My ward colleague, Bailie Macpherson, suggested that we should look at giving votes to the parent and pupil representatives on the Children and Families Services Committee.  I was glad that the suggestion by my colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan for that proposal to be looked at in the future was agreed to.

I thought that the debate was unfortunate and unnecessary.

I want to pay tribute to the hard work of teachers and pupils in our schools.  But everyone involved in education in Dundee, that should include councillors as much as anyone else, knows that we must do better collectively.  We need to work together to find ways to make a difference for our young people.  I do not think that tinkering with the committee structure is going to make a real difference.

When the vote came I joined the majority of councillors and the proposal was defeated by 26 votes to 2.

I hope in the not too distant future that we will see as much energy expended on discussing plans to improve the outcomes for all the young people in our city.