Yesterday evening I was watching BBC London News and couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. The West London Free School, Toby Young’s vanity project in Hammersmith, was given plenty of airtime in what amounted to nothing more than free publicity at the expense of the license payer.
Not only was the segment a bit of free publicity, it also contained some factual inaccuracies. When the report was first aired at 1325, the reporter said that the school had support from various people but neglected to mention the council. This was put right after I tweeted the BBC to remind them that Hammersmith and Fulham Council supported the project. The reporter also claimed that Young had set up the school to “respond to the shortage of places in the borough [of Hammersmith & Fulham]”. Hon Tobes actually wanted to site his school in Acton in the neighbouring borough of Ealing. When he couldn’t find a suitable location, Tory-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council duly obliged and gave notice to the 21 or so tenants of Palingswick House.
The West London Free School is being touted as the template for future free schools. While schools like this will receive funding from central government, I fear that those schools that are part of the state comprehensive system will see their funding dry up unless they adopt the government’s model.
It is a splendid building what is much better suited as a school rather than as office accommodation to voluntary organisation which is its use at present. Many of the groups do excellent work. For instance I was impressed by a course the Afghan Council held Portcullis House last month teaching young Afghans about the workings of our Parliament – several of them bravely plan to work in Afghanistan to use that knowledge to help develop their own Parliament. I am pictured helping the Afghan Ambassador hand out their certificates.
Really? So why boot them out? He won’t say, instead he tells us that,
[…] alternative office accommodation for these organisations would be more cost effective. Selling the building helps us reduce our debt mountain and thus our interest bill – that leaves us with more money for the voluntary sector than we could otherwise afford.
Excuses, excuses. What the dissembling Phibbs failed to mention was the unsuitability of the new accommodation. He also neglected to mention that his wife/life partner was a councillor and used her influence to smooth the way for Hon Tobe’s school.
Here’s the link to BBC London News. The report is at 09.57. it’s only available for the next 7 hours.
It would appear that Hon Tobes’ ambitions don’t end with the West London Free School, he wants to start a chain of such schools.