Letters, Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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More free schools needed in region

GIVEN the success and popularity of free schools, we need more of them in Sunderland as they are raising standards and expectations.

 Currently, the city has only one but it is proving a success with high parental demand for places and excellent academic standards.

 Nationally, three quarters of free schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which is far more than other types of school.

 Above all, this helps the poorest pupils as most free schools are in deprived areas, meeting the needs of parents for better school places.

 And with evidence from Sweden that competition is leading to higher standards in all schools, we need more, not fewer, here.

 So it is worrying that the programme may come to a halt if the Labour Party allowed councils to veto free school proposals.

 Future applications could also be restricted to parent-led groups, which would make it difficult to get proposals off the ground.

 With Wearside Labour MPs reluctant to pass an opinion on free schools, let’s hope they see sense and begin to back them.

Councillor Robert Oliver.

Leader Conservative Group,

City of Sunderland Council

Back off bus war

IT’S a bit rich for Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, to accuse Stagecoach of “scaremongering” – considering it was Nexus which first threatened big reductions in bus services (and the axing of the Shields ferry) if its Quality Contract scheme proposals were not adopted.

 The decision about the future of bus services in Tyne and Wear will be made by the Integrated Transport Authority (ITA), or its successor Combined Authority next year.

 On offer are a Quality Partnership, as proposed by the local bus companies, or Bridget Phillipson’s beloved Quality Contract.

 Most, if not all, of the “advantages” of a Quality Contract scheme (simpler fares, better information, “smart” ticketing and more consultation with passengers) would be available with a Quality Partnership.

 A Quality Partnership would also see improved bus services introduced more quickly, whereas imposing Quality Contracts would be challenged in the courts, perhaps leading to a five-year delay. With Quality Contracts, fares for short journeys would rise and there would be an increase in bureaucracy. The financial risk of running bus services would transfer from the bus companies to the Tyne and Wear council taxpaper.

 Thankfully, the local bus companies do make profits – otherwise they couldn’t provide those bus services in the first place or fund the investment in new buses we have seen in recent years.

 A petition signed by trade union members working for the bus companies has opposed the introduction of Quality Contracts and a petition signed by hundreds of Metro users has suggested Nexus concentrates on getting its own house in order rather than seek to take over bus services as well.

 Nexus and Bridget have effectively declared war on the bus companies in Tyne and Wear.

 Labour has lost the nationalisation battle and is now seeking public control by more backdoor means.

 Let the ITA make the decision once it has assessed the arguments.

 In the meantime, Stagecoach will fight – Stagecoach will be right.

Coun Peter Wood,

Conservative Transport spokesman

Proud of city link

IT was a delight to learn that the Mayor of St Nazaire, Joel Batteux, has been created a Freeman of the City of Sunderland.

 As an old Bedan and an unashamed Francophile, I experienced a sense of pride that one of Sunderland’s finest schools and St Nazaire have been linked in this way.

 Sadly, the school visited by the Mayor is no more. The fine quadrangular buildings were damaged by the new science block – added circa 1960.

 The earlier buildings were such a splendid example of late 1920s architecture that an undergraduate friend, from Northwood, commented how much finer Bede school was than his Middlesex grammar school.

George E Brown