Lib Dems call for funding 'transparency' over potential deal between Fortismere School and Haringey Council
PUBLISHED: 15:14 11 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:37 15 January 2019
Haringey's Lib Dem opposition has called for "transparency" over funding for the possible multi-million pound deal between Fortismere School and Haringey Council.
It comes as council leader Cllr Joseph Ejiofor has taken the unusual step of e-mailing all Haringey Labour Party members about the plans, reported in the Ham&High this week, reiterating they would be self-funding.
The council is in the early stages of exploring a plan to buy land from Fortismere, in Muswell Hill, to build houses, including council houses, for £35.9m.
Co-headteachers of Fortismere, Jo Davey and Zoey Judge, told this newspaper they are hopeful of a deal so they can update their “dilapidated” facilities at the school in Tetherdown.
In sharp responses to being sacked by Cllr Ejiofor last week, former cabinet members Zena Brabazon and Peray Ahmet mooted their concerns over Fortismere as possible reasons for their sackings.
Lib Dem councillor for Fortis Green, Sakina Chenot, who is the party’s local spokesperson on schools, said: “I visited the school shortly after I was elected and it is evident that the Fortismere sixth-form needs major investment.
“However, we need to be sure that this is a good deal for the school and a good deal for Haringey Council. The council has confirmed that the redevelopment is supposed to be self-financing and last month we made a formal request to the council for the financial modelling for the project. We have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.
“Haringey Labour must put forward a fully costed business case that we and the public can scrutinise.”
On Wednesday night, hours after the Ham&High published its report including his statement on the plans, Cllr Ejiofor took the unusual step of emailing all Labour Party members to explain the proposals further.
In the email, which this newspaper has seen, he explicitly said Haringey was not “giving” the cash to Fortismere, and wouldn’t be spending half the borough’s capital budget at the school – both rumours that have apparently been circulating, though not in this newspaper.
He also said feasibility and impact studies are under way on the proposals, which are in the early stages.
In an apparent swipe at Cllrs Brabazon and Ahmet, he added: “Every cabinet member was clear that, if the Fortismere project was to be approved, that it would not take a single penny away from the allocation of capital available to repair Haringey schools.
“It will not be taken forward unless the structure of the project – conditional itself on cabinet and group approval – ensures that the council gets its money back in full.”
Approached by the Ham&High about this, Cllr Brabazon responded: “It’s implying that we were part of this approval, and that’s not the point.
“It’s a huge amount of money on a risky scheme.”
Cllr Brabazon also referred us to a post she had made on public message board Harringay Online.
“As a cabinet member I knew nothing about it till it appeared in a line item in a budget discussion a few weeks ago,” she wrote.
“A brief paper subsequently followed because some of us asked for one. It is only now, because of several questions being asked by me and others, that more information is coming to light.”
She added: “Cllr Ejiofor states that we all knew the ‘full reality of the relevance that this line item had’. If only! That’s why I am asking so many questions.”
Referring again to the council leader’s email to Labour members, she wrote: “I am aware this project is being promoted as self-financing, but I am deeply concerned that this will not be the case ultimately. Capital schemes usually overrun.
“As a foundation school, the first funding body for Fortismere should be the DfE/Education Skills and Funding Agency (EFSA).
“Why Haringey should be taking a huge risk on assembling land, for which application to the Secretary of State to transfer to the local authority would have to be made, and expending £35.9m capital hoping to recoup the money from market sales, is beyond me.”