Author Archives: Cllr Darren Cooper

Olympic flame coming to three towns near you..

I was well chuffed today to wake up to some super news for Sandwell – three of our six towns are to share in the excitement of next year’s Olympic torch relay. 

Celebrating the good news with Dave Heeley earlier today

The Olympic flame will be proudly carried through Oldbury, West Brom and Smethwick on its journey around the UK, an once-in-a-lifetime chance for thousands of local people to see a little bit of history.

I couldn’t be more pleased for them and the borough as a whole.

It’s a massive coup for Sandwell to be among the 1,000-plus villages, towns and cities across theUKwhich will see the Olympic Flame at first hand.

 And it will give us all an opportunity to come together and celebrate the fact that our country is hosting the Olympics.

I see today’s announcement as a clear sign that the 2012 Games will benefit places like Sandwell.

We already have two new AdiZone outdoor gyms at Victoria Park, Smethwick, andDartmouthPark,West Bromwich, which were partly funded by adidas in their role as official Olympic sponsor.

The fact that the Olympic flame will be so close will be a real boost for Sandwell’s sporting talent, such as Oldbury-based triathlete Jodie Stimpson who is hoping to represent Great Britain in the 2012 Games and trains at Langley Swimming Centre.

Make a note in your diary for next year – the Olympic flame will be with us on Saturday 30 June.  It’s in mine already!

Great result by Sandwell children

I was thrilled to hear how Sandwell’s children have achieved some of the UK’s most improved results for maths and English.

The Department for Education (DfE) yesterday announced that Sandwell is the fourth most improved area nationally for 11-year-olds reaching the expected level or above in the two subjects.

Provisional (DfE) figures show Sandwell primary schools have improved Key Stage 2 results by four per cent on last year, and 11 per cent more children than last year have met the national standard for writing.

What a result!

We’ve had year-on-year improvements for some time in Sandwell and this latest achievement really shows the pace of improvement in our schools.

Firstly, I want to congratulate our children on what they have achieved. They are the people who have put in the work. Well done!

Secondly, I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported our children in this result – teachers, governors, parents, council officers who support schools and everyone in the community who has played a role.

Finally, I would just add that we know there is still much more to do. And continued investment in our schools is absolutely crucial to this.

That’s why we’re keeping up our battle to rebuild our crumbling secondary schools after the Government’s decision last month not to fund our £125 million rebuilding programme.

As our 11-year-olds move onto secondary school, they surely deserve the best schools possible to help them continue their learning and give them all the chances to succeed?

Sandwell’s doing its bit – now time for Mr Gove to do his?


Council Chiefs Step Up Schools Battle

Latest Press Release From Sandwell Council

Council chiefs in Sandwell are stepping up their battle to rebuild crumbling schools by firing off a new protest to Education Minister Michael Gove.

Mr Gove announced earlier this month that the Government would not fund the £125 million rebuilding of schools originally scheduled to go ahead under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Council leader Councillor Darren Cooper immediately denounced the decision as a “bitter blow” for young people in Sandwell and vowed to carry on fighting against the injustice.

Now the council’s legal advisers are writing to Mr Gove to question the lawfulness of his latest decision.

Mr Gove originally scrapped Sandwell’s BSF scheme because of the cost.

Sandwell challenged the decision in the High Court, forcing Mr Gove reconsider after losing a judicial review in February. But he announced a “provisional decision” on 19 July that he was “not minded to fund the rebuilding of Sandwell’s schools” because he had no recent data with which to compare the state of Sandwell’s schools against other schools across the country.

The council’s legal advisers are now arguing that this does not comply with the order issued by the High Court.

Councillor Cooper said, “We do not believe that Mr Gove’s latest decision is in line with the High Court ruling, which essentially stated that he should reconsider the case of each school on its merits. Whether or not he has data on other schools across the country is irrelevant to this.

We believe we have a good case to ask Mr Gove to have another look at the case for rebuilding Sandwell’s schools, and we very much hope he will do so.”

He added, “Rebuilding these schools is not a luxury. It is vital for the future of thousands of our young people.”

Sandwell is following its latest legal challenge with a further letter to Mr Gove from Chief Executive Mr Jan Britton which spells out the specific need for investment and re-construction in each of the schools.

* Schools in the BSF scheme are:

Wood Green Academy, Wednesbury
Stuart Bathurst RC High School, Wednesbury
Perryfields High School, Oldbury
New KS4 Pupil Referral Unit
Brades Lodge
Phoenix Collegiate School (North and South Campus)
The Meadows Sports College, Oldbury
Bristnall Hall Technology College, Oldbury
The Heathfield Foundation Technology College, Cradley Heath
New KS3 Pupil Referral unit

Building Schools For the Future Latest

I’m going around right now with my fingers crossed……. in the hope that Sandwell finally gets the go ahead from the Government to give thousands of our young people decent conditions at school.

I guess you’ll all know by now where I’m coming from on this.  A year or so ago the Government scrapped the Building Schools for the Future programme – and desperately needed plans to replace ageing classrooms and facilities at nine Sandwell secondary schools bit the dust (after we were mistakenly first told they would be safe).

Since then the council has been to the courts and won a judicial review, forcing the Government to order a condition survey of the nine schools.

The latest round in our fight came earlier this week when I led a delegation to London to meet schools minister Lord Hill – the second time we have travelled to the seat of Government to make the case for Sandwell’s schools and the young people they are there to help.

There’s no doubt in my mind we have a strong case.

In the first place there can be few issues more important than the future of Sandwell’s young people and the chances in life they get – chances that will be vastly improved if they are educated in decent conditions.

And secondly, the bottom line is that it would be a false economy not to revamp our schools. We’ll only have to spend millions more on them as they crumble.

I think our meeting on Monday went reasonably well. It seemed positive to me and I have to say that Lord Hill listened to our case.

As I say, I just hope that he and the Government do the right thing, accept our case and come up with the money our schools and young people badly need.


Postal voting - an extension to the democratic system

Tonight’s comment column in the Express & Star thunders that postal votes are a threat to democracy.   Sorry, Mr Editor, I don’t agree.

I see them as an extension to the democratic system which has helped improve turn-out in elections and done a lot to counter voter apathy.

Postal votes are a boon, for example, to older people who might otherwise struggle to get to the polling booth to cast their vote in person.  

The same applies to those with physical disabilities or mental health problems.  They, too, have a right to have their democratic say and as far as I’m concerned we should do all we can to help them.

The Star bases its case on the potential for postal vote fraud.  No-one wants the voting system fiddled, of course, and we must all do we can to counter abuse of postal votes – that’s vital.

But postal vote regulations have been tightened up to combat abuses and in my view the statistics show that fraud is relatively rare.  I think I’m right in saying that the Electoral Commission reported that only two people were prosecuted for fraud after the last General Election.

Should we seriously dump the benefits of postal votes to the many because of the criminal behaviour of such a minority?

image source

OK, Baggies fans ……

OK, Baggies fans — it’s humble pie time.

I was wrong to have a go at chairman Jeremy Peace over his decision to remove Roberto di Matteo as head coach.

At the time I was shocked and I argued here in my blog that the Chairman should have given Roberto more resources and backing in the transfer market – especially in January’s window.

But events since have demonstrated just how mistaken you can be.

Mr Peace brought in Roy Hodgson, and he has presided in masterful fashion over a 12 point haul from six matches (unbeaten in all of them) which has taken us to the dizzy heights of 10th in the Premiership. You just can’t argue with that record of success.

Most other clubs in the top flight would dearly love to have it, for example our latest victims, Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

We’re now within touching distance of being able to look forward with confidence to another season next year in the Premiership.

It’s not guaranteed, of course, and we’re up against moneybags Chelsea this Saturday. The lads will have to show all the fight, organisation and flair they’ve produced in the last six games to come away with anything from that one.

But let me say here and now to Mr Peace: “You were right to remove Roberto – and bringing in Roy to replace him was a masterstroke.

“That’s why you’re a Premiership chairman… and I’m not.”

Positive Ofsted for Children’s Services

Excellent news for the council this week – some positive feedback in an Ofsted report on Children’s Services.

At the beginning of March Ofsted carried out a surprise inspection of our  children’s assessment teams, which had previously been criticised in a 2009 report.

It had some very encouraging findings, stating that children in need received a “quick and appropriate” response and that the Council was meeting its legal duties in contact, referral and assessment.

Although there is still room for improvement, the underlying message of the report is that child protection services in Sandwell are getting better, which is obviously excellent news.

Looking after children who are being abused, or at risk of being abused, is of the highest priority for the council.

As a former cabinet member for children and young people, I’m delighted to see this evidence of our improvement.

We are committed to continuing the good work reflected by the inspection and ultimately creating an excellent service for the borough.
This report is a positive step in the right direction to achieving this.
To read the full report, visit the Ofsted website.

I Did it My Way !

Great result from the Mayor’s Big Show on Saturday night.

The show raised more than £2,500, I’m told.

And it will all go to Mayor Pauline Hinton’s charity fund, this year supporting two very worthy causes, the Alzheimer’s Society and Macmillan Cancer Support.  The show was not only a success on the financial front,  it was also packed with contributions from a host of people who either work for Sandwell Council, have worked for Sandwell or are linked to staff in some way.

I was enormously impressed with the range of talent on display, and from the enthusiastic applause at The Public, so were the audience.

Modesty forbids me, of course, from saying too much about my own performance as Elvis “The King” Presley.

I sang a couple of his numbers either side of Frank Sinatra’s “my Way”.

I have to be honest and say I was a bit on the nervous side beforehand, but in the event I enjoyed it enormously – and it seemed to go down well, too.

You never know what you can do till you try!

Blind Dave goes from strength to strength

West Brom’s Blind Dave Heeley just goes from strength to strength and now it’s nice to see this incredible bloke getting backing from (most of) our area’s Premiership football clubs.

People will remember him, of course, for his feat of running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents – awesome!  Now he’s up for another mind-boggling challenge.

In August Blind Dave is planning to run 10 marathons and cycle over 800 miles in just 10 days – and raise cash for a very worthy cause, Macmillan Cancer Support.  He’s just announced, too, that three of the West Midlands region’s top soccer clubs – Blues, Villa and my own beloved Baggies – are supporting him.

How good it is to see them throwing their weight behind his plans.

One might wonder, of course, why it is that the region’s other Premiership outfit isn’t doing anything similar…… but that’s another story, perhaps.

Dave’s top2toe challenge will kick off from John o’Groats on 10 August.  His target is to raise a massive £100,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support in the organisation’s centenary year.

You can find out more here:

And you can donate here:

Eat your Garden Event

I never cease to be amazed at the sheer number and variety of nice things that go on in Sandwell.

It’s all too easy to look at the news headlines and get the impression that only nasty things are happening in the world.

But that’s to ignore the fact that every day people around the borough are getting together to join in all sorts of activities that are good for them, others and society as a whole.

Take, for example, an “eat your garden” event at Stone Cross library in Beverley Road, West Brom, next month.

An expert gardener will be there to show people how to get started on growing their own organic food at home.

This isn’t an event that will change the world overnight – but over time it could help make all the difference to the diet of ordinary families doing their best to live healthily.

Personally, although I like getting in the garden, I’m more of a fishing bloke when it comes to spending what leisure time I have. There’s nothing I like better than spending a few quiet hours on a river bank somewhere.

But I can see how pleasant and useful the Stone Cross event could be to people.

It’s taking place on Saturday 2 April, kicking off at 2pm.

Happy – and productive — gardening!