IN A HEATED DEBATE about the towns education provision, Independent opposition councillor Ron Woodley claimed that James Courtenay, the councillor responsible for children and learning, was too young to handle his responsibilities.
Ron, a long-serving Independent councillor for Thorpe, called James “a child”, casting aspersions on his ability to fulfil the demands of a cabinet post.
At 29, James Courtenay is the youngest in Southend to hold the title of Executive Councillor, giving him a portfolio of responsibility in the Conservative cabinet. He was elected to represent Blenheim Park ward in May 2011 at the age of 28, and took over children and learning shortly after as his predecessor Mark Flewitt stepped down.
It hasn’t been an easy inaugral year, with the furore over wasted classroom space at Porters Grange primary school, and the suspension of headteacher Ros Ferdinand, who was placed on indefinite gardening leave under accusations of fixing her pupils exam results last summer.
Then in November, Elizabeth Baines was sacked from her post as head teacher of Priory School after allegations of gross misconduct and financial mismanagement.
After Thursday nights budget proposals were passed, the children and learning department is set to make a further £1.7million in cuts, including stripping £224,000 from children centre funding over the next two years.
Ron Woodley added: “We have children coming in from Ipswich, Kent and London. The councils own finance director says that his morning train to work is packed with children coming into our grammar schools. We have children under 18 looking for jobs in their thousands, and we have a child in charge of children and learning, and he isn’t getting it right.”
James responded: “Councillor Woodley refused to withdraw the comment when invited to by the Mayor. I find comments like this offensive to young people in our town. Are you required to be in your 50s or 60s before you are entitled to be active in running our town? If I had said the same sort of thing about older people there would have rightly been outrage. Age discrimination is illegal and I find it disappointing any councillor thinks it acceptable.”
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Email: email@example.com
Published Southend Echo, 4th March 2013.