War of words over MPs social media posts on under-threat South Shields school

Coun Moira Smith
Coun Moira Smith

A war of words has broken out between South Tyneside Council’s education boss and the town’s MP Emma Lewell-Buck over the threatened closure of a South Shields school.

In a letter seen by the Gazette, Coun Moira Smith, the council’s lead member for children, young people and families, takes issue with South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck over alleged social media posts by the MP claiming that officers are not providing her with information on the threat to South Shields School.

We will, of course, comply with her FoI request and would be happy to meet with her again.

Council spokesman

Coun Smith points out to Mrs Lewell-Buck that two meetings have been arranged for her with education official but that she has cancelled on both occasions.

The MP says on the first occasion the meeting clashed with another appointment and she did not feel able attend the second because she had not been provided with the information she says she required to make that meeting constructive. A formal response to a Freedom of Information Request made by the MP is expected to be forwarded on to her in due course.

A consultation process is currently underway over the future of the school after it failed to find a sponsor when it was forced to go down the route of Academy status following an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted inspection.

In the letter, Coun Smith says she wants to address “inaccurate statements” made by the MP, including making clear the council “has not” considered any future options for the school site - nor will they be doing so at this stage,

The letter adds: “I understand that officers have already shared with you an appraisal of other options.

“You have also been given the opportunity to discuss these directly with officers but you have not attended two meetings arranged to do so.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck says she has yet to receive the letter and originally met council officials on September 19 and filed an FOI request on questions she wanted answering with regard to the school’s viability.

A meeting was scheduled for October 12 and she claims that, the day before, she received a three-page document which did not relate to her original questions.

She said: “The meeting on the 12th also clashed with a clinic appointment. I asked for the time to be changed but they were unable to.

“The next meeting was arranged for October 19, but I still hadn’t received any of the information I requested. How am I supposed to attend a meeting to discuss things when I haven’t got the details I need?”

She added: “Ultimately it’s very hard to come up with alternative ideas for the school when my question aren’t being answered as they’re keeping their cards so close to their chest,

“I appreciate some information may be sensitive, but not all of it, and I would have thought they would have been willing to share it with the town’s MP,”

A spokesman for the council said: “We have met with Emma to discuss the position at South Shields School and to provide her with the opportunity to have all her questions answered.

“Following that, information requested at the meeting was sent and two subsequent meetings were then arranged but unfortunately these were cancelled by Emma.

“We will, of course, comply with her FoI request and would be happy to meet with her again.”