Councillors’ spend 45 minutes debating one word

Councillors could not agree on whether to "ConDem" or criticise the Government's decision to axe the education maintenance allowance
Councillors could not agree on whether to "ConDem" or criticise the Government's decision to axe the education maintenance allowance
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A HEATED debate erupted at last week’s full council meeting over a single word of a motion.

Labour councillor Jeff Fletcher proposed a motion to “condemn” the scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) by the coalition Government.

But local Tory and Lib Dem councillors declined to condemn the Government’s move - instead proposing to merely “criticise” it.

The ensuing debate lasted for 45 minutes.

Coun Fletcher, an English teacher with the best part of 30 years experience, said the abolition of EMA - a fund which helps 2,400 local youngsters stay in education after 16 - was a cut which “targets the poorest and most disadvantaged”.

He said: “EMA is a vital tool in getting youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to come into further education and stay there. For 85 per cent of the 16 to 19-year-olds in St Helens who receive EMA it equates to the maximum £30 a week.

Labour colleague Sue Murphy added that EMA should at least be maintained for youngsters who started two-year courses on the promise of the allowance.

But, in response, Tory councillor David Monk proposed an alternative motion to simply “criticise” the scrapping of EMA - an amendment backed by the Lib Dems.

Local Lib Dem deputy leader Suzanne Knight urged Labour opponents to accept the watered down amendment in order to show the coalition Government that the motion had all-party support.

But it was defeated when the local Labour Group all voted against.

Following the first vote, Lib Dem councillor Peter Astbury blasted: “Why do the Labour Group refuse to accept that there is a financial crisis in this country? It’s deeply regrettable that Labour can’t join the grown ups in this debate.”

Following a second vote, the original motion - condemning the abolition of EMA - was carried.

The local leaders of both opposition parties - Brian Spencer (Lib Dems) and Wally Ashcroft (Tories) - both abstained.