Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

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Today I want to talk about CAPA College, an outstanding school in Wakefield but one that sadly will not be able to take lower-sixth students in September and whose future hangs in the balance after Ministers attempted to move the college to Leeds. What a sorry, sad tale this is.

CAPA College has been the sixth-form provision at Cathedral Academy, a Church of England secondary school in Wakefield, for the past 10 years. It is the only sixth-form in the city of Wakefield. It delivers 28 hours a week of specialist performing arts teaching, and it is unique in West Yorkshire and, dare I say it, in the whole of the north of England, for the standard of performing arts teaching it provides. I pay tribute to my constituent Claire Nicholson, CAPA’s director, and the brilliant, sublime production of “West Side Story” by 16-year-olds which I had the privilege of watching a couple of weeks ago. It was the most wonderful performance of that show that I have ever seen.

In September 2015, CAPA College and its sponsor, the Leeds diocese, through the Enhance Academy Trust, received permission from the Minister to open as a free school. A year later, the Department for Communities and Local Government made a conditional agreement for the sale and purchase of a site in Leeds city centre, and the Education Funding Agency agreed to provide two years’ interim funding to allow CAPA College to stay in Wakefield until the site in Leeds obtained the necessary planning permissions—the new free school could open in September 2018. However, documents that I obtained from Leeds City Council show that, after the planning application was submitted, it emerged that the building is on the route of HS2. Leeds City Council rejected the planning application because of concerns about road safety and congestion; it is not a ​suitable site for a school. We are talking about the former home of KPMG in Leeds. KPMG obviously got out; it sold it on to a German consortium. That consortium realised that it had perhaps bought a pup and sought to sell it on to someone else—and who better than the UK Government to know what the UK Government are doing!

The Education Funding Agency has rescinded its two-year funding offer to my local school until CAPA College has found a new building. That has forced the trust to inform potential new students that places will not be available to them; in effect, there is no year 12 student admission to CAPA college this year because of this building fiasco. The college has had to issue redundancy notices to staff, whose employment will end on 31 August. I know that the trust is working with Wakefield Council and the EFA to find a new permanent home for CAPA in Wakefield; we made it, we grew it, we developed it and we want to keep it. But why did the EFA continue with a planning application after being told that the site would have a high-speed rail line through it by 2032? Is this seriously a good use of taxpayers’ money? Why was another site for CAPA College not identified as soon as it was known that there was a problem with this one? How much has the EFA spent on this site? Has the EFA completed the sale, even though HS2 will run through it and Leeds City Council has refused the planning application? If so, how much has it paid, or has it pulled out of the contract—in which case, how much has it lost?

I wrote to the Education Secretary in March to seek answers to those questions, but I have not received a reply. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take my concerns back. The announcement this week of extra funding for England’s schools is based on the fact that money that will be taken from the budget for new free schools, so there may be less money to enable CAPA College to find its new home in Wakefield. The fiasco has left CAPA College on the brink of closure, and dozens of dedicated staff and students unsure about their future. I have received letters from distraught students, alumni, parents and grandparents. The closure of CAPA College would damage the life chances of young people in Wakefield who aspire to go into the arts and would mean the closure of the only sixth form in Wakefield city centre.

The alumni have the chance to go on to perform in west end shows and tour all over the world, and I do not want to see the dreams of young people in Wakefield turned to dust. This September, we will see the opening of the advanced innovation and skills centre in Wakefield to deal with the historically low levels of tertiary education—higher education—in the city. We do not want to see one door opening in Wakefield while another one closes. I would like a substantive reply from the Minister and firm action from the EFA, so that those excellent teachers and that outstanding provision can be kept.

I pay tribute to the headteachers of the four secondary schools in my constituency: Miriam Oakley at Horbury Academy; Alan Warboys at Ossett Academy; Elizabeth Ford at Wakefield City Academy; and Rob Marsh at Cathedral Academy. I also pay tribute to Clare Kelly, ​whose Dane Royd Junior and Infant School I visited recently. I wish all GCSE and A-level students good luck with their results when they come out in August.

I conclude by congratulating Simon Wallis, the director of the Hepworth gallery in Wakefield, which was crowned Art Fund museum of the year 2017. I think Wakefield is the only city to have had two Art Fund museums of the year—we also received the honour in 2013 for Yorkshire sculpture park, run by Pete Murray. Should Channel 4 consider a move to west Yorkshire, Wakefield stands ready with open arms to give it a warm, performance-related welcome. I wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the staff and, in particular, the builders who are beginning to put up the scaffolding on the Elizabeth tower, a safe and productive recess.

Speech on CAPA College

Today I want to talk about CAPA College, an outstanding school in Wakefield but one that sadly will not be able to take lower-sixth students in September and whose future...

The Jo Cox loneliness commission works to raise awareness of loneliness and to try to reduce the stigma around being lonely. A British Red Cross survey found one in five people said they always or often felt lonely. Being lonely is not just a feeling – it’s considered to be as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Mary has signed a pledge to support the Commission in its aim to tackle loneliness.

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Mary supports the Jo Cox loneliness commission

The Jo Cox loneliness commission works to raise awareness of loneliness and to try to reduce the stigma around being lonely. A British Red Cross survey found one in five...

I want to start by wishing all my Muslim friends and constituents Eid Mubarak! Two weeks ago I attended a community Iftaar (breakfast) in Thornes Park, co-hosted by West Yorkshire Police and Wakefield charity Penny Appeal.  It was held as part of the Great Get Together, in memory of my murdered colleague Jo Cox.  The Hepworth Gallery also hosted an afternoon street food market. It was great to see people from across Wakefield coming together to remember Jo, and to show that we have far more in common than that which divides us.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the terrible terrorist attack on Muslim Welfare House, near Finsbury Park Mosque in London which left one man dead and several people with severe injuries. I wrote to Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, the Police Commander for Wakefield, asking him to step up patrols to reassure our local Muslim community, and provide a visible presence outside mosques. I am grateful for the swift response from the police and to the Jamia Swafia mosque on Park Lodge Lane for inviting me to their event last Saturday.

The event was held to show Wakefield’s solidarity with the Finsbury Park victims and the victims of the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower. As I said in Parliament, this fire was not an act of God, it was a man-made disaster. We need justice for the survivors, and safe and secure accommodation for homeless families who fled with nothing.  It was good to see Wakefield’s Penny Appeal charity rushing to help those affected by the disaster. This was in stark contrast to the botched response from the local council and national government.  This was a civil emergency, yet money was not released until 3 days after the fire. This is just wrong.

I have had many letters from people concerned about fire safety in our nine tower blocks in Wakefield.  I met with Kevin Dodd, Chief Executive of WDH and Chris Musgrave, his operations and fire safety manager last Friday.  They told me that our city centre tower blocks are insulated with fireproof panels, finished with plaster, not aluminium. Wakefield’s blocks’ exteriors have not been sent for testing as they do not contain aluminium and are fixed directly to the walls, unlike at Grenfell.  Our blocks also have no gas supply. However, I intend to organise a public meeting with WDH, West Yorkshire Fire Service and local councillors to fully brief residents on this issue. 

Last week’s Queen’s speech showed that although Theresa May is in office, she is not in power. She lost her majority because of her government’s record of cuts to our schools, hospitals and police. She is now at the mercy of the DUP, and her Tory backbenchers. 

There is good news - she is set to abandon her plans to scrap free infant school meals, because she would not win the vote in Parliament. This is fantastic news for families in Wakefield. During the election, parents told me they were worried about these plans because for many young children this is the only hot meal they get in a day. However, the Tories still plan to cut £21 million from Wakefield schools . I spoke out against those cuts in the Queen’s Speech debate in Parliament this week. 

 

Wakefield Express Column June

I want to start by wishing all my Muslim friends and constituents Eid Mubarak! Two weeks ago I attended a community Iftaar (breakfast) in Thornes Park, co-hosted by West Yorkshire...


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