Leeds councillors ousted by ministers' consultants

MINISTERS this week ann-ounced that a public-private partnership is to be created to take over the education services in the city of Leeds.

The decision to remove ruling Labour politicians from any direct influence over the running of one of the country's largest local education authorities is a further indication of the Government's determination to take a tough stance against councils that fail to provide adequate services.

The schools standards minister, Estelle Morris, was in Leeds on Wednesday to provide details of the education board that will be appointed to supervise the service. She said consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers had come up with a radical and innovative solution.

The arrangements for Leeds differ greatly from the first privatisations of education services. In Islington, north London, private companies were asked to bid for the education service.

The Leeds deal will see a private firm working n partnership with the existing professional staff in the education service. Voting powers are to be divided equally between the company and the council staff and an independent chair is to be appointed by David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary.

The move follows a damning report from the Office for Standards in Education, which found evidence that the city was having problems in recent years appointing a chief education officer because of rumours about the level of interference from councillors in the running of the service. Leeds was without a permanent director from 1995 to 1998.

In addition, the report identified weaknesses in monitoring the progress of schools and in the support provided to weak schools.

The transfer to a joint venture company is expected to be completed by next spring and the city's existing director of education, Keith Burton, is likely to have a place on the board.

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