Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

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My school can’t get a cleaner

by Susan van de Ven on 18 June, 2018

A local primary school headteacher writes:

My school can’t get a cleaner. As I am the headteacher, this is a big problem for me.

It’s a long story. It begins with the Government’s slow strangulation of local authorities as suppliers of school services, resulting in the eventual closure of CCS, Cambridgeshire Cleaning Services, leaving dozens of schools scrabbling around the other private providers, trying to ensure continuity of service. Then there is the Brexit effect: a fall in the value of the pound after the referendum meant that a considerable number of migrants from Eastern Europe decided not to come to Britain after all, leaving us short of people to do the sort of jobs that we can’t find British-born workers to do. Our cleaning provider has been recruiting for months but can’t find anyone to do the job. Not that it is surprising: despite the gradual rise in wages towards the living wage, working 3 hours a day on a cleaner’s pay isn’t going to pay the rent at Cambridgeshire prices. It’s clear what the solution is: we will have to pay more if we want a reliable, quality service.

But what with? Schools are in financial crisis, whatever the Government says. Rises in the cost of pensions, national insurance, school staff pay (after 8 years of austerity), educational supplies, and nearly everything else as a result of the increase in cost of fuel and the post-Referendum devaluation of the pound, has more than cancelled out any increase in pupil funding. The school cuts website ( lists school after school whose per pupil funding has decreased over the last five years, some by more than £200 per pupil. We are faced with stark choices: cut the specialist music teacher or don’t replace the rotting playground climbing frame.

Unfortunately, there is no glimmer of light on the horizon. It is clear that Brexit will lead to severe economic consequences for Britain – the Government’s own analysis spells that out. We are giving up gold standard trading relationships with our closest neighbours in favour of the mirage of a new trade deal with a US President who has insulted and threatened his allies in the G7. Damaging our economy will mean less funding for my school and all schools in the UK. It is another brick in the barrier which stands between us and our efforts to provide a high quality education to our children.

Surely what we should be doing is promoting our economy, creating jobs, encouraging enterprise and opportunity by working with our trading partners to increase wealth for all. That will put money in the public purse to pay for services which will benefit everyone, and the least well-off most of all. Brexit is the wrong answer to the question of how to distribute our wealth more evenly amongst our people. Dealing with Brexit is saturating politics: all that effort could be much better used in solving the problem of inequality in our country. And funding our schools properly would be a good place to start.

In the meantime, I have to go and put on my rubber gloves …

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