Merton Education Chief Is Dismissed

Councillor filmed tearing down campaign poster

Leading Merton Councillor Peter Walker has been dismissed from his post as Cabinet Member for Education.

Councillor Walker (left) lost his role after being filmed tearing down a poster promoting an event backing the Save Dundonald Rec campaign.

The poster was publicising a cycle maintenance event, organised by Ben Baulkwill, aged 15, from nearby Graham Road in Wimbledon.

Proceeds from the event will be going to the campaign group, which is protesting against plans to expand Dundonald Primary School into the park.

He said afterwards that he was acting against "illegal flyposts" and was only doing something that council staff had been asked to do.

But Council leader Stephen Alambritis said Councillor Walker's behaviour was "wholly unacceptable".

You can see the video below:



Councillor Alambritis said: "Peter Walker has done excellent work on Labour’s policy of expanding our best performing schools to provide more places for local children.

"However I regard this conduct as wholly unacceptable. It is not the way the Labour administration does business. I have therefore immediately dismissed Councillor Walker as Cabinet Member for Education. Councillor Maxi Martin, who is in overall charge of Children's Services, will take over."

Councillor Walker responded in a letter to Councillor Alambritis:

Dear Stephen

I am saddened by your decision to dismiss me from the Cabinet as a result of a complaint from the "Save our Rec" Campaign.

Illegal fly posting in my local park, Dundonald Rec, by Save our Rec supporters is wrong.  As you know, the Council itself and the local park keeper have repeatedly had to take down their fly posts.

I now find myself in the strange position for being sacked for doing what Council staff had been instructed to do. Namely to remove illegal flyposts put up by supporters of Save our Rec in my local recreation ground

I am very grateful for the opportunity you gave me to lead the major re-structuring of Education in Merton over the last two years.  I am particularly  pleased to have facilitated the expansion of good and outstanding local primary schools often in the face of determined opposition. 

I was delighted to announce last week that Merton had secured an additional £7.3M for our school expansion programme, and last night I was able to tell the Council Scrutiny Panel that we will be able to offer places to all our 5 year olds this coming September.  This is a direct result of the expansion programme that I have pursued and ensures that the 39% increase in 5 year olds that we have had in Merton will be accommodated .  Last but not least, this all came after the best ever GCSE results by Merton schools last summer.

It goes without saying that I will continue to support you and this Council’s policies loyally from Labour’s back benches, and will use all my efforts to ensure that the progress that schools in Merton made while I was Cabinet Member for Education continues.

Best wishes

Peter Walker

Ben's mother Jenny said: "Ben is passionate about cycling and bicycles, he wanted to help local children make their bikes safe by providing a one-off maintenance event. He is also very concerned about the future of our Rec, he decided to donate any income from the event to help a community group formed by local residents to protect Dundonald Recreation Ground.

"We feel so proud of our son's community spirit, in wanting to help others and protect our much valued and used open space. My family designed an A4 poster to promote the event and placed them around the Rec to let other children and their parents know about it.

"When we first put the posters up around the Rec, attaching them neatly to the railings, they disappeared overnight. We thought that perhaps they had been removed by park attendants to keep the railings clear - although only our posters had been removed, others were left in-place."

She added that she was "dismayed" to see the You Tube video.

Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond said: "Councillor Walker’s actions were utterly wrong. They showed a complete lack of respect. The suspicion is this is nothing to do with illegal fly posting and all to do with someone opposing Councillor Walker's plans. This is not the only occasion to which he has been found wanting, I join the calls for him to resign from Merton Council as his actions do not befit those of a Merton Councillor".

Councillor Debbie Shears, Conservative opposition leader on the council, added: "This is not the first time Peter Walker has opposed the rights of residents in having views different to his own. He ignored the results of a public consultation on a new school and in the proposed expansion in  Dundonald Recreation Ground. This blatant act caught on You Tube brings further into question his suitability of remaining a councillor. He should resign immediately and Councillor Stephen Alambritis should apologise to residents for his behaviour." 

Councillor Mary-Janes Jeanes of Merton Liberal Democrats commented: "We hope Councillor Martin will now be able to get a handle on a proper plan for education in the borough. In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s – whilst the birth rate was going up – Merton was busy selling off schools and playing fields, land that could have been used now.

"It is clear that sites for new primary schools and a secondary school must be considered. It is therefore hugely disappointing – and another example of a lack of joined-up thinking by this council – that the recent proposals on potential sites to develop across the borough in the next 10 years failed to identify a single location for future educational development. Hopefully this will change now."

The bike maintenance event organised by Ben, a pupil at the Hall School, Wimbledon, will be going ahead at Dundonald Rec on Sunday April 29, from 12 noon to 3pm.

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April 19, 2012