MPs accuse Newham Council of ‘stonewalling’ inquiry into special educational needs

Houses of Parliament
Photo: PA / Tim Ireland

Houses of Parliament Photo: PA / Tim Ireland - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The chair of a parliamentary committee has accused Newham Council of ‘stonewalling’ the group’s investigation of special educational needs provision in the UK.

MP and chair of the committee Robert Halfon made the comment to Terry Reynolds, director of education and skills at Newham and a representative for East Sussex County Council.

The pair appeared instead of their chief executives, who the committee had asked to answer questions.

"We tried to get your chief executives to come along and they were very reluctant to do so," said Mr Halfon.

"It seems a little unusual that we were stonewalled by your councils - the only councils, by the way, who didn't want to send chief executives along.

"This is quite an important inquiry.

"It's strange, particularly as we were quite open with the dates."

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Mr Reynolds said at the May 3 meeting that Newham's the chief executive, Althea Loderick, had only been in place for two weeks, so he was better placed to answer the committee's questions.

The representative for East Sussex said 'diary issues' were the cause of his chief's no-show.

MP James Frith, a member of the committee, also took issue with the chief's refusals to answer questions.

"I think it's a failure of leadership that both of the chief executives haven't turned up today. [Diary issues as an excuse] is a complete load of tosh," he said.

"The idea that the secretary of state for education can find time for the select committee, but the chief executive of a local authority can't, is tosh.

"New in the position is not an acceptable defence of this."

Near the end of the committee, chair Robert Halfon reiterated his displeasure: "I do find it amazing the Rupert Murduch is prepared to come to Parliament before the select committee and yet the chief executives of your two councils refuse to do so.

"It's not a great look."

A spokesman for Newham Council said of the committee's invitation to the chief executive: "We sought to honour the invitation by sending our most senior officer with specialist knowledge of the subject matter to give evidence.

"We regret any difficulty this may have caused. Our primary motivation was to ensure that the committee received the best information from the most knowledgeable person."