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Questions raised over Tory councillor's 'pal' link in school closure

A Hammersmith and Fulham councillor is denying suggestions that her friendship with the founder of a free school was the reason she voted to close a primary school

Councillor Georgie Cooney

Questions have been raised over a controversial decision to close a primary school which could become the site of a new free school.

Hamersmith & Fulham cabinet member for education, Councillor Georgie Cooney, and seven other cabinet members took the decision at a meeting to close Sulivan Primary School, in Peterborough Road, Fulham. It could be demolished to make way for a permanent home for Fulham Boys, a new free secondary.

Councillor Stephen Cowan, Labour opposition leader, said at the council meeting on Monday that Georgie Cooney was friends with a founder of Fulham Boys School. Ms Cooney said she has never hidden her friendship and that it had no bearing on her decision.

“Being the cabinet member for education, I have many friendships with people who work in the borough’s schools,” she told the chamber.

Outside the meeting, a council spokesman said Ms Cooney was given legal advice that she did not have to publicly declare the connection.

But in the meeting, Mr Cowan said: “You say that this decision has absolutely nothing to do with Fulham Boys School. Yet you also admit that 950 people within the 1,047 representations supporting the proposal to close Sulivan were in fact specifically talking about their support of Fulham Boys School.

“Additionally I have in a my possession an email from Councillor Georgie Cooney saying that she is a close friend with someone closely involved in the Fulham Boys School. I would like to know exactly how many other sites were actually looked at and considered to be suitable for the proposed new free school in the Fulham area?”

He accused Councillor Helen Binmore, cabinet member for children’s services, and Conservative MP Greg Hands of travelling around the borough with members of Fulham Boys School in search of a suitable site for a permanent home for the school, which is due to open at a temporary base in West Kensington this autumn.

Ms Binmore denied this, saying: “I have not travelled around the borough. And in regards to Fulham Boys School having any connection with the decision we have to make tonight about Sulivan School, the two are absolutely not related.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hands, MP for Chelsea and Fulham, said the allegation was ‘false’.

He added: “I have been a supporter in principle of the school since it was first mooted in 2011, and rendered assistance with various matters, including with the Department for Education, although I was not approached by either Fulham Boys School or the council in advance of this proposed consultation, and have not previously been asked, nor have I given, a view on this particular choice of site for the Fulham Boys School.”

 

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