A TABLET computer for every child in Rotherham was a suggestion from the opposition as the council’s budget was formally approved.
Cllr Allen Cowles, Rotherham Democratic Party leader, proposed the new policy of giving the devices to children as they turn four.
He suggested covering the £1.36 million cost in year one by making savings from other areas, such as the £489,000 going on four more street-cleaning teams and £130,000 from family group conferencing.
Cllr Cowles, proposing his budget amendment last Wednesday (3), said: “I would prefer that this inequality is recognised nationally and that cost should be borne centrally.
“However, until that’s recognised by the Government, we should not wait to rectify this wrong.
“We should and we must do everything to provide children with equipment they need to begin catching up. There can be no greater priority.
“As councillors, we have all funded a few tablets or laptops for schools. This is merely a sticking plaster exercise. It’s now time for a more decisive effort to address that inequality in the education system.”
Deputy leader Cllr Gordon Watson, cabinet member for children’s services, said the tablets idea was the wrong thing to do with the money.
The universal model of funding for everyone was not appropriate in this case and would not address the inequality, he added.
The money being spent on more Streetpride teams would not serve as a deterrent to fly-tippers, Cllr Cowles warned.
But his amendment was dismissed as councillors voted through the 2021/22 finance plans, which include £5.8 million on flood defences and £1.6 million on building a new home for Reach, a day centre for adults with autism and learning disabilities.
The budget will also cover a £4 million shortfall in the project to move the central library across town — and includes a tree-planting pot for the first time.
Cllr Alan Atkin welcomed £4 million set aside to reinvigorate the borough’s other town and village centres. The money will be available for physical improvements such as benches, plants, railings, CCTV and pavements.
“One of the biggest criticisms that people have is when they say it was better when they had their own urban district council because all the money is spent in Rotherham now,” said Cllr Atkin, Labour.
“It never has been, but now there’s £4 million that you can bid into to improve your own town centres. I shall be bidding for it for Wath.”
Council leader Cllr Chris Read said the Government was unable to understand communities like Rotherham, which made local level budget setting all the more important.
He added: “After 11 years of Tory austerity and in the face of a global pandemic, it should be no surprise that councils across the country are under unprecedented pressure. Twelve are in discussion with the Government about additional support just to keep the lights on.
“The Government told councils they needed to be more entrepreneurial; they now say that councils shouldn’t take risks.”
Cllr Adam Carter, Lib Dem, accused Labour of wasting money while complaining about austerity cuts.
He said a reduction in planning department running costs to £63,809 from £1.2 million in 2010 showed this “excess”.