How an opposition Councillor can make a difference: My School Uniform Grant Story

Last May I was delighted to be elected to represent Dunfermline South in Fife Council after many years hard work. Of course, after the campaign, the important work of representing my constituents began, and I joined an excellent team of councillors holding the SNP/Labour coalition to account. With great enthusiasm, I was given the role of our education spokesperson in the Council.

A few months into the job, I noticed something in a national news report that concerned me. The Scottish Government had a recommended School Uniform Grant for all children from the least well off families, but that different Councils had varied amounts. The Scottish Government recommended £70, the average Council was around £63.80 and Fife Council was £55. Considering the impact this could have on family finances, I believed we could and more importantly should do more.

So I set about making the case to increase our funding. I immediately contacted the SNP Education Convenor but had a non-committal reply. Subsequently, I decided to take it the local media and I could not believe the response. The most widely distributed local daily paper, the Courier, splashed this all over their front page, Kingdom FM radio interviewed me and the other local papers featured this. Funnily enough, a couple of days later, the Council Labour co-leader responded in the Press to say they would look into this.

While this could be seen as a victory, I firmly believed that until I would see change with my own eyes, I could not rest. It was important to keep the pressure on the Council Administration by methods such as questioning them on the topic at Council meetings.

We then came to the Council Budget in 2018. The moment had arrived, and I had some great news. Not only did the Council Administration propose to increase the funding to the recommended level of £70, but both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Parties also proposed this. There was unanimous support for this, and I was delighted.

More still needs to be done. West Lothian Council for instance offered last year £110 for its school Uniform Grant, so we can aim higher. There are other ways that the cost of the school day can hit low-income families. However, I was proud that I could help some of most disadvantaged families, and I remember talking to a Dad whose children had received the this grant who told me that this would make a real difference for them.

So my message to both current and aspiring Liberal Democrat Councillors all over the UK is this: whether you are leading your Council Administration or you are an opposition Councillor, there are always ways to make a big difference. Persistence is key; if you see an issue that you believe needs tackled, look to every avenue to achieve your goal. You can contact the media, press the issue at Council meetings and make enquiries. Trust me, it is worth it when you can see the difference it will make.

* James Calder was first elected as a Councillor in May 2017.

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6 Comments

  • Great story James. Well done, and keep working on it.
    How about running a scheme to encourage families to recycle their school uniforms? I bet your ward is full of homes where kids have grown up and left school and their ties and blazers are just gathering dust at the back of closets. I’ve always thought this is crazy when there are families who can’t afford to buy brand new ones. It would take a bit of organising but it must be possible to match the 2 things up and have a central donation/collection point?

  • Rita Giannini 25th Apr '18 - 10:57am

    Our school shop always gratefully received any spare bits of uniform for distribution.

  • This is a solution for a problem that doesn’t need to exist. Pupils are not members of the military or the police; they should not have to wear uniform clothing.

  • David-1 – I used to agree with you, but I have become persuaded by the argument that school uniforms help minimise ‘clothes shaming’, with the richer kids wearing designer clothes while the poorer ones are in cheap hand-me-downs. As long as the uniform is relatively inexpensive, and as long as the school allows the individual kids to choose /how/ they wear it, I think it’s ok.

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