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Tory councillor defects over school build cuts

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A Tory councillor has defected to Labour over the government’s scrapping of a £55bn school building project, saying she “felt ashamed to be a Conservative”.

Elaine Costigan, left, of Sandwell MBC in the West Midlands, said the local community had been treated with “utter contempt” by the coalition government, leading her to join the Labour party - which she described as “the only party fighting for ordinary hardworking people”.

Cllr Costigan, who was deputy leader of the Conservative group at the council, quit after nine schools in Sandwell lost out when the government cancelled the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in July.

Under the original scheme, set up by Labour in 2004, all 3,500 secondary schools in England were to be rebuilt or refurbished by 2023.

While all projects past the financial close stage were allowed to continue, schools earlier in the process had their schemes axed.

Cllr Costigan said education secretary Michael Gove had “backed out” of a pledge to personally apologise to families in Sandwell.

She said: “It is now absolutely clear that the Labour Party is the only party that cares about places like Sandwell.

“This community has been treated with utter contempt by the government over the slashing of the school building programme and when Michael Gove backed out of his promise to come and apologise to the parents, pupils and staff he had so badly let down, I felt ashamed to be a Conservative.”

She added: “I am delighted to join the Labour Party, now the only party fighting for the ordinary hardworking people of this community.”

Shadow children and education secretary Ed Balls said he had spoken to Ms Costigan and was “delighted” with her decision.

He said: “Cllr Costigan knows that the only way she can properly stand up for her constituents - who have seen their much needed new school taken away by Michael Gove - is by coming over to Labour.

“We agreed that it was right to put the interests of children first and I said I thought she would win a lot of support for her bravery and determination.

“I know from my own visit to the borough that there is anger in Sandwell, as there is around the country, about the tragic cuts to Labour’s school building programme.”

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