Tag Archives: #cuts

I agree with Nick

One hundred and fifty five words from Nick Clegg at the Yorkshire Post Question Time Event on 19th March 2010:

“I would say this, look: the decisions about how we govern this country shouldn’t be decided by fear of what markets want. Let’s say there was a Conservative Government and they announced, in a macho way: ‘We’re gonna slash public spending, slash this, slash that. We’re gonna do it tomorrow because we have to take early tough action.’

Just imagine the reaction of my constituents in south-west Sheffield. I represent a constituency that has more public servants as a proportion of those working than any other constituency in the country – lots of people working in universities, hospitals and so on. They have no Conservative councillors and no Conservative MPs as far as the eye can see in south Yorkshire.

People like that are going to say: ‘Who are these people telling us they are suddenly taking our jobs away? What mandate do they have? I didn’t vote for them; no-one round here votes for them.'”

Yes Nick, I agree: that’s precisely what they’ll say.

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Filed under Clegg, Lib Dems, Politics - general

Gove forgets to mention the ‘c’ word

I’ve been a bit unkind to Michael Gove in a previous blog (or two), but he turned up a few surprises in his first major speech since becoming Education Secretary. Addressing the National College for Leadership of School, his message of greater school autonomy and more power for the top bods was well-designed to win over his audience (others were impressed too, such as Conor Ryan, former adviser to David Blunkett).

It was a substantial speech and there’s much to pick over (and – gulp – a fair bit to agree with). His words were well-crafted and pleasantly lacking in endless criticism of what went before (Gove seems to do ‘new politics’ much better than his Lib-Dem colleagues – he could teach Clegg and Alexander a thing or two).

No mention of ‘free schools’ (two reasons for this: one, he was keeping his powder dry for today’s announcements; and, two, businesses setting up schools is completely at odds with his message that ‘Headteachers know best’, so he must have wisely decided to keep schtum).

But the biggest surprise was the complete absence of the word ‘cut’ (or ‘deficit’) from his speech. It seems his reforms are taking place in a vacuum, shielded from the grim fiscal realities every other Con-Dem Minister is trotting out to justify wince-making cuts.

Refreshing stuff, in many ways. But odd.

This lack of economic context places Gove out of step with his Con-Dem colleagues. And David Willetts, in particular, who has earnestly begun his task of cost-cutting, with some painful cuts to higher education and talk not of the benefits but the ‘burden’ of providing university places.

So while Willetts is busily pruning expectations, Gove seems to be doing exactly the reverse.

He (Gove that is) says that difficult economic times are no reason to ‘scale down ambitions’; he draws attention to the ‘brain-boom’ emerging from Chinese and India universities, and suggests we need to match them; he waxes lyrical about US Charter schools where children from the ghetto are getting to elite universities; and he wants ‘more teachers’ to get masters and doctorates.

All this suggests more university places – and therefore (significantly) more investment, not less.

This is a bit of a mystery. If I was Danny Alexander I would be straight on the phone to ask Gove: what gives? And if he can’t get through, I expect it’ll be because David Willetts got there first.

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Filed under Funding, Michael Gove, Policy, Politics - general, Schools

Con-Dem cuts – the cloak of the deficit

David Cameron’s speech on cutting the deficit was a softening-up exercise, in preparation for harsh times ahead and for an unprecedented scaling-down of the public sector. And, on this measure or preparedness, he did a very good job.

The necessity to cut – and to cut hard, harder than ever before – is now the prism through which all political decisions are being viewed and judged. Cameron – ably supported by Clegg and his mercenaries – has carefully nurtured in the public mind, the sense that we simply cannot go on like this.

While we all get the need for a shake-up, this presents a real risk that, given the generous mood of the media, an unquestioning acceptance of this logic emerges: the public sector is over-blown, we have a big deficit, therefore everything on the public spending tree is ripe for a brutal prune.

This is a dangerous hop-skip-jump: from identifying waste, to trimming expenditure, to what is fast-becoming an attack on the public sector as a whole. It is motivated as much, if not more, by ideology and by a long-held Conservative (and, apparently, a Liberal Democrat) belief in a small state, than it is by deficit reduction.

One section of his speech yesterday was unsettling, particularly for those, like me, who are of the view that alot of what the public sector does is much-needed and endlessly challenging. Here Cameron fell back on the hackneyed (and deeply flawed) contention which crudely and thoughtlessly runs: ‘public sector bad, private sector good’. This is a snippet what he said:

“…while the private sector of the economy was shrinking, the public sector was continuing its inexorable expansion. While everyday life was incredibly tough for people who didn’t work in the public sector…with job losses, pay cuts, reduced working and falling profits…for those in the public sector, life went on much as before”.

You don’t need to be an expert in semantics to see what Cameron is driving at. I don’t want to downplay the recession, but his picture of unrelenting gloom for the private sector is a falsehood (I could name a few businesses who have made a mint). His ‘inexorable expansion’ shows how the Tories still resist a truism of economics – that when the private sector shrinks (i.e. a recession) then Governments have to act (spend) to stimulate growth. At heart, the Tories still subscribe to the ‘if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working’ theory of economic management.

What really appals though, is the implicit message that the public sector contributes next to nothing to the public good – according to Cameron it just expands and continues ‘much as before’. This is a deliberate slight. Think of a social worker dealing with a child protection case; a police officer confronting a violent offender; a nurse caring a patient back to health. Difficult work, David, worthy of respect? Or work to be belittled and undermined? Where is the compassionate Conservatism now?

Look back to an interview Cameron gave in 2008 when he was fully immersed in his campaign to convince us the Conservative had changed. Read the words carefully.

“The point of modernising the Conservative Party was not so that we could then, under the cloak of respectability, introduce even bigger privatisation programmes….This modernisation wasn’t just so we could produce unpalatable rightwing policies and stuff them down the throats of the unsuspecting British public.”

Cameron reveals himself by protesting too much. Read his words again – to uncrack the code: delete ‘not’, exchange “respectability” for “the deficit”, swap “wasn’t” for “was”. His true colours revealed.

Here he donned the cloak of compassionate Conservatism to convince us his party has changed. His current trick is to use the cloak of the deficit to do the work he and his party have always dreamed of; finishing off the job Thatcher started.

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Lib-Dems: Building Problems for the Future

It looks like there will be an announcement, early in the coming week, that will bring the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme to an end. Some projects will continue to a finish (they are too far down the line to halt) but there will be a number being curtailed before the first foundations have been laid.

Putting aside the impact this has on our nation’s future (for the moment), some of the disappointed losers look like they will fall within the constituencies of prominent Lib-Dems. They will have some explaining to do to their constituents, many of whom will be rightly baffled at how a school can be ‘vital’ one minute and unnecessary the next. And this is not, it seems, a saving in the name of deficit-cutting – BSF funds may be re-allocated to the Academies programme (or worse, free schools!)

A quick look at the areas where projects are incomplete – and therefore most likely to be for the chop – suggests Ed Davey (Kingston), Sarah Teather (Brent) and Paul Burstow (Sutton) – among others – will have to hastily consult their well-thumbed Lib-Dem guide entitled: ‘How to avoid taking responsibility for anything mainly by shifting the blame to other relevant parties, particularly Labour but sometimes the Conservatives depending on the situation’.

In this case, they can’t, unfortunately for them, claim they didn’t know (or say this has been sprung upon them because of the deficit in Greece or a drop in the Turkmenistani Manat; or whatever improbable excuse they are now wheeling out for shifting, within hours, from a party that thought immediate spending cuts were disastrous to one that was happy to grab the other end of Osbournes two-man public-sector-chopping saw). No, this was a cut they knew was going to come because the Conservatives said so before the election.

Sarah Teather (the Lib-Demmer who is now Minister for Children and Families), now happily working alongside Nick Gibb (the Conservative Schools Minister), may find it particularly difficult to explain away these (and future) cuts: she made some remarkably bold claims about a ‘massive’ cash injection for schools, if the Lib-Dems had their way. As James Powney points out, she didn’t mention BSF cuts in any of her election leaflets. If I was a constituent, I’d be watching closely to see whether this ‘massive’ spending injection materialises and I would be very sceptical about the impact of the pupil premium in areas like Brent (fodder for another blog post, I think).

Of course, we should not underestimate the ability of Lib-Demmers to twist their way out of a tight spot and, as is their wont, peer down on the murky reality of decision-making from their high-yellow ground. We only have to look to David Laws (remember him?) for evidence of this ability to sing different tunes to different audiences. In a classic bout of pre-election Lib-Demmery, Laws managed to describe the BSF as ‘crucial’, express concern that those nasty Tories would take money out of school-building and – get this – also say the Lib Dems would be ‘reviewing’ BSF anyway. It’s the talent for simultaneously holding all possible positions on a single issue that makes the Lib Dems such an infuriating bunch.

How long will they be able to sustain this “you name it, we’ll sing it” approach to politics? Their abandonment of Building Schools for the Future may well leave them struggling to hold their note; their previously forgiving audience may well start to heckle with the cry: “we didn’t vote for this!”.

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Filed under Conservatives, Funding, Lib Dems, Policy, Politics - general, Schools