A to Z of services          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P R S T U V W Y Z

Posts Tagged ‘Future’

A Shocking Lack of Priorities

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Regular readers of this blog will know that I take every opportunity to criticise the hypocrisy of the government’s ideological austerity. The kind of austerity that sees services and investment cut to the bone but always seems to make vast amounts of money available for pet projects. After some excellent work by our very own Angela Rayner we’ve recently been given a clear example of the damage this kind of thinking has done to our country’s education system.

Cast your minds back to March of last year, when the then-Cameron government announced plans to force all schools in England to become academies. I wasn’t alone at the time in thinking that the plans were ruinously expensive, massively impractical and unlikely to increase standards. In the face of opposition from Parliament and the teaching profession the government was forced to first shelve and then abandon the plans completely.

“What does that have to do with what’s happening now?” I hear you ask. At the time the policy was announced the Treasury allocated £500 million of funding to support the mass academisation process. Now that it’s not going ahead, the government has clawed back £384 million of that funding (The rest, according the Department for Education, had already been spent on “other education projects”, whatever that means).

Let me say that another way. The government was willing to spend £500 million on making every school in England an academy. When that project was dropped they could have chosen to redirect that freed-up money to other forms of investment in our schools. Investments like smaller class sizes, better equipment and materials, or training for teachers. Investments that, unlike academisation, have solid evidence behind them to show that they lead to improved standards. Instead, they chose to let the money disappear back into the bowels of the Treasury. Probably never to be seen again.

It would be somewhat justifiable if our education system was already swimming in funding. What’s actually happening at the moment is the worst crisis in teacher recruitment in living memory and a warning from the National Audit Office that we’re on course for a £3 billion cut in school spending by 2020. The Grammar School Head’s Association say that their schools may resort to asking parents for hundreds of pounds a year to plug the gaps in funding cuts, and Cheshire East Council have gone as far as to confirm that they are looking at moving to a four day school week to make ends meet.

Tameside’s share of that £384 million would have amounted to almost £70 for every pupil in our schools. We’re probably not going to see increases in funding from any other source either. While on paper the government’s latest reforms to school funding gives Tameside a little extra money, Angela’s work has shown that when you throw in inflation and the impact of further cuts that we know are coming down the pipeline it amounts to slapping a sticking plaster onto a gaping wound.

If you thumbed through a copy of the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy you’ll have seen that one of the longest chapters is on “Developing Skills”, or to quote it verbatim “ensuring that everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy”. The kind of education system that delivers that isn’t something that happens by itself. It needs strong and fair funding. It needs to be run by people who know what works and have the freedom to put their expertise into practice.

What it absolutely doesn’t need are Ministers in Whitehall letting ideology and bias dictate their funding and policy decisions. Britain’s future and our children’s education is too important to be turned into a political football.

The Future of Local Government

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

It’s certainly been an eventful couple of weeks. With the ink barely dry on the budget, the Chancellor has launched the second phase of his ideological drive to gut the public services we rely on. The 2015 Spending Review, scheduled for November 25th, envisions departmental spending cuts of as much as 40% on top of what has been endured since 2010.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that local government will suffer the brunt of these new spending cuts, as has consistently been the case since 2010. In Tameside we have already lost £142m of our budget since 2010, and we expect to lose a further £50m by 2020. Councils up and down the country have performed miracles in absorbing horrific budget reductions while maintaining the services that local people rely on, but we have now reached the point where further cuts will start to fall in places and services that residents will notice and miss.

It would be optimistic in the extreme to expect the drive for spending cuts to relax even in the face of this imminent crisis. The only way for local government to avoid financial catastrophe is to fundamentally transform the way we operate. This will involve a genuine transfer of power from the centre to councils, not just the handing over of money and/or responsibility that we have seen so far.

Since it has also become clear that the Departmental for Communities and Local Government is unwilling or unable to fight our corner against the Treasury, local bodies such as councils and enterprise groups should be allowed to have a genuine voice and influence in any future spending review negotiations. In financial terms, I would like to see us argue for ending the ludicrous referendum limit on council tax rises and giving councils the freedom to set their own council tax bands, fees and charges. In policy terms, I would like to see councils being given a free hand to run and fund their own services as they see fit, subject only to a regular central government (or, preferably, an independent body) audit to ensure that they are meeting their statutory obligations.

The devolution we have seen in Greater Manchester this year is an encouraging first step but we are clear that this must be the beginning of the journey, not the end. Unless any further budget cuts are met with an equal increase in the powers of local government the current arrangements will amount to little more than slapping a sticking plaster on a mortal wound. We have long gone past the point where devolution and transformation are nice to haves, they are now absolutely vital to the survival of local government in any form.

Tameside Logo