Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Heads show common sense

The Northern Echo's report on the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future includes case studies where local head teachers give their views. Longfield's Head, Keith Cotgrave, expresses his disappointment but insists that the work which has already gone into the bid will not be wasted. He makes the point that what is most important is what happens inside the school, with which he is very happy. A headteacher from Bishop Auckland makes a similar point.

Contrast this with the near-hysterical views of Darlington's Cabinet member for Young People: "A devastating, short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. The long-term impact on education, community cohesion and the economy will haunt this Government for years to come." Oh, purleese. Calm down dear.

Much as I regret that Darlington will not be receiving the money it was hoping for to renovate three local schools, the crocodile tears being shed over this by some local Labour politicians somehow fail to move me.

The Labour Government left a huge black hole in our public finances: they simply did not have the funds to honour their school building spending pledges. By falsely raising the hopes of local children and parents by promising them new school buildings which they had no hope of providing, the Labour Party has shown us why they deserve their place in the political wilderness.

The Government's Building Schools for the Future programme was bureaucratic and wasteful. It was characterised by massive overspends, lengthy delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy: funnily enough, an accurate description of some of our local Labour Council's favourite projects!

Local Labour politicians complain about “not getting the money we were promised.” Yet we now know that this BSF money to Darlington was not promised, no contracts had been signed and the money simply wasn’t there.

The Labour government committed itself to spending money it did not have. Making unfunded spending promises and raising false hopes was dishonest and cynical. We now have a Coalition Government which is prepared to be open and honest about the difficulties we face and is prepared to do something about them.


james said...

No, Mike - we now have a Tory government. And you joined it. People won't forget that.

Mike Barker said...

Turn the record off James. You lost...get over it.

ianh said...

As you are probably aware i have been no fan of the local Labour administration over the years.

However your defence of these cuts I find very sad.
Hurworth is in a very different position to Longfield, with significantly worse infrastructure.

This level of investment is not an aspiration, it is a necesity.
I know how hard at least one of your colleahues worked to help secure the future of Hurworth school a few yrs ago and i would have hoped that local cllrs (from all parties) would have been big enough to stand up to your national leaders and insist on being heard on what is needed for our schools.

Of course what happens inside our schools is what matters most,as already exemplified by Hurworth.
But what good is that when the infratructure is failing around you?

How many more schools days must be lost to gas leaks, or how many buckets are needed in the classrooms before you wake up to how important this is?

Sad days indeed....

james said...

I won't turn the record off, Mike. I know many people who voted for you who are disappointed at the coalition - and at your silence on the budget's attack on ordinary people.

You could have spoken out against this - instead you have bowed down to the Tories and are now singing from their hymn sheet about it all being Labour's fault.

The Liberals are now sharing power with the party which represents the people who caused the economic crisis - and making the rest of us pay for it.

I am disappointed, Mike. I thought you cared.

Mike Barker said...

As you well know Ian, all three local parties fought for this money and I can't see anything in what I've written that could possibly be interpreted as suggesting that this money is not necessary. Please don't tell me to wake up to something you must realise I am fully aware of.

The point I am making is that the money isn't there, no matter how much we would like it to be.

No amount of hand-wringing by Labour politicians locally can cover up the fact that Labour lied about the size of the deficit and lied about the money which was available for school building.

"There's no money left", as one of your front bench wits put it. How right he was.

james said...

But Mike - there is money left. The government is still collecting taxes and can still borrow.

Public spending has made up for the fall in private investment. As happens during every recession, a spending deficit occurs.

Now there's two options -

Risk a return to recession through rushed spending cuts.

Or secure the recovery and gradually reduce debts.

The Tories have never liked the idea of taxation or borrowing to spend on those who cannot buy these things (privately educated Clegg and Cameron and their kids won't be in delapidated schools!).

After WW2 the country had huge debts - but we didn't follow your Tory logic and say, oh no, we can't afford a National Health Service for ordinary people. That debt took sixty years to pay off - but it was worth it. And investing in education is worth it.

ianh said...

I fhtere is "NO MONEY" then how can Gove be promoting his "Free Schools"?

He wants to see new schools set up alongside exisitng,regardless of local need or surplus spaces etc.

How on earth can this be an efficient way to deliver a quality state education?

Are you suggesting that you/we should not be persuing this much needed funding and simply accept the current tory funding cuts?

If so you are very much mistaken.

james said...

Ianh raises the issue of free schools which will be getting money to set up schools regardless of local demand!

This is not a way of efficiently delivering state education - but subsidising the profits of private "education companies".

I hate to use a pun but this is all about class interest. ;-)

Mike Barker said...

Ah James, does the notion of class still inform your political thought?

I am reminded of one of my politics lecturers at University back in the 1970s whose favourite pun, when confronted by yet another depleted seminar group, was to bemoan the absence of some of our more left-wing colleagues (we almost all were, it's just that some were off the scale), who were probably involved in some sit in, occupation or demonstration, by saying, "I assume xxxx is involved in the class struggle as usual. I do wish he'd struggle along to a few more of my classes."

You'd have enjoyed university in the 1970s, James: decent grants, no fees and the opportunity to spend three years fighting the class war. And when you came out, whether you'd worked hard or not, you'd still be in the top 5% of the country in terms of educational qualifications.

I can't claim to be a fan of the Free School movement. I spoke negatively about the Tory proposals for Free Schools in Council before the General Election. But, a Coalition Government requires both compromise and accomodation and will inevitably involve the pursuit of policy goals which one or other party did not support in the preceding election.

The Labour Party were not interested in exploring options for a left of centre coalition: they preferred to take themselves off and indulge in a few years on introspection in opposition.

The alternative to a Coalition would have been to have left the Conservatives to form a minority government which would have lacked authority and certainty: just what this country didn't need in the financial and economic crisis bequethed to us by Labour.

I can see the levels of hatred and viciousness being directed at the Coalition - and particularly at the Lib Dems - on blogs and websites across the country, and there are aspects of current Government policy which make me squirm.

But that is the nature of coalition politics, which is a natural consequence of the gradual withering away of the old certainties which linked the two old political parties to a clearly defined class base.

We are entering into a period of greater pluralism, diversity, and fluidity in politics.

Labour is presenting the Coalition as if it was some unnatural creation from a Hammer horror film. But collective bile is not an attractive or useful political strategy, except in so far as it makes losing more palatable. Labour's rage about spending cuts is both synthetic and manufactured.

Spending cuts endorsed by the Lib Dems are not driven by ideological fervour. There is no strategy to destroy the state. You can have a strong coalition government which is prepared to introduce necessary measures to try to sort out this mess, or you can have weak one-party government controlled by un-elected bond market shysters.

It would have been an act of cowardice, an abdication of political and moral responsibility not to have joined this Coalition to help steer us through this crisis.

Furthermore, issues of civil liberties and individual freedom, political regeneration, devolution of power, sustainability and environmental support: all are being achieved at a pace by this Government, and with a radicalism, that Labour did not manage in 13 years.

I still agree with Nick.

james said...

Of course class influences my political thought - it influences most people's political thought, Mike. If it didn't, the Tories wouldn't have any need for your lot to prop them up in parliament!

By the way, I've never had much time for left-wing / right-wing labels. Spatial metaphors make people dizzy - people think you're going on about airplanes or birds.

A few months back in a comment on this blog you said to me that the Tories were the party of class and privilege. Here's where I say: I agree with Mike.

There could have been two coalitions after the election - the one we've got, led by the Tories, which is "rich of centre" or one led by Labour which would have been "rest of centre"...

Labour were interested in a coalition - tribalist Ed Balls of all people even suggested tactital voting for the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out before the election!

Clegg leaped into negotiations straight after the election - with the Tories! The Lib Dems only opened a dialogue with Labour as a bargaining tool against the Tories. You can't mix up the timeline. The idea that Labour would rather have had opposition than Tory government is absurd.

The Lib Dem leader of Liverpool council has said the scale of spending cuts - between 25 to 40% cuts - will wipe out the party. Sadly, there's not been much outcry from other Lib-Dems.

The needless emergency budget hits those on low and middle incomes the hardest - they are more dependent on public services and will pay the most of the VAT rise.

What happened to the Lib Dems mansion tax? To getting tough on tax avoidance? To sorting out bank lending?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

May I come into this very interesting conversation. I like Mike was in higher education in the 1970s. I attended a polytechnic which is now a university. I benefitted from a local authority grant (Tory North Yorkshire). Life at the Poly I attended was pretty much the same as Mike experienced. I remember the sit ins and the demos.

I find it dispiriting that Labour are still using the class issue. It's not an issue any more. The landed gentry aren't as powerful as they formerly were. Although we do have an Etonian PM for the first time since 1964.

Yes there are inequalities in society, but they are more to do with socio-economic factors rather than class. Just look at the differences in unemployment rates, health and teenage pregnancy rates in different parts of Darlington. We have to raise people up through education and employment.

I class myself as lower to middle income in the indices you use James. I have also spoken to people who are similar to me including retired people in different parts of Darlington. We don't feel worse off under the Coalition. People realise that the deficit has to be tackled head-on and that was very evident when I was canvassing in Cockerton West.

Turning to the VAT rise, the Chancellor was very careful to exempt food and children's clothes from VAT which didn't come out in Labour's election literature recently.

james said...

Class *is* socioeconomic, Alan. I don't use the term in a cultural way. Economic power has long been centralised in the hands of a few - in banks and big businesses over which we have no democratic control, and yet which shape our lives. The Labour Party was set up precisely because people who create wealth had no party to represent their interests.

You might not feel worse off now, Alan but the if years of cuts go ahead we will feel it. Next year's VAT rise will certainly hit those on modest and middle incomes. And these cuts might not even help reduce the deficit!

What's needed to bring down public debts is a secure recovery. The Coalition is right to speak of a rebalancing of the economy towards export industries - but sadly, tax incentives for firms to invest in plant and machinery are being cut to pay for an across-the-board corporation tax cut which will help financial services at the expense of manufacturing.

ianh said...

I am not interested "class" let alone "class war"
What i am interested in is seeing that EVERY young person has an equal opportunity for success in life, whatever their socio-economic background.

It is therefore essential that we have high quality state schools.
You may have seen the Echo this weekend, tucked away somewhere near the back, the Head of Hurworth School being celebrated as the best Head in the North East.

Yet the school he serves is continuing to suffer with facilities that passed thair design life over 20 yrs ago.

If BSF is dead, how can we ensure that the Head will still have a viable school for another 20 yrs? I could not give a toss about free schools. We already have some great schools, lets invest in those and use them as examplars to others.
Lets, for once, invest in success.

Sam T said...

Hi boys,
Fairly new to politics and a recent defector from Labour to Lib-Dem. It was Mike's early blog re BSF and the possibility of Darlington not being awarded the money for the three schools which made me start following Mike's blogs and much more recently the Lib-Dems.
As an ex accountant and now a housewife with four children, I cannot understand the furore about the cuts.
To put it simply "if it ain't there it can't be spent."
The coalition is the most exciting time of British politics. I sat back to wait, after the election, to ensure that the Lib-Dems would deliver. And that doesn't mean always get their wishes granted. As Mike says it is about compromise. Lo and behold we are getting a much needed referendum on AV. How that can change the face of our politics! This could change the "boom/bust" country caused historically by the other two parties.
On schools I am a keen supporter of our local schools, and have a son about to start Branksome so feel some of the angst others are feeling. However let’s be rational boys. As soon as I read Mike’s blog regarding BSF and the possibility that we would not get it as the contracts were a year away from being signed, I accepted this.

I have had the pleasure of working with Keith Cotgrave, who has been pushing for years Longfield school to be able to offer the facilities presumed available to it's sport's college status. However his response is pragmatic and rational. Unlike the Darlington cabinet member for children and young people, and depressed Labour Leaders recent articles/comments in the Northern Echo.
In an nutshell - stop moaning and lets get on with working to the best of our ability with the resources we have.

ianh said...

Sam, good to have someone new on here.
I appreciate where you are coming from to an extent.
However, not all schools will be able to simply "make-do" having been suffering for years with no significant capital investment.

These schools NEED significant spending just to stand still, let alone improve on what they have.

The buildings are simply well past their design life (over 20yrs in parts) with basics such as drains collapsing and gas mains fracturing. We cant "make do" when the school closes for repairs just be made it safe.

I dont care whether this money comes from BSF or whatever new system is put in place, but it must be delivered if we are to continue to ba able top quality schools of choice in the area.

The cllrs of all parties, regardless of affilation should be working together to deliver this investment if they are serious about serving the best interests of the town.
They should not be hiding behind national politicial agendas.

james said...

Ian - a cabinet of millionaires is going to make millions of ordinary people pay for a financial crisis caused by wealthy bankers with higher taxes (the VAT bombshell) and spending cuts (between 25-40%). If that isn't class war, I don't know what is.

Sam T - if you cannot understand the furuore about the cuts, just wait a bit and you'll see what all the fuss is about.

You say "To put it simply "if it ain't there it can't be spent.""

I'm sorry, but it can. The government will be borrowing in future years: the deficit is not being wiped out overnight.

Some of the other things the government is doing will actually make it harder for borrowing to be reduced - like increasing numbers of people claiming out of work benefits as more and more people chase fewer jobs.