Author Archives: John Marriott

How to pay for local services?

For many years now, governments of all political colours have seen fit to centralise more and more powers to themselves. The result of this has impacted directly on the councils that once were the major providers of services that have improved the lives for generations of our citizens. Today, they are a shadow of their former selves, whose lack of influence is clearly reflected in poor turnouts in local elections.

There have been promises to reverse the centralisation of powers and to devolve many of the powers back from where they have been taken over many years. So far, progress has been painfully slow.

Whatever services that remain the responsibility of local government must still be paid for. Traditionally the bulk of the funding came from central government grant, based on a formula devised and administered in Whitehall. The rest (around 30%) came from revenue and a smaller contribution from the recipients of those services via the Council Tax.

The strains are now really beginning to show. The 2010-2015 Coalition Government used its austerity programme to cut its central grant progressively and used the so called ‘Council Tax Freeze Grant’ to bribe councils not to raise Council Tax, at least not above 2%. The result was that a council like Lincolnshire that accepted the grant was forced massively to reduce its staff and many of the services it provided, libraries being just one example, in an attempt to protect Frontline Services such as Adult Social Care. Interestingly, had the County not accepted the grant but had raised Council Tax by 1.99% for the duration of the grant, it would now be around £30 million better off.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

We need to challenge some of those Brexit statements

 

Well, the ‘official’ EU referendum campaign has finally begun. Funny, it appears to have been going on for months already.

I was interested to see the images of the two official campaigns juxtaposed the other day in the BBC report on my TV screen. The ‘Leave’ campaign was illustrated by old footage of Tories Grayling, Gove and Whittingdale etc. manning the phone lines, whereas the ‘In’ footage showed Tory, Labour and Lib Dem politicians, including the Prime Minister, doing the same thing. For an organisation that has tried so far to be unfailingly impartial in its reporting of the campaign in its ‘phoney war’ stage, I have a feeling that the BBC has possibly given the ‘In’ campaign a visual leg up, by showing its multi party nature. Now, whether we get politicians of different parties actually sharing a platform as we did in 1975 is a different matter.

So far, the arguments for and against have been pretty well rehearsed. We should park immigration for a moment, which could be the deciding factor, but which will still pose problems for us whether or not we stay in the EU. As an EU pragmatist, who thinks that, on balance, leaving the EU now would be a massive gamble, I do have to say that some of the arguments being put forward repeatedly by the Brexiters need challenging.

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EU Referendum: Are you still undecided?

Those wishing to stay in the EU will point to the economic benefits of membership of what is still the world’s largest single market in an increasingly dangerous world and the unnecessary risks of our coming out, while those opposed to continued membership will cite the need to take back sovereignty ceded gradually to Brussels over the past forty years and to regain control of our borders. Their view is that then we could strike deals with the rest of the world and have a much more money to spend as we would not be paying into the EU coffers.

Neither side of the argument is in any way watertight. The ‘Common Market’ which some of us voted to remain in over forty years ago was very different from what we have created today. There are serious questions about the democratic deficit and whether it is still fit for purpose. Despite delivering prosperity and a certain degree of stability for over half a century there are some serious question marks over its its long term future. The Euro has hardly been a massive success and the EU GDP is currently shrinking. Probably the single biggest crisis for us all both in and out of the EU is how it will deal with migration from the Middle East and Africa, which currently shows no sign of abating.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 45 Comments

The Government finally “nationalises” all our schools

So the government has finally decided to nationalise our nation’s schools. At least we now know where we stand. So, if an academy fails under the new system, the buck goes straight to the Secretary of State and not, as now, to the Local Education Authority (which, I assume will simply disappear).

When are we going to stop messing about with education? We are dealing with human beings, not building motor cars, for goodness sake. I note that the current secretary, like most of her cabinet colleagues, was educated privately. In the independent sector, business acumen and PR are part of the DNA of its member schools. “Sell yourself or go under”- and a few actually do!

Some have you may be aware of the goings on at an academy chain in Lincoln where the former Executive Head and his Director of Finance recently went on trial and, to many local people’s amazement, were acquitted.  Only this week it was announced that another secondary academy, the one I taught at for 23 years, is having to face redundancies because of some of its grants being cut. Now it is planned also to remove parent representatives from governing bodies, what chance will the local community have to influence their schools?

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One particular “fear” could decide the result of the EU Referendum

BMW writes to its UK employees highlighting the dangers of Brexit. A French minister threatens to wave through migrants at Calais en route to Dover and to roll out the red carpet to welcome financial services to his country if we leave. Boris and others say none of this will happen. Great Britain still is great. From his residence across the Channel Lord Nigel Lawson tells us not to worry. The EU needs us more than we need them. Confused? I bet many people are.

Like Lord William Hague, I’m an EU pragmatist. Better inside the tent etc. Unlike our former leader I don’t think that the EU will be ‘about the same’ in ten years’ time. The remarks from Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, following last week’s summit were very apposite. The ‘negotiations’ undertaken by David Cameron, while casually dismissed as ‘thin gruel’ by Eurosceptics like Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, have whetted the appetite of many recent, and not so recent arrivals in the EU for a fundamental change of direction for a project that started life in the aftermath of WW2 when many parts of the world were on their uppers and the numbers of nations actually making things was a shadow of what exists today.

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Putting our faith in ‘Leaders’ – There are lessons to be learned

The recent acquittal of the former Executive Head of the Lincoln Priory Chain of Academies and his Director of Finance appears to have caused a few raised eyebrows in many areas. It is not my intention to pass my own personal judgement on the rights and wrongs of the case. What concerns me more is the fact that the Department of Education considered there to be sufficient grounds to ask the local police to conduct an enquiry which eventually led to a court case that is set to cost the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.

This is not the first time that so called ‘Super Heads’ have made the headlines following revelations about their conduct. If you add to that the affair in 2013 of Lincolnshire’s Acting Chief Constable, who was first suspended by our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), was exonerated by an enquiry and then reinstated with an apology from the PCC at a cost to the taxpayer of around £160,000, you can see that putting our faith in the judgement of individuals without effective and stringent checks and balances can land us in a great deal of trouble and cause embarrassment to institutions that ought to have our respect.

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

The crisis in the Middle East – Is this the ‘end of the beginning’?

 

As the tide of war turned in 1942 following the second battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill spoke about “the end of the beginning” of the fight back against fascist oppression. I have to confess that these words went through my mind as I sat through many hours of TV parliamentary debate last Wednesday on whether or not to bomb Daesh in Syria. For those who are cynical about the goings on at Westminster, this was an occasion that illustrated perfectly how important our parliamentary democracy really is.

There were some cracking speeches on both sides. Tim Farron rose in my estimation with his contribution, as did Margaret Beckett and Alan Johnson and, as for Hilary Benn, could this be the end of the beginning of his march to the leadership of his party? I noticed that one critic claimed it was short on facts; but there are times when “fight them on the breaches” carries more emotional and symbolic weight than the practicality of fighting on sand. I just  wonder whether the reaction to his speech had anything to do with the shoring up of Labour’s majority in the Oldham by-election.

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Recent Comments

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    The Layfield Commission on Local Government Finance (Layfield Committee, 1976) came to the view that there should be major changes in the financing of British...
  • User AvatarJoe Bourke 23rd Feb - 1:18am
    A harrowing tale of real distress for these parents, Kirsten. I echo your conclusion that " We need a joined-up approach to disability provision –...
  • User AvatarJoe Bourke 23rd Feb - 1:00am
    Keynes did offer us some advice on how best to manage the public finances. To find out what is was it is best to go...
  • User AvatarJoeB 23rd Feb - 12:28am
    Layla, as she so often does gets to the heart of the issue in saying " the idea that university should be free for everyone...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 23rd Feb - 12:27am
    nonconformistradical I said "people who did not pay fees". That is everyone who went to university before 1998. Lots of people. I did not say...
  • User AvatarRoland 23rd Feb - 12:26am
    Germany has managed to abolish tuition fees as they weren’t working for the economy. And they are also finding that having abolished them, that also...