LibLink: Julian Astle – The real threat to the Coalition’s public services reforms doesn’t come from the EU

Over on his Telegraph blog, Julian Astle, director of the CentreForum think-tank and former adviser to Paddy Ashdown, argues that the real threat to the coalition’s plans to reform public services comes not from European law, but more pertinently from the system of national pay bargaining.

Here’s an excerpt:

Although the government is trying to raise standards across the board, its particular focus is on reducing the UK’s intolerably high levels of health and educational inequality. But as Professor Alison Wolf has demonstrated, it is the system of national pay bargaining that locks these inequalities in place. Leave that system in place, and all the Government’s other pro-poor initiatives (like the Pupil Premium) will come to nought.

This is because the system works systematically to disadvantage public service providers in areas of high deprivation, especially when those areas are located in high wage, high cost regions.

Take a typical school in Tower Hamlets. When trying to recruit a bright able graduate to teach maths, the school has to compete twice – first with private sector employers in the neighbouring City of London wherea £7 billion bonus pool is currently being divvied out, and then with other schools, many of which are located in low deprivation areas in lower wage, lower cost regions (think leafy Harrogate in Yorkshire). The result? All too often (with a few admirable exceptions) the teacher chooses the good school with the easy-to-teach pupils in the more pleasant and affordable location. Little wonder that schools in poor areas employ less qualified and less effective teachers, or that teacher turnover is, on average, twice as high as in wealthier areas.

You can read the whole piece here.

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12 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Mar '11 - 4:10pm


    Little wonder that schools in poor areas employ less qualified and less effective teachers, or that teacher turnover is, on average, twice as high as in wealthier areas.

    Well, yes, but that is the consequence of the sort of world people like Julian Astle have created. Their answer to everything is “put it out to contract and pick the lowest bidder”. So what if the lowest bidder uses poorly qualified or less effective staff or staff who are seeing it only as a temporary job? It’s cheaper, and in Astle’s dog-eat-dog world, that’s better, at least when it comes to public services. It helps cut the deficit and that’s that – wonderful. The big City companies need not worry about it, because if it results in British kids being useless, they can move abroad or recruit from other countries where the people are damn fools who pay enough tax to educate their kids. “The little people” here can pay the taxes to deal with the social consequences. As for the fat cats “Nothing to do with us guv, we’re Swiss/HK/etc for tax reasons”.

  • Quite where does Julian Astle see the Lib Dems heading? Lib Dems should be ignoring the calls for the break up of national pay scales in the public sector. It will create far more problems than it will solve. The idea should be to create more stable jobs not undermine the terms and conditions of people who generally are not particularly well paid.

    In Astle’s world this may be a priority but most Lib Dem activists who actually go out on the doorstep could tell him it is a vote loser.

  • Lib Dems should on no account worry about the negative consequences of national pay scales. It is far more fun to be self righteous and say that everything bad is the fault of evil right-wingers and classical liberals.

  • Matthew – Julian was **opposing** a system in which “schools in poor areas employ less qualified and less effective teachers”, not advocating one!

  • @Tom Papworth

    Don’t you realise that many large companies use national or equivalent pay scales and many still have national bargaining. National pay scales do not exist just in the public sector. If you think chopping public sector wages will bring unemployment down you had better explain how this will happen. You seem to be advocating some sort of low wage economy for the North, an entirely unworkable regional approach and overestimating the actual levels of public sector pay.

  • There are many reasons for educational and health inequalities but I very much doubt that national pay bargaining is the most important one (or even a significant factor).

    This blog article underlines one of the tactics being deployed currently by think tanks and Tory members of the coalition – to advocate a Thatcherite policy and wrap it in some spurious guff that portrays it as a selfless attempt to help the poor.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Mar '11 - 8:41am

    Tim Leunig

    Matthew – Julian was **opposing** a system in which “schools in poor areas employ less qualified and less effective teachers”, not advocating one!

    Julian Astle, like you, are part of a group of people trying to infiltrate the Liberal Democrats with your extreme right-wing policies, which “John” quite rightly notes are wrapped in “some spurious guff that portrays it as a selfless attempt to help the poor”.

    The “put it all out to contract” mentality which you support so strongly, and have argued for in your recent Times Higher Education article, for example, HAS led to just this – poor quality staff giving poor quality service. I have recently heard some horrendous things from a relative of mine who years ago worked as a nurse on how the contracting out mentality has so damaged standards in health care. Yet people like you want more of it.

    I saw NOTHING in Julian Astle’s article which gave any sort of suggestion as to how a borough like Tower Hamlets is to attract good mathematicians into teaching when those mathematicians can earn tens of times more in the City. The point I am making is that if Tower Hamlets can get people who will work for those wages in teaching jobs, and Julian Astles isn’t saying they can’t, isn’t that what you would call the market beating down costs, and so it must be good? They may be less qualified and less effective, but, hey, isn’t that how to cut costs and hence cut taxes and hence have dynamic private sector businesses making things better?

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Well done for highlighting the growing influence on the party by those approaching from a distinctly right of centre liberal position. They are almost the Lib Dem equivalent of Militant, trying to alter from within what was a settled mainstream policy agenda. Unfortunately they have become emboldened by the Laws, Clegg, Alexander faction.

  • Julian Astle 2nd Mar '11 - 4:44pm

    Goodness me. I hadn’t meant to cause a row. I was just pointing out that flat pay scales (only slightly offset by London weighting) put schools in poor areas in high wage regions (like Tower Hamlets) at a huge disadvantage when it comes to staff recruitment. At the moment, we have a system in which the richest kids get taught by the most effective teachers, while the poorest kids get taught by the least effective teachers. I would like to see that situation reversed. But this requires two things: more funds (hence CentreForum’s longstanding support for a Pupil Premium) and the freedom to use those funds to attract the very best teaching staff.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Mar '11 - 12:12pm

    Tom Papworth

    Not a low wage economy; just an economy that reflects the cost of labour in the North.

    Ah, but cleverly argued for using the line which suggests it will mean higher wages for public sector workers in London. Which we all know is not what you and your like are really after. I salute John posting at 6.53am on 2 March – he has it so right about your lot.

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