Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: Two big issues – free schools and energy bills

It would have been very surprising if Nick’s weekly letter hadn’t been on the subjects which have dominated the headlines this week – free schools and energy bills. Although, to be honest, I think it’s the energy bills that most voters are most concerned about and possibly merited a larger proportion of the Letter than they get. Nick makes the case for retaining the green charges which pay for the warm homes discount and home insulation programmes. Ed Davey wrote more about what he’s doing to keep down energy bills on this site last week. The thing is, it’s not as headline-grabbing as a price freeze, but it stands to reason that the more players in the market, the more likely it will be that bills come down. He also flags up the new manifesto website and encourages contributions.

libdem letter from nick clegg

Coalition in crisis. Ministers engulfed by rows. If you’ve read the newspapers this week, you could be forgiven for thinking the government was on the brink of a meltdown. It’s almost a miracle, you’d think, that no blood has been spilt.

So what’s really happened this week on the two big issues in debate: free schools and energy bills? I’d characterise it as honest disagreement coupled with practical determination to work through that disagreement. Doesn’t make much of a headline, of course.

It’s no secret that Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have a different take on how best to run our schools. There’s plenty we agree on: we both believe in school freedom and diversity; we both believe parents and communities should be able to set up new schools; and we both believe Labour’s approach of dictating everything from Whitehall was a mistake.

But as Liberal Democrats agreed at our conference in the Spring this year, our party believes freedom should be underpinned by a core set of basic standards: a parents’ guarantee that teachers will be qualified, lessons will cover the core national curriculum, and school meals won’t be junk. It’s hardly a Stalinist command and control list of orders!

As for energy bills? Well, both parties agree we should do all we can to keep bills down – and we need more competition and easier switching among energy providers to help that happen. That’s exactly what Ed Davey is working on, day-in, day-out at the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

But I will never agree with those on the right who say we should abandon plans to insulate homes and switch to green energy. Not least because home insulation and home-grown energy create jobs now, and are the best ways to keep bills down in the long term. So yes, we will make sure no-one is paying a penny more than necessary, but we won’t put jobs at risk or abandon our green credentials.

You can tell me what you think the right policy is on energy bills, on schools, or on any issue on the Manifesto Website we’re launching this weekend. Now’s the time to put forward your ideas for the next manifesto – the ideas we’ll be fighting for in the next coalition government.

Do you know someone who would like to get Nick’s weekly email? Forward this post and they can sign up here:

Don’t forget you can catch up with all Nick Clegg’s past Letters from the Leader on LibDemVoice by clicking on this link.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Oct '13 - 1:33pm

    Ed Milliband’s scheme is dismissed as naïve and “headline-grabbing”, but it’s a lot more cautious than what Nick Clegg was proposing when he was in opposition five years ago.

    Back in 2008, Clegg railed against the “scandalous profiteering” of the energy companies and called on Gordon Brown to force them to give £9bn worth of price cuts to hard-pressed consumers.

    Five years later, with the energy companies making vastly bigger profits, and consumers much more hard-pressed, you’d think Clegg would be even more keen on telling the energy companies to drop prices. Not a bit of it.

  • Peter Davies 28th Oct '13 - 9:17am

    The text explanation tends to confirm Joe’s fears.

  • “School freedom” is highly ambiguous. Assuming it means freedom of schools rather than within schools – freedom from what? In principle Liberal Democrats will favour local organisations not being controlled by larger or more distant units more than is necessary, but what if schools can ignore the local community’s priorities?

    As for Labour dictating everything from the centre, yes, that was and is their tendency, but it was the Tories who introduced the national curriculum, before which our school system was one of the most decentralised in Europe, and still through Labour’s thirteen years gave schools far more independence than in some of our neighbours.

  • Richard Boyd OBE DL 28th Oct '13 - 10:37am

    Good ideas, but hopefully fleshed out ready to roll out.
    Free school dinners = good idea. What about the need to now feed 160 pupils in one hour, instead of the current
    uptake at my local Primary of 48? What about the dining tables planning ( capacity of the hall is 120 max.) and
    some training, ( serving logistics ) free please, for catering and serving staff?

    Just a thought

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