As the primary purpose of "How to save £50 billion" was to stimulate debate, the report has been an unqualified success. Informed and considered conversations are now going on about what works and what doesn't, what's vital and what's non-priority.
The debate about Sure Start - which we proposed should be brought to an end - falls right into the first category. Does the programme work?
Tom Clark yesterday provided a considered critique (which can be found here) of our Sure Start proposal. He makes some solid points, but I would argue that while Mr Clark rightly observes that there is paucity of data with which to make definite conclusions about whether Sure Start works, I don't believe he makes a convincing case for keeping the programme.
Mr Clark's principal criticism (if I understand it correctly) is that as programmes such as Sure Start have such considerable bed-in times, and depend on lengthy cohort progression (the first fully 'assessable' Sure Start year will only turn 11 around 2015 I calculate from Mr Clark's statements) no-one at the moment is in a position to judge whether Sure Start does or doesn't work.
In this we are in complete agreement. In an ideal world we would have reams of data, the results of detailed studies that could help us conclude such a question one way or the other. All we have at the moment are various Government evaluations, alongside Birkbeck's independent study, all of which relentlessly stress that it is too early to make any conclusions. Indeed, the Birkbeck study states clearly that observed improvements in 3 year old cognitive ability could easily depend on changes in the study's methodology since the last run of tests.
So we are left with two options; continue to committ billions of pounds to the programme untl 2016 - when hopefully we will be able to judge its impact - or, alternatively; rely on the considerable evidence (some of it anecdotal) which argues that Sure Start is not the best way to address this critical problem.
We maintain that the first option is just not feasible. If nothing else, Sure Start morphs so often that the system operational in 2016 is unlikely to resemble the one in operation in 2005. For whatever reasons - the highly centralised control of education and children policy in the UK being the main one - Sure Start will change slightly every year, whether in focus or delivery, and the Sure Start defenders of the future will then argue that no-one can condemn the Sure Start of 2016 because it has changed so much since its outset. This is has already happend over the past 10 years with Sure Start, as it has with Regional Development Agencies and the NHS Trust structure.
So we are left with option two. When attempting to draw up our list of possible expenditure cuts, we spoke to employees involved in Sure Start schemes. Many, as one would expect, thought the approach was the right one, but that it was being applied badly. Some were bold enough to say that the whole experience had left them disillusioned with the idea that Government could affect positive change among the target group. While opinions varied considerably, what united them was the feeling that Sure Start as a programme was not doing the job. The commentators on Mr Clark's Guardian piece (see here) re-affirm this, and many of those commentating are again people with first hand experience of Sure Start on the ground, whether as a parent or employee.
As this debate develops, everyone has to be wary of those people who wish to equate a wish to end Sure Start with a desire to abondon disadvantaged children. Any such assertion is not just misleading, it is outright dishonest. There are not, I admit, fully worked out and costed alternatives sitting on the shelf. Those commentators who have made this point are right; alternatives may well still cost money. But at the moment a policy designed to help the children of the most disadvantaged appears to benifiting the relatively well-off the most. It doesn't – on all the available evidence – appear to be having the impact it was meant to (which must matter). The bar of success can be constantly moved down, but why not consider different approaches, some of which might actually do more to help disadvantaged children. Throwing resources (taxpayers' money) at these children does not mean one is committed to helping them. It means one is committed to throwing money at them. That is the easy bit. It might be proof of a much greater commitment to the poor if the Government actually stopped using money as a proxy for commitment, and actually considered the best ways – however unpalatable they may be - to improve the chances of those least likely to born with them.
It would appear that taxpayers are footing the bill for yet more benefits for public sectors workers. This time it's free gifts, paid lunches and afternoons off work for traffic wardens who obtain the most revenue from parking penalties.
The bonus system came to light after a briefing was leaked by Bristol City Council. The “performance-based” scheme finds a loophole from parking regulations, which stipulates that councils are prohibited from handing out cash bonuses to traffic wardens. Instead teams of traffic wardens who issue the most parking tickets and generate the most money from penalties are rewarded with buffet lunches and afternoons off work. Also the individual within the team who successfully makes the most money from issuing parking tickets is given a gift pen.
This naturally raises questions over the very premise of such a scheme – it potentially incentivises traffic wardens to be overzealous in issuing parking tickets in order to get a free lunch and then go home for the afternoon. Bristol City Council argues that this is not the case, stating the system is designed to reward good service and not increase the number of parking tickets. A spokeswoman said:
“The scheme is aimed at improving the quality of the service. The team is rewarded for compliments, courtesy and punctuality.
“The finger buffet lunch – £50 for the entire group – held at our operational base, is a working lunch where issues such as team morale and service improvements are discussed.”
However the statements contain a complete contradiction, with Bristol City Council arguing that the scheme rewards traffic wardens who generate the most revenue and also aids the council in improving parking services. What is more worrying is that the scheme goes against the basis on which parking enforcement was granted to local authorities. The Road Traffic Act of 1991 permitted local authorities to apply for legal powers to take over parking enforcement and retain the revenue generated from parking tickets.
However it was promised that with local authorities obtaining this extra revenue, council tax would decrease. Of course, council tax has continued to rise and it would appear that surplus from parking penalties is going towards showering traffic wardens with benefits. Once again the taxpayer is the loser, with high council taxes and an increased likelihood of being slapped with a parking penalty from predatory traffic wardens.
There have been a number of interesting responses to our report on the Prevent strategy, released yesterday. This is exactly the kind of debate that we were hoping to start by revealing how Prevent money has been spent - hopefully experts will continue to look into the groups and we can build up a really detailed picture of how the scheme has performed.
Ed Husain, author of The Islamist and co-director of the Quilliam Foundation, wrote for the Guardian's Comment is Free website that:
"The Taxpayers' Alliance's new report on the government's Prevent programmes sheds much-needed light on the cost and effectiveness of the government's counter-terrorism strategy. At first reading of the report, it seems that many Muslim groups are receiving money merely for not being extreme, rather than for actively doing or saying anything to challenge and roll back extremism. This is clearly wrong.
Most importantly, however, the report also reveals that many groups that have received handsome grants of taxpayers' funds are groups whose leading members include supporters of hardcore Islamist ideologies. Such organisations include the Islamic Society of Britain (with some exceptions), the UK Islamic Mission, the Islamic Foundation, the London Muslim Centre and Da'watul Islam."
He disagrees with the idea of scrapping the scheme but does believe that it needs significant reform:
"I disagree, however, with Matthew Sinclair's suggestion that we should abolish the Prevent strand altogether. For me, this is the most important part of the government's counter-terrorism strategy: ending the ready supply of extremists who can be convinced to commit future terrorist outrages. Yes, Prevent has gone terribly wrong in many parts, but reforming it, even renaming it, giving it a sharper focus to win the battle of ideas, is the best way forward."
We remain of the opinion that the strategy of giving grants through councils, when even central government has failed to find reliable partner community groups, is unrealistic. However, there is no doubt that a reformed Prevent scheme would be an improvement on the current situation. Hopefully, reform and the kind of transparency and scrutiny that we have provided with our report will mean less money supports the wrong groups.
"The Tax Payer’s Alliance (TPA) has released figures (pdf) today on every local authority that has received Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) funding and what organisations have benefitted from it. The PVE fund has so far given out £12 million in tax payer money to projects aimed at preventing radicalisation.
One organisation, the Muslim Welfare House (MWH), has received just under £50,000 in PVE funds over the last two years. The MWH is a member of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), which represents the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe."
The Engage website is more critical of some aspects of our analysis, but does note the importance of the report in scrutinising Prevent:
"The [TPA] extensively documents organisations and projects that have been recipients of these public funds. The detailed list will raise further questions over the delivery of Prevent and the widespread criticism of funds being channelled into projects without due diligence, oversight or assessment.
The fact that information gathering was itself an arduous process, with [TPA] making several FOI requests nationally and locally, is a further indictment of the poor oversight mechanisms in place."
Some of their criticisms of our analysis are a bit suspect. First, they assert that:
"The MCB didn’t attend HMD this past year in protest of the war in Gaza and not for reasons of a boycott."
Let's take a look at the Dictionary.com definition of the word "boycott":
"To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion."
So they have abstained from going to Holocaust Memorial day as an expression of protest, about the war in Gaza. If that isn't a boycott, it's hard to know what is.
Next, they argue that:
"What funds certain MCB affiliates receive under Prevent is a matter for those affiliates, it’s hardly cause for Sinclair to malign the reputation of the MCB."
The MCB can't be a representative body when they're claiming credibility to speak for a wide range of community groups and then disavow all knowledge of their affiliates when it suits them. Their "About MCB" page is quite clear on the matter, its very first sentence says:
"The Muslim Council of Britain is a national representative Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools."
We would welcome greater clarity over, for example, whether the MCB's affiliates agree with the policy of boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day.
Finally, they say:
"It [is] odd that the Taxpayer's Alliance seems to have singled out Muslim organisations for receiving these funds."
We aren't the ones singling out Muslim organisations, the Government is; that's the point of Prevent. In the words of the Communities and Local Government department, Prevent is "a new action plan to step-up work with Muslim communities to isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism".
Hopefully, we will see more organisations following up on this report in the days to come.
The Town Hall Rich List has always generated a lot of media attention. Boomerang bosses and scandalous rewards for failure are often the headline, but the principal purpose has always been to allow people to find out – if they want to – just how much their council executives really earn.
Public anger at what were considered to be excessive and – critically – unjustified pay packets was ignored for some time by local and national politicians. To their credit, national politicians slowly begun to react, and last year all parties committed themselves to much greater transparency in local government spending, and in particular over council remuneration.
To their great discredit, councils did not then take the initiative and publish all the remuneration details of their senior staff. It would have been a bold but sensible move, pre-empting the inevitable. Now, as the Government plans to amend the Local Government accounting regulations to make remuneration details public, Councils look as if they had to be forced into line.
From December – if Communities and Local Government plans are not derailed – all local authorities will have to publish the remuneration details (including salary, bonuses, pay-offs, expenses, etc) of all senior staff earning over £50,000. To see the draft amendment in full, click here.
I have written more extensively on this issue over on the Local Government page of ConHome. To read the piece there, follow this link. But suffice to say, DCLG have written a really good piece of legislation, which deserves support. If the final plans put forward in December do not deliver the transparency voters deserve – and which is one the table at the moment – the culprits will be easy to identify.
Over the past year Essex Police force has put 238 more officers out on the beat. Funding hasn’t increased, and there have been no cuts to services or front-line duties, so how have they done it?
Quite simply through better management, a genuine focus on cutting waste and bringing an end to frankly indulgent spending. In this way the Essex force has saved £11 million, which has gone directly into funding these new officers.
Their Director of Finance, Rick Tazzini, told the BBC that the force had principally saved money on fuel, stationery and refreshments. Asking officers to fill up their vehicles at cheaper supermarket filling stations is the sort of common sense policy that is still rare in public services. But as Essex has shown, such measures can form part of genuine budget control; they saved £50,000 from this initiative alone. The savings made on tea, coffee and biscuits reduced their annual expenditure to £120,000, at sharp contrast with Lothian and Borders Police, who spent £383,000 on refreshments last year, the equivalent of £147.31 spent per each of their 2600 officers.
Essex’s savings programme – known as Operation Apex – was the brainchild of former Chief Constable Roger Baker. He declared that rolling out the scheme across the whole of the UK could see an extra 20,000 officers recruited if more ‘barmy projects’ were scrapped. Lets hope other forces are listening.
In politics, pensions are a minefield into which no-one wishes to tread. Any talk of reforming public sector schemes provokes angry accusations at best, full-on strikes at worst. Discussions of what to do with the state pension takes the whole thing to an even crazier level. Immense complexity, vested interest, emotion and unavoidable political manoeuvring; all the ingredients for an unedifying public debate.
But that debate took a small but significant step towards clarity yesterday, with news that Unison (the public sector union) is considering significant reforms of its own final salary scheme, including dropping it altogether.
As the Times reported yesterday:
"…the union’s pension funds are facing a deficit that has more than
doubled in the past year. In December last year Unison had assets of
about £268 million and a deficit of £58 million. But a letter from Dave
Prentis, Unison general secretary, said that the deficit was now at
least £120 million, as the value of pension funds had plunged after
“turmoil in the financial markets”.
Confidential proposals to curb costs sent to senior Unison officials
are to be discussed by pensions trustees next week, and the
recommendations will be put to the 1,400 pension scheme members in a
ballot this autumn."
The article goes on:
"… Unison is looking at raising retirement age from 60 to 65, possibly
even for current members. “If the Unison scheme retirement age was
increased immediately to 65 years, it would reduce immediately the cost
of the scheme by some 3.6 per cent of salaries each year,” the document
“Given the seriousness of the deficit, it is unlikely that a
recovery package is going to be possible without an increase in
employee contributions,” the paper also says.
Senior union officials claimed that there had also been informal
discussions about scrapping the Unison final-salary pension scheme,
based on an employee’s salary over the past three years, and replacing
it with the much less generous career average scheme."
(To read the article in full, see here)
Unison, like any employer, is being faced with the ugly truth about generous final salary schemes; they are unaffordable. As the leading voice in the campaign to scupper Government plans for public sector pensions, the charge of hypocrisy being laid at Unison's door seems fair. As members were out in the cold last December picketing, Union bosses were sitting down to discuss implementing just the kind of changes the Government were trying to enforce.
As always, it's easy to forget that this is not some obscure philosophical issue. The retirement incomes of very real people are at stake. No one should be pleased that people who were promised one thing are now not going to get it. But if this news today represents the beginning of a new honesty about what is affordable, what is possible, the changes that must be made, then there is some semblance of a silver lining; a real debate about the facts, not just about what we'd all like to exist in an ideal world.
But not if David Prentis (Unison General Secretary) has anything to do with it. Even though he conceded yesterday that the union's pension scheme will have to be overhauled, his attribution of blame for the problem on the "greed and irresponsibility of the financial and banking sector" is disingenuous. He's right; the greed and irresponsibility of many in the financial sector has brought the pension scheme to its knees. But at the same time it is just that greed and irresponsibility that allowed Mr Prentis to dodge this bullet for years. Like many executives, he could sweep the 'unsustainable and unaffordable' nature of Unison's scheme under the carpet as long as bankers in the City kept making money. Now they aren't, and Mr Prentis is forced to face the ugly truth. Pity he didn't square with Unison workers when times were good.
The International Policy Network have released an excellent new report which looks at how DFID use taxpayers' money to support political causes here in Britain. Some of the facts they've found are real shockers:
"£1.2 million given to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) since 2003 for activities including: lobbying, hiring new staff and an “international buffet and wine” event to celebrate “International Women’s Day” in the UK. DfID also paid the TUC to hold lessons in how to apply for DfID funds.
The creation of fake NGOs such as “Connections for Development” (CfD), supposedly a forum for black and ethnic minorities to engage “on issues relating to international development.” DfID created and is the only donor to CfD, providing it with £600,000 in its first two years, yet an independent review questioned "the purpose of the organisation."
Big charities are funded to engage in "awareness", "promotion" and "advocacy". Millions is spent every year through one programme, the "Development Awareness Fund", in order promote the importance of DFID issues. I think many people are already pretty cynical about what happens to money spent on international aid, which can often be wasted and feed corruption. But it is still incredible to learn that millions of pounds don't even leave our shores, but are spent by bureaucrats trying to get more of our money instead of making the best use they can of the significant resources DFID is already given.
When are politicians going to get real and start confronting excessive public spending? With the high-speed rail announcement earlier this week, it appears that they are still living in a fantasy land where such ambitious and enormously expensive schemes can be announced without a word about where the money is coming from.
Some simple fiscal realities:
Britain is facing enormous deficits which will lead to a massive debt of between (PDF) £1.54 and £2.34 trillion by 2017/18. The deficits are partly the result of the economic cycle, but the structural deficit is the result of politicians jacking up spending as if the boom would last forever. The Government is borrowing a huge amount despite a decade of tax rises; further hikes will either do huge damage to the economy while raising next to no revenue – if politicians try to tax high earners and firms that can easily invest elsewhere - or create unacceptable hardship for ordinary families.
The Transport budget, in particular, faces cuts of up to £29 billion over a ten year period. This will put existing projects like Crossrail under considerable pressure. No one serious about the issue can be under any illusion that there is money to burn without compromising other priorities. There is a particular need for investment in the road network - which moves the vast majority of passengers and goods - and commuter rail - all of the most crowded routes are on commuter lines taking people into major cities.
Big government projects routinely go over budget. TaxPayers' Alliance research (PDF) has shown that major capital procurement projects tend to go over budget, on average, by one third – even including defence projects whose final cost fell thanks to a cut in the amount ordered. That suggests this scheme could well cost over £40 billion. An over-run is particularly likely with a project this complicated.
I don't think many people dislike the idea of a new high-speed rail line, and we're not going to suggest that taxpayers wouldn't get anything in return for their £34 billion. But, all the 'industry leaders', politicians and other worthies praising this now should also be setting out how they plan to cut other spending sufficiently to get rampant borrowing under control and pay for such big expensive schemes as this.
All we're hearing from politicians on either side of the partisan divide at the moment is what they want to protect from cuts and new commitments like this. If that continues, then we might all pay a heavy price.
John Denham – Communities Secretary and the most surprising success of the June reshuffle – has ordered the Audit Commission to investigate the problem of council 'boomerang bosses'. (BBC News, Telegraph).
The local government 'boomerang boss' has become a ubiquitous feature in the TPA's annual Town Hall Rich List, the report which really propelled this issue to national attention. At the top of our most recent list are numerous Council Chief Executives who, for reasons that too often go unexplained, leave their very well paid job at one council, taking away with them hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation for 'loss of office', only to then slide into another generously rewarded Chief Executive position at another council just a couple of months later.
The practice has provoked concern among councillors and council taxpayers, as compensation agreements for the early departure of an executive – often thrashed out in secret and protected by confidentiality agreements – have run to astronomical levels. One Chief Executive took away nearly £500,000 for losing their job, yet finding another even before the year was out.
That concern has now been picked up by the Government, with John Denham's announcement confirming the DCLG's commitment to tackling the problem of Local Government pay. Pledges to far greater transparency in town hall remuneration, and suggestions that councillors should err on the side of restraint rather than generosity when agreeing contracts, mark a real step change in the Government's attitude to Local Government spending, and one which all taxpayers should welcome warmly.
As an interesting footnote to today's annoucement, when we (the TPA) raised the issue of boomerang bosses at the Public Administration Select Committee's inquiry into public sector executive pay, the head of SOLACE (a local government executive association) dismissed our claims as overdone. It wasn't a serious problem Mr Clark argued, just TPA sensationalism. Seems the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government doesn't agree.
Today the TaxPayers' Alliance has released a new press release with the Competitive Enterprise Institute attacking the waste of taxpayers' money by the Carbon Trust trying to expand around the world. The Daily Mail have reported the story and written in their leader that, as Gordon Brown is under pressure to identify cuts: "He should start with the Carbon Trust." They are absolutely right.
Unfortunately, Carbon Trust Chief Executive Tom Delay doesn't appear to be getting the message. Here is his response to the Daily Mail story:
"They are barking up the wrong tree. We do not lobby governments wherever they are in the world, we help business reduce carbon emissions now and in the future. Our work overseas is funded by overseas companies and governments and our support for this represents 1 per cent of our UK budget."
Let's take that bit by bit:
"We do not lobby governments wherever they are in the world"
The job advert for the Head of Carbon Trust USA called for someone who could "establish and maintain key relationships with internal and external stakeholders, including elected members, policy makers and advisers"; build "trusted relationships with the Administration and key elected members in Washington/ States"; and "carry out visits arranged by the British Embassy/Consulates in the US and the British High Commission in Canada to meet and present the Carbon Trust model to high-level government and business representatives. There may also be a small number of similar visits to South American countries." If that doesn't qualify as lobbying in the mind of Tom Delay then it's difficult to know what would.
However, it doesn't end there. The Carbon Trust also expends considerable effort lobbying in the United Kingdom. The latest Association of Professional Political Consultants register (PDF) shows that they have contracts with Grayling Political Strategy and Weber Shandwick, two of the biggest lobbying firms in the country. The Carbon Trust's accounts boast that:
"Back in 2005 we published a major review of the UK’s policy framework focused on energy efficiency in the business and public sector. This work, in particular, highlighted a gap in policy to incentivise change in the large, less energy-intensive organisations that contribute up to 10% of UK-wide emissions. We suggested that a new, mandatory trading scheme could fill this gap, and in 2007/08 this work came to fruition. The UK Government decided that a mandatory scheme was the correct approach. It consulted on the detailed design of the proposed new scheme, and currently plans to put it into place in 2010."
That is an organisation promoting its political importance, similar to the way countless other political groups will promote themselves. Only, the other groups aren't funded with the money of ordinary taxpayers who will end up paying for this new trading scheme the same way they pay the price for the existing European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.
"Our work overseas is funded by overseas companies and governments and our support for this represents 1 per cent of our UK budget."
This is deliberately misleading. The story was about their using our money lobbying to expand abroad. The market they're trying to capture is, indeed, foreign taxpayers' money. They are lobbying for the funding to establish clones of themselves in a range of countries. However, the money they are using to do that lobbying is ours. We didn't know how much they were spending but 1 per cent of their UK budget is about £1 million, that money could – and should – be returned to UK taxpayers.
Of course, they are right that this is only a small part of their overall budget. But, and here's the real kick in the teeth, we just don't know how they spend most of the hundred million pounds a year that they are given. As an "independent" company they don't have to respond to Freedom of Information requests and there is very little information in their accounts. What information the accounts do provide is often a bit dodgy. They only list two executive directors in their remuneration report (the account of how their directors are paid that all companies and public bodies – except councils – have to produce), presumably because they've hived the others off to subsidiaries, making their operations even more opaque.
The Carbon Trust should be abolished. Even if that can't be achieved, they should at least be made subject to FOI so people can know how their money is being spent. If they've got nothing to hide, that shouldn't scare them in the least.
The Carbon Trust, a British environmental pressure group, is establishing a presence in the United States, underwritten by British taxpayers’ money.
The Carbon Trust was created as an independent, but taxpayer funded, company by the British Government in order to encourage firms to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. It received £93.6 million ($154.4) in taxpayer funding in 2007-08. Its other income was just £4 million ($6.6 million) in that year, the vast majority of which was interest. Carbon Trust CEO Tom Delay was paid £223,109 ($368,018) in 2007-2008.
The company has now established an international arm. As its website notes, “In June 2009, the Carbon Trust Board approved the establishment of Carbon Trust International Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Carbon Trust to further its international objectives.” It has established separate websites for the original UK organization (http://www.carbontrust.co.uk) and Carbon Trust International (http://www.carbontrust.com).
With support from the British government, the Carbon Trust is working on developing relationships with state actors outside the UK. It has signed Memoranda of Understanding with a Chinese “national investment corporation” and with the State of Florida. Its objectives seem particularly ambitious in the United States. It is recruiting for “Head of Carbon Trust USA.” The successful candidate is supposed to work at establishing similar organizations throughout the U.S. to engage in substantial lobbying.
Carbon Trust International and Carbon Trust USA mark a considerable expansion of the Trust’s scope. Such an expansion takes the company far beyond its initial remit and the organisation is now attempting to influence the democratic debate in the United States, an extremely questionable use of British taxpayers’ money. Its website notes:
“[The] Carbon Trust envisages that over the next 2-4 years there would be: 1-3 Carbon Trust style entities with a range of energy efficiency, low carbon customer offerings; 1-3 international low carbon innovation accelerator projects; 5-10 early stage low carbon investments; trusted relationships with the Administration and key elected members in Washington/ States.”
“To focus in particular on those opportunities where the Carbon Trust is more likely to establish operating entities to reduce carbon emissions; [...] to explore, and [...] develop opportunities, including private and public sectors and NGOs, potential public and private funding providers”
“[Carry] out visits arranged by the British Embassy/Consulates in the US and the British High Commission in Canada to meet and present the Carbon Trust model to high-level government and business representatives. There may also be a small number of similar visits to South American countries.”
“To establish and maintain key relationships with internal and external stakeholders, including elected members, policy makers and advisers.”
As a result, policy experts in both Britain and America have strongly criticized the Carbon Trust’s expansion.
Matthew Sinclair, Research Director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:
“It is shocking that an organisation funded by British taxpayers is trying to expand into new territories as if it is a multinational company. The Carbon Trust has always been among the worst examples of unaccountable government bureaucracy, financed with taxpayers’ cash but not subject to public scrutiny through vital democratic tools like the Freedom of Information Act. Now it’s trying to export that model to other countries, using British taxpayers’ money to lobby foreign politicians to fund its new franchises abroad. This attempt to use the power of the British Government to build a corporate empire overseas is reminiscent of the old East India Company, not a public service agency. The Carbon Trust should be abolished and a stop put to this kind of abuse of taxpayers’ money.”
Iain Murray, Director of Projects and Analysis and Senior Fellow in Energy, Science and Technology at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said:
"Given that the British government lashed out at a backbench Conservative politician for expressing doubts about the National Health Service while on a visit to the United States, it should think twice before using British taxpayers’ money to try to influence the energy debate in the U.S. The reaction to the Waxman-Markey bill following its passage by the House of Representatives suggests that Americans are extremely skeptical about the cost to America of emissions reduction. I suspect they will be even more annoyed if their Representatives listen to the British Government rather than to them. Last time it was tea, this time it could be carbon credits."
The fact that more than 60 per cent of students – a record number – last week secured the grades they needed for their choice of university is a cause for celebration. For those students who received the desired grades, congratulations to them. For those facing clearing, the best of luck.
But celebrations must be muted. The latest round of examinations this summer has reinforced worrying trends. Of those A-level students who took their exams this summer, 135,114 of them failed to obtain the required grades. A quarter of primary school children failed to reach the required levels in reading and writing. Despite the Government’s aim to get 50 per cent of young people into University, it’s predicted that there could be as much as a 50,000 shortfall in university places. Billions of extra funding has been spent on education in the past 12 years, but the results suggest that much has been wasted.
This summer’s figures do is give substance to the suspicion that this Government’s ‘commitment’ to young people has been illusory. There is currently a record number of NEETS (young people not in employment, education or training). Some of these will fall within the listless category, poorly served as they were by an inflexible comprehensive school system. There will also be those who went to university or college on the premise that a job would be waiting for them upon graduation. That drive to see every young person in further or higher education has left many indebted, jobless and with no immediate path of recourse.
This brings us to a well known and poignant fact: that joblessness and a lack of qualifications is a substantial factor in the propagation of crime and anti-social behaviour. By not getting the education system right, the Government is seriously hampering social mobility and the fight against poverty. If a person has never worked or is long-term unemployed they are more at risk of violence than someone in a professional occupation. Moreover, those without adequate training are almost certain to earn less throughout the course of their lives. Add this to the fact that households with the lowest income (less than £10,000) are the most at risk of violence – and that the risk of being a victim of violence is twice as high for those individuals living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas in England. An education system that can deal with the needs of the more challenging areas of the country is needed now more than ever.
Government spending on education has, in real terms, increased three and a half times in the last eight years (£16,786m – £57,846m). We have been bombarded by initiative after initiative, scheme after scheme, and project after project. Yet the only benefit is a marginal and dubious increase in attainment. This Thursday, GCSE results are expected to leave a shortfall of places at sixth-form colleges. Partner this with the dilution of ‘core’ subjects (see earlier comments), and the Government’s commitment to ‘education, education, education’ now seems little more than an empty promise.