Saturday, 24 March 2012

ASCL says opening free schools may be waste of money

In a speech on Saturday, Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders, also said free schools might damage existing schools. Opening free schools in England where they are not needed is a "shameful" waste of taxpayers' money, the leader of a head teachers' union has said.

"Such experimentation is deeply and unequivocally immoral," he told heads.

A government spokesman said free schools would give parents more choice of schooling for their children.

Free schools are funded from the public education budget, like other state schools, on a per-pupil basis.
However, they are run independently from local authority control by not-for-profit trusts, which can buy in private sector services.

In a speech to the union's annual conference, Mr Lightman said: "ASCL has no objection to new schools opening in areas where there is a shortage of school places but we cannot condone the creation of costly surplus places when other services are being cut."
Children are not guinea pigs in some educational lab”
The union suggests that free schools planned for Suffolk, Essex, Bristol and Teesside are all in areas where there are already surplus places. It is also concerned that free schools may receive more generous funding than other schools and accuses the government of being opaque when it comes to free school budgets.

Mr Lightman called on the government to publish spending figures for the next three years for each new free school.

'Downward spiral'

He said he wanted parents to be able to see how these figures compared with funding for other schools in their neighbourhoods.

And he suggested other nearby schools could be thrown into a downward spiral because of falling pupil numbers and lack of investment.

"Children are not guinea pigs in some educational lab. Schools that have been consigned to the dustbin of our education service in this way cannot be expected to create the conditions which enable them to raise standards.
We cannot continue with a system where thousands of parents are forced to send their child to a school that is either weak or simply isn't right for them”
"No-one in government should be contemplating standing by and watching as some schools fail in order to use it as a lever of change," he said.
Failing system
In a statement, the Department for Education (DfE) said: "We cannot continue with a system where thousands of parents are forced to send their child to a school that is either weak or simply isn't right for them.

"Our school reforms will help put this right by creating a system that works for - not against - parents, many of whom live in the poorest parts of the country."

The DfE said that free schools would cost a fraction of schools built under Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme.

Rachel Wolf, the director of the New Schools Network, which advises groups wishing to set up free schools, said what would be immoral would be to leave the school system in England as it was, because it was "letting down parents across the country".

"Most teachers care about pupils not politics and free schools gives them an opportunity to focus on what matters. Thousands of parents and teachers have supported Free Schools because they believe that every child - not just the wealthy - should be able to go to a good local school," she said.

"We need to stop defending the status quo and offer children something better."

Barry Gardiner on Budget

barrybudgetOn Wednesday in the House of Commons, Barry delivered his response to the Chancellor's budget, criticising the Budget as a relic of corrupted economic principles. Barry made the case for natural resources as a key aspect of the economic consideration, arguing for more innovation in taxation and the introduction of a land tax. You can read the full text of Barry's speech below:

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The trouble with Budgets is that they tend to operate on a five-year cycle that has no relation to the actual cycles of the resources that we profess to manage. The immediacy of the political triumphs over the requirements of the actual.

The focal point of this Budget is 2016-17, when the Government hope that the hole in the public finances will have been filled, but interestingly four fifths—more than £90 billion—of that filler comes from cuts in services and benefits, while only one fifth comes from rises in tax. Yet 73% of the tax rises have already been put in place, and less than 20% of the cuts in services and benefits have happened.

The Government might think it prudent to delay the pain, but Government Back Benchers might care to reflect on what that has done to their electoral prospects.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The hon. Gentleman mentions the figure of £90 billion, but will he acknowledge that the £36 billion reduction in interest payments, which we have already seen, makes a substantial contribution to that?

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman refers to interest payments, but he knows that on that score this Government are paying out £150 billion more than they predicted, so his argument does not hold up.

A Budget is a mechanism for the distribution and allocation of scarce resources, so let us examine what this Budget means for a child born today. A child born in my constituency today brings us this message: "By the time I reach my 18th birthday, the world will require 30% more fresh water, 45% more energy and 50% more food." This child is part of the generation that will see the global population move from 7 billion to 10 billion people. How do we respond to this child? Do we become the most selfish generation of the most selfish species in our planet's history? Or do we become the generation that understood that justice and sustainability are essentially the same thing? If you want peace in the world, create justice. If you want justice, live sustainably.

We must get away from both sides of the political divide arguing that they uniquely possess the key to growth. We listen to the stale arguments about whether more spending now will raise growth and reduce the deficit more quickly, or whether less borrowing now will ultimately be a surer path to bring our economy back into GDP growth. But what both sides are talking about is yesterday's economics:

Hayek pitted against Keynes.

The Chancellor wants to set markets free and insists that we cannot spend our way out of debt, but he wilfully ignores Hayek's equal insistence that the boom gets started with an expansion of credit—the very liquidity that the Chancellor has told the banks they must provide for business. Hayek would have been appalled to find his theories invoked by a Chancellor literally printing money through quantitative easing. In Hayek's view, that leads only to unrealistically low interest rates and to the cycle of boom and bust starting all over again.

Keynes of course believed in consumption-led growth as an economic stimulus, but he did not live in a world of 7 billion people. He assumed that growth was sustainable and natural resource was, for practical purposes, infinite. We know that it is not. As a result, we have an obligation to make sure that growth is sustainable, not simply to assume that it will be.
Mr Jackson: The hon. Gentleman is making a cogent and interesting argument. We all agree that we should give 0.7% of our GDP to international development. Surely he will concede that unless we grow our GDP, the absolute amount of cash that we have to give to good causes across the world, in supporting sustainability, will not be enough to do the things that he wants to do.

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman precisely misconstrues my point; the issue is not about the amount of aid given to developing countries, but about understanding the valuation of natural capital and incorporating that into the Government's accounting framework. That is in the natural environment White Paper, if he cares to read it.

In a world of 7 billion people, growth can be sustainable only if it is predicated on advances that bring increased productivity and greater efficiency in the use of resources. That is what Hayek would have called a sound capital structure and proper allocation of capital. For the world to continue to achieve a 3% per annum growth target, and to maintain a trajectory that keeps carbon emissions below the 2°C threshold of dangerous climate change, we must increase our productivity per tonne of carbon emitted 15 times over.

The Budget simply does not address that technological challenge. It was extraordinary to see the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change join forces with the Treasury last Friday evening and issue a press release at 6 pm, embargoed until midnight, to exempt gas-fired power stations from the emissions controls set out in the fourth carbon budget by the Committee on Climate Change. Those emissions reductions were, in the Committee's view, part of the necessary regulatory framework for achieving our target of at least 80% emissions reductions by 2050.

The press release set out no alternative mechanisms that would be adopted to keep to those targets and no Minister has sought to expand on the issue since last week. It is a measure of the shame that the Government felt on reneging on the fourth carbon budget that they issued their press release in such a furtive manner. What is worse, what happened shows that the new Energy Secretary has no command over his brief and has been fingered by the Treasury as a weak Secretary of State.

Since William Ewart Gladstone instituted the modern accounting and budgetary processes of the House of Commons 150 years ago, modern economics has come a long way in its understanding of capital. In Gladstone's day, the notion of capital was very simple; it represented money and machinery. Gradually, we have come to realise that capital is not just money and plant. We have developed sophisticated concepts of social and intellectual capital. We know that a well functioning legal system is very much a part of the wealth of a society, inviting commerce and trade to practise where certainty and redress prevail. That is certainly a form of capital different from a bridge, printing press or motorway, but we now measure them all in our assessment of the national wealth of a country.

Resource economists now point out that we have left out of our economic calculations perhaps the most important capital of all: natural capital. We have left it out for a very simple reason—we always took it for granted. We thought that it was a free good. It cost us nothing and we assumed the supply was infinite. In the language of classical economics, natural capital was a mere externality, "as free as the air you breathe".
What we have now begun to realise is that the air we breathe is not actually free—at least, it is not without a quantifiable value. Any sound cost-benefit analysis of public policy must take that value into account. The Environmental Audit Committee report on air pollution estimated that the costs from air pollution are up to £20.2 billion. That is the cost of respiratory and other diseases associated with poor air quality, both in treatment and lost productivity.

The natural environment provides not just a physical stock of resources—forests and fish, minerals and fresh water that human beings depend on—but a network of services essential for human life. The pollination of our crops by insects, the stabilisation of our soil by trees and the regulation of our watershed by peat bogs are just some of the ecosystem services that a new economic model must begin to incorporate into our Government's accounting framework. That new accounting renders inadequate the concept of GDP growth because it reveals one of the central conundrums of classical economics: that a country can become poorer while increasing its GDP.

The Chancellor said nothing today that showed that he understood that. Another important consideration is that those wider benefits, although immensely valuable, do not accrue to an individual private property owner; they are experienced by a community at large. They are regarded as free goods by the wider community, and in classical economics as externalities, and because they are not directly captured by a landowner they rarely feature in a landowner's decision on how or whether to dispose of them. That is why the exercise of private property rights can often be to the public detriment. It is also why the role of the state in regulating the disposal of land is so important. Today we have heard much talk of stamp duty and how to raise revenue from the rich. It therefore seems quaint that no one has commented on the fact that the land registry for England, which was established in 1928, still accounts for only some 64% of the land in England, while in the registry for Scotland the figure drops to a mere 21%.
Of course, there is a reason why almost a century later we have not yet been able properly to map the title of land in the UK—it is that so much of it has never been sold but has been passed down in families, from parent to child, in enormous estates. If the Government genuinely want to raise tax from the very wealthy, they should examine not only houses sold for over £2 million but the vast tracts of our country that have been accumulated in great estates for centuries and are still owned and managed not for the benefit of the population at large but to maximise the income and pleasure of a very few private individuals. I do not claim that all hereditary estates are badly managed in respect of the environment, but I do claim that good management comes not only as a result of inheritance. Land tax reform is long overdue. If we wish to become a more equal society, then we need to consider the taxation of land and land use in different and more imaginative ways, for the benefit of society as a whole.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Sovereign debt crisis caused by politicians’ ‘Ponzi schemes’

Governments have taken huge risks with their economies and created a situation where the sovereign debt crisis was inevitable, according to New Zealand’s former finance minister.

Photo: Sam Kesteven

Ruth Richardson said that politicians had made 'foolish and unfunded' promises to their electorates. These were giant ‘Ponzi schemes’ based on ‘robbing the unsuspecting young to pay the over-grasping old'.
Richardson, who was a minister from 1990 to 1993, was speaking at a seminar in Vienna organised by the International Federation of Accountants.
‘Imaginative accounting and arithmetic gymnastics have become the toxic norm for state entities,’ she said. ‘Were a private entity to behave in this fashion, at the very best the banks and then the bailiffs would exact swift sanctions, while at the worst, criminal sanctions would be applied.’
She blamed governments’ adherence to cash accounting and pointed to the alternative approach taken in New Zealand. In the 1990s, accrual accounting was adopted, output-budgeting introduced and performance management implemented for all state entities.
Richardson told Public Finance International that she thought the UK’s deficit reduction programme now represented ‘best practice’.
‘The coalition has said “we are going to nail this in our first term”. They haven’t blinked. There is no way you can deal with the deficit in a half-hearted fashion.’
Other speakers at the conference highlighted the slow progress on the adoption of modern accounting standards and the role this played in the sovereign debt crisis. Fewer than 60 countries have adopted accrual accounting, while only four – one of which is the UK – have adopted full accrual budgeting.
Vincenzo La Via, chief financial officer of the World Bank Group, said that the quality of financial reporting by governments was not high. ‘With a few notable exceptions, reporting tends to be tardy, frequently omits significant transactions and is characterised by inadequate disclosure.’
He added: ‘I find it remarkable that in the wake of the crisis, there have been relatively few calls for reform of government reporting.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Brent Council recovers millions

BRENT COUNCIL has just recovered £4m from the Icelandic bank which collapsed in 2008.
The authority has successfully scratched back all but £1m of the money it invested in the bank, called Glitnir.
The money was transferred on 16th of March 2012.
Brent Council is still expecting to recover 100 per cent of the original amount.
So far £6.8 million of a £10 million of council deposit have been saved with a second bank called Heritable.
The council expects will recover £8.8 million of the original deposit it made within the next two years.
Councillor Muhammad Butt, Brent Council's deputy leader and lead member for finance and corporate resources, said: "We are absolutely delighted that we have recovered £4 million of taxpayers' money from Glitnir.
"Despite our success we are very conscious that the job isn't finished. Brent Council, the Local Government Association and LGA member councils will continue to work with the various winding-up boards to expedite remaining payments."

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on national infrastructure

"...The truth is that no government in Britain in living memory has set out a sufficiently comprehensive and ambitious vision of this country’s infrastructure needs.  And by a comprehensive and ambitious vision, I do not just mean a list of projects; I mean an overall system, an integrated set of networks that collectively deliver the economic and social goods.
"As well as this failure of vision, there has also been a failure of financing.  Everybody knows that infrastructure is expensive; one academic assessment puts the bill at £500 billion just to meet our current commitments.  And we cannot hide from the fact that new infrastructure has to be paid for either by those who use it, by government, or by a combination of the two."

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Alperton - Regeneration

Network Housing Group has acquired a site in Alperton with consent for a 440 home scheme from Neptune.
NHG has exchanged contracts on 243 Ealing Road, Alperton, one of the largest London sites to be acquired by a registered provider since 2010. As lead developer, Network will turn this 3.75-acre disused brownfield site into an urban mixed-use neighbourhood. The site has resolution to grant planning permission for 441 homes and 15,000 sq ft of commercial space.
The site forms the gateway to the Alperton regeneration area which Brent Council hope will see 1,600 new homes delivered over the next ten years. It borders the Grand Union Canal giving the development a high-quality waterfront setting. Development is expected to start before the end of 2012.
Network Housing Group supported Brent Council in developing the Alperton regeneration masterplan, which was approved in 2010. The Group is also just completing Peppermint Heights, a landmark tower near the site providing 84 affordable homes and a nursery.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour’s youth conference on jobs

Ed Miliband will today declare a central ambition for the next Labour government is to conquer long term youth unemployment as he sets out a proposal for young people to be guaranteed six months of paid work if they have been out of work for a year.

In a speech to Labour’s youth conference on jobs in Warwick, Mr Miliband will launch the Real Jobs Guarantee for under 25s who are long term unemployed. This will see the bank bonus tax used to pay the wages of young unemployed people taken on by businesses who would be expected to meet the costs of their training.

Ed Miliband will say he plans for the real jobs guarantee to be taken up by private sector business right across Britain, with a presumption towards small firms wherever possible.

Following this week’s figures showing youth unemployment has risen to 1,042,000, Mr Miliband will say that the first line in a Labour Budget next week would be to introduce a Bank Bonus Tax to help get young people back to work.

He will emphasise that government has a responsibility to provide opportunity to them, employers have a responsibility to train them, and young people themselves have a responsibility to make the most of their chances.

His speech will explain why Labour’s offer, which on current figures would help at least 100,000 people, is a significant improvement on the existing Work Programme  and would provide better long term prospects than the Future Jobs Fund that the last Labour government used to tackle youth unemployment.

Friday, 9 March 2012

North West London hospitals 'will almost certainly' close

The medical director of the largest commissioning cluster in the capital has said hospitals in north west London "will almost certainly" have to close.
NHS North West London (NWL) medical director Mark Spencer said: "We do need to centralise, probably have fewer hospital sites."

The cluster has been tasked with saving about £1bn over four years.

Ealing Labour council Leader Julian Bell has said hospital closure plans are "unpopular with local people".

NHS NWL serves a population of 1.9 million people in eight boroughs - Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster.

It currently has a budget of about £4bn a year and has been tasked with cutting about £1bn from its budget by 2014-15.