Tag Archives: Coalition Agreement

The ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has wasted millions when the government said there was no money to spare

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The Tory ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has been a complete disaster, with more than £51 million wasted on new schools that failed to meet inspectors’ standards or proposals for schools that were cancelled or withdrawn.

A report compiled by the Labour Party shows that £50m has been spent on free schools either declared inadequate by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, or requiring improvement. A further £1.043m was spent on applications that were cancelled or withdrawn.

Of the 79 free schools opened in the first and second waves of the Michael Gove project, no less than one in three have been declared inadequate or requiring improvement by schools watchdog Ofsted. This compares with one in five schools overall – that’s including the institutions that ‘Free Schools’ were expected to outperform.

It is noteworthy that, according to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, the number of “inadequate” schools is equal to the number employing, as teachers, people with no teaching qualifications – one in three.

Worse still, the government has been caught trying to “massage” the figures. The example provided to us by a report in The Independent shows that the Hartsbrook E-Act Free School in north London, declared inadequate by Ofsted, was given a new name and number. This means the school appears as closed, even though it is now operating under a different name (Brook House Primary School), with the same head teacher and pupils in the same location. The re-designation means it won’t be inspected again until four terms have passed.

That could be disastrous for pupils, who by then will have spent almost another quarter of their primary school career in an environment that has been declared substandard, simply to save the government from embarrassment.

It seems the pupils aren’t the only ones who need to learn how to grow up and act in a mature and responsible manner!

Overall, primary ‘Free Schools’ are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics, in comparison with the rest of the state sector.

It gets worse: Of those free schools whose 2013 national-curriculum test results were published, all bar one underperformed compared with the rest in their local authority and the national average.

Is this the revolution announced so boldly in the Coalition Agreement?

“We … believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools,” it told us in 2010.

“We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.

“We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.”

Which parents demanded this?

Free Schools also offered the opportunity to employ unqualified people as teachers. The Tory-run Education Department claimed this was a way of bringing in expertise that would not otherwise be available – now we know the facts.

‘Free Schools’ have been an expensive waste – not only of money, but of time and the potential of the school pupils they have failed.

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Social security/welfare: How badly has the Coalition failed the nation?

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Does anybody remember the Coalition Agreement? This was the document drawn up between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties, either in May 2010 or in March that year, depending on who you believe. Did they stick to it?

Of course they didn’t!

The whole thing seems to have been a Con job. A glance through it today reveals inconsistencies with what has happened, deviations… some might even say outright lies. Let’s have a look at a chapter, shall we?

19. JOBS AND WELFARE

This seems an obvious place to start because of the incredibly reckless behaviour of Iain Duncan Smith. Here’s the introduction:

The Government believes that we need to encourage responsibility and fairness in the welfare system. That means providing help for those who cannot work, training and targeted support for those looking for work, but sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training.

Experience shows that “help for those who cannot work” meant ending unnecessarily complicating the benefit assessment system to ensure that any evidence supporting a claim of illness is treated with suspicion if not discounted altogether, and ensuring that those on the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance were shunted off the benefit after a year, whether they were better or not. “Training and targeted support for those looking for work” meant work programme providers who were supposed to be helping those on ESA find appropriate employment in fact ran a ‘cream and park’ system in which only those for whom it was easiest to find work ever received serious attention; the rest were left to rot until their term on the benefit ended. For jobseekers, this training involved silly ‘lowest-common-denominator’ education schemes in which graduates were asked to relearn simple English and arithmetic or how to write their CV, being forced into ‘Workfare’ schemes at the taxpayers’ expense while the participating companies made a huge profit, and being pressured into registering with Universal Jobmatch, a job advertisement system that quickly gained a reputation as a home of identity thieves and sex industry predators. “Sanctions for those who turn down reasonable offers of work or training” suffered ‘mission creep’, and very soon people were being sanctioned because they were being offered driving jobs when they didn’t have a licence, or because they arrived for Job Centre appointments slightly late.

Let’s go into the details:

  • We will end all existing welfare to work programmes and create a single welfare to work programme to help all unemployed people get back into work. Did this ever happen?
  • We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants facing the most significant barriers to work are referred to the new welfare to work programme immediately, not after 12 months as is currently the case. We will ensure that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged under 25 are referred to the programme after a maximum of six months. We know that those with the most significant barriers were ‘parked’ on benefits by the work programme providers, despite Iain Duncan Smith’s protestations that his DWP was “transforming their lives”. Transforming them into misery, perhaps.
  • We will realign contracts with welfare to work service providers to reflect more closely the results they achieve in getting people back into work. This never happened. Work programme providers are supposed to receive payment based on results but it seems they are still receiving payment based on the number of jobseekers who get put on their books.
  • We will reform the funding mechanism used by government to finance welfare to work programmes to reflect the fact that initial investment delivers later savings through lower benefit expenditure, including creating an integrated work programme with outcome funding based upon the DEL/AME switch. What?
  • We will ensure that receipt of benefits for those able to work is conditional on their willingness to work. Unfortunately this willingness to work has become subject to arbitrary decisions by Job Centre staff, based on the number of people they need to get off their books at any particular time. There is no consistency to it at all, and certainly no justice.
  • We support the National Minimum Wage because of the protection it gives low income workers and the incentives to work it provides. Can either Coalition party then explain why the minimum wage has suffered below-inflation increases until now, when an above-inflation rise has been programmed in time with a forthcoming general election?
  • We will re-assess all current claimants of Incapacity Benefit for their readiness to work. Those assessed as fully capable for work will be moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance. The assessment was based, not on any rational system, but on a regime devised by an American insurance company as a way to prevent people from receiving the support they clearly deserve.
  • We will support would-be entrepreneurs through a new programme – Work for Yourself – which will give the unemployed access to business mentors and start-up loans. Has anybody ever heard of ‘Work for Yourself’?
  • We will draw on a range of Service Academies to offer pre-employment training and work placements for unemployed people. Did this ever happen? If it did, how many people have won proper jobs (not part-time or zero-hours positions) because of it?
  • We will develop local Work Clubs – places where unemployed people can gather to exchange skills, find opportunities, make contacts and provide mutual support. Did this ever happen?
  • We will investigate how to simplify the benefit system in order to improve incentives to work. This would be the ongoing and exorbitantly expensive fiasco that Iain Duncan Smith calls Universal Credit.

What a catalogue of calamity. Viewed in the Coalition’s own terms, it is easy to see that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has done nothing to improve jobseekers’ chances and everything to fatten the wallets of their friends running the sham ‘Work Programme’ schemes or build the profits of the companies taking part in Workfare programmes.

Policies for the long-term sick or disabled have been nothing short of catastrophic, with tens of thousands driven off-benefit and into an uncertain life with no income, either forced to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance (and be refused because they are too ill to work) or to beg from friends and family, or to commit suicide or die quietly of malnutrition. The Department for Work and Pensions conveniently keeps no record of what happens to those who are bumped off-benefit, and is stubbornly refusing all legally-submitted requests for statistics on the number of people who have died while in receipt of benefit.

Bear in mind also that this is just one policy area out of 31, and you start to get an idea of the chaos that has been caused by this single rogue administration.

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Why is Chris Grayling trying to sabotage the national finances?

You loved yesterday's meme about Iain Duncan Smith so here's one about Chris Grayling. Feel free to share it across the Internet and tell all your friends to do the same [Image: 38 Degrees].

You loved yesterday’s meme about Iain Duncan Smith so here’s one about Chris Grayling. Feel free to share it across the Internet and tell all your friends to do the same [Image: 38 Degrees].

Here’s further evidence that Justice Minister Chris Grayling is not only unjust but actually evil.

It seems he is drawing up contracts which will ensure profits – for the period of the next two parliaments – for private companies taking over probation services, and massive penalties for the next government if it cancels the contracts.

“Taxpayers will face a £300m-£400m penalty if controversial probation privatisation contracts are cancelled after next May’s general election under an “unprecedented” clause that guarantees bidders their expected profits over the 10-year life of the contract,” according to The Guardian.

It seems the contracts would guarantee the income of two of our favourite outsourcing firms, G4S and Serco, both of which have been at the centre of serious fraud allegations. They have received these contracts during a period when Grayling himself had said they would receive nothing.

Clearly he has misled Parliament.

The Ministry of Justice says it is following Treasury guidance by including the clause, making it likely that we are seeing a conspiracy among Tory-led government departments – and that we will see more of the same in other politically-controversial contracts that will be signed before next May’s general election.

In a time of austerity, inflicted on us by the same government!

Isn’t it illegal for one government to tie the hands of the next in this manner?

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, has said she was appalled by the discovery, according to the newspaper.

This is a typical Tory tactic in new wrapping. Remember how the Tory-led Coalition has forced budget cuts on councils and the regional assemblies, meaning in return that they had to cut services to citizens – and take the blame for the choices?

Grayling is clearly hoping that a Labour or Labour-led government of the future that cuts the contracts to G4S and Serco will take the blame for the increased cost to the taxpayer that he is imposing.

He isn’t thinking straight, though. G4S and Serco are under investigation, facing serious allegations of fraud. While they were cleared to work on government contracts in January, this came from auditors working for the Conservative government; a future government may disagree with that decision.

This means that contracts awarded to G4S and Serco would be void – and no money would be due to them.

Whatever happens with the contracts, Grayling himself should face legal proceedings for his own involvement in what amounts to interference with the public finances, after he is forced out of office next year. The favouritism he shows towards the two companies is deeply suspicious and he should be investigated for financial connections to them.

Let us remember, also, that Grayling has no mandate for these actions as nobody elected a Conservative government into office to tie the hands of future administrations. It was not in the Conservative 2010 manifesto, nor was it in the Coalition agreement.

This ‘justice’ minister belongs behind bars.

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Bloodlust: A backdoor plan to bring back hunting

Blood. Sport? Not all foxes are ripped to pieces by the hounds that hunt them - but this one was. [Picture: INS News Agency]

Blood. Sport? Not all foxes are ripped to pieces by the hounds that hunt them – but this one was. [Picture: INS News Agency]

It seems that killing badgers is not enough to sate the Conservative Party’s bloodlust and its members are now trying to restore fox hunting with packs of dogs.

According to the Daily Telegraph, The Federation of Welsh Farmers’ Packs (who?) has commissioned a report to assess whether lifting the limit on the number of dogs used to flush out foxes (for farmers to shoot) will improve efficiency.

Unsurprisingly – because these studies always provide the result desired by the people paying for them – it showed that using a full pack of hounds can be almost twice as effective as using just two dogs, as required by the current law. It also claimed that this could improve animal welfare, as the pursuit could be over much sooner, and use of snares – condemned as cruel – could be reduced.

It isn’t a reintroduction of ‘The Hunt’ by the strictest interpretation of the idea, but restoring the right to use a pack of hounds to chase a single fox would be wide open to abuse, especially by the kind of landed Tories who think they should be able to do whatever they want, to whatever they want, and the Hunting Act 2004 was a gross imposition.

The Coalition Agreement of 2010, of course, includes a commitment to a free vote on repealing the Act – but many Conservative MPs now accept that they might not get enough support to secure the reversal. Many see this as the most convenient alternative.

It’s the old ‘bait-and-switch’ trick again, isn’t it? They have transferred it to the countryside but the form is still the same: Find an acceptable pretext that will act as a cover for the real change to the law that will be imposed.

And there’s no mystery about why they want to bring back hunting. It’s a metaphor for the Tory lifestyle, isn’t it?

They say they’re going to “get tough”, or some similar flannel, and then – after they have wheedled their change into law – we all discover that this means siding with very large, or very bloodthirsty animals to bully, hound (in both senses of the word) and possibly even cause the death of a much smaller creature that they have isolated from its fellows.

Oh, how brave. Oh, how sporting!

It will be bloodier than the DWP’s attack on the disabled.