Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
I’m old enough to remember how Labour governments’ promises of more and more ‘freebies’ always unravel, leaving our great country in ever larger debt, with higher numbers of unemployed and the economy seriously threatened.
In 1979, as Thatcher entered Downing Street, Great Britain had a global reputation as a financial basket case with high taxation and mortgage rates. It wasn’t until 1997 that the Treasury under Kenneth Clarke had stabilised growth, so voters thought they were safe to re-elect Labour. And the cycle started again. This time, however, it was more serious than ever and by 2010, we were nearly bankrupt, with every part of the public sector overspent by billions under Blair and Brown, leading to the Coalition and, in 2015, the Conservatives were returned to continue repairing the finances.
That is what I mean by the cycle: disillusioned voters recognise the disaster created by Labour’s shambolic policies and elect the Conservatives to restore stability. This meant tightening our belts and making difficult decisions about benefits and public services in a bid to make the books balance. Unlike Labour, the Conservatives don’t rely on the magic money tree; they are realists, and the job of restoring stability is more important than ever in the wake of the Brexit decision.
But I’m not alone in fearing that the cycle could be on the verge of re-starting. Every day Corbyn announces new, unfunded giveaways, undoubtedly appealing in isolation, but simply unaffordable in totality. They also smack of the politics of envy, and won’t impact just the wealthy, but every single one of us. Nationalising the railways, water, energy and a proposed ‘investment bank’ aren’t even costed.
Let’s take education. The two main parties actually have similar policies on most things, including free nursery places, and sustaining per pupil investment; lots of schools already have breakfast clubs, whilst pupil premium children will continue to have a free lunch.
But, Labour’s policy of adding 20 per cent VAT to private school fees will penalise thousands of hard working families who sacrifice holidays, a posh new house or bigger car in order to give their children the best education. (My neighbours, in a small terraced house, both work 18 hour days in order to send their clever daughter to a private school.) And, where are the places for those children when the extra charge leaves private fees unaffordable? There is simply not the capacity in the state sector.
It is also worth noting that the policy doesn’t take into account the number of scholarships which benefit youngsters from across the country, including those attending Eton, which offers places on the basis of ability, not ability to pay. Could such a punitive measure actually be legal, when private schools are usually registered charities?
Private schools are already sponsoring academies and state schools, investing in teaching skills and sharing sport and art facilities. I’m a governor at a primary school on a large council estate which will have more than 600 pupils from September; we have a strong relationship with a top private school, and three of our children won music scholarships last year. We are also fortunate to have a member of that school’s staff as our deputy chair, and the lead on safeguarding.
Losing private schools, which attract children from around the world, as well as those in this country, will have a major impact on the local and national economy. Many students go on to study at our top universities, and develop their practical skills post-graduation in industry and the professions to the benefit of us all, but could decide to go to America or Australia instead. It’s not just jobs which would be lost, but our international reputation for science, engineering, the arts.
Typically, Labour intend to create more bureaucracy, with a National Education Service; does this mean abolishing or adding to the Education Department, Ofsted and local authority governance? We don’t need another layer of bureaucracy, employing hundreds of people on very high salaries and public sector pensions. Bureaucracy adds to costs, taking funding away from the frontline; it also reduces accountability.
There are opportunities for state schools to further reduce costs by sharing facilities and back office functions, as well as specialist teaching staff. Instead of setting up their own social services teams, they should be working more closely with councils to address issues affecting children and families.
It’s now widely acknowledged that engaging in sport aids healthy minds as well as bodies, and the government has increased the amount invested in primary PE and sport to £320m from this September. There is also a new capital fund of £415m for secondary and primary schools and 6th form colleges. How many schools are pursuing these opportunities?
With the creative industries now accounting for one in 11 UK jobs, there is a renewed focus on enabling children from a young age to study art, design, dance, drama and music, building confidence and life skills, especially communication and teamwork. Artsmark is the Arts Council’s flagship project ‘supporting schools to develop an arts-rich curriculum with access to exceptional resources and networks, connecting schools with cultural opportunities in their region’.
Meanwhile, the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) has introduced a school gardening scheme; another opportunity to help youngsters develop teamwork and creative skills and provide future employment potential.
Instead of penalising big business, Labour should work with it. In a recent interview, James Dyson commented that the country will be short of a million engineers by 2020, so he went to the Minister to ask what the government was doing. Jo Johnson suggested he start his own university, so in September he is launching the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, which has already attracted 650 applicants for the 25 initial (free) places. The applied engineering undergraduates will work alongside Dyson engineers for 47 weeks a year (rather than the more usual 26 in university) and will be paid £16,000.
He has invested £8m in the Dyson Centre for Engineering Design at the University of Cambridge, ‘where 1200 young engineers build prototypes and collaborate on projects such as solar powered cars’. Dyson also funds a school of design engineering at Imperial College in London to the tune of £12m.
Other businesses with specific skills to impart also invest in education, and should be encouraged and supported to develop similar projects with universities and colleges, instead of taxing them into oblivion. This is already happening at our top universities, but Labour seem ignorant of these world class initiatives – they simply want to take this country back to the chaos of the l970s with 95 per cent taxation.
It’s not just government which is supporting these initiatives, but councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) which are close to business and tailor strategies to local need, investing in job creation, infrastructure, and education. They are already doing what Labour propose would be the job of their new investment bank; would this be the death knell for the LEPs, or merely yet another interventionist bureaucracy?