Six Reasons Why Labour’s New Wheeze on Public Schools is Wrong

Tristam Hunt, the Labour shadow Education Secretary, announced this week Labour’s new wheeze on public schools. He wants to amend the 1988 Local Government Act to make the 80% relief from business rates that public schools now enjoy as charities conditional on them signing a “partnership agreement” to help local state schools. Here are six things wrong with this idea:

1. It is patronising to state schools. In terms of added value and cost efficiency, the state sector out-performs the public schools. They have nothing to learn from them.

2. As Professor Danny Dorland has pointed out, it is not a coincidence that the UK is one of the most unequal developed economies in the world and it spends more on private education than almost any other country. The Labour proposal will do nothing to change this.

3. The major tax break enjoyed by fee paying schools at present isn’t business rate relief, which costs taxpayers £160 million a year, it is their charitable status which enables them to avoid all the other taxes they should be paying as de facto commercial enterprises. Labour has backed down from making charitable status dependent on a public benefit test following a court case brought by the Independent Schools Council, mouthpiece for the public schools, in 2011.Have Labour not heard of parliamentary sovereignty?

4. It ignores the experience of other countries. In Finland 99.2% of all education is state funded. Finland routinely tops international education league tables and its public education system is recognised as contributing to its prosperity and social equality.

5. Business Rates are an inefficient tax and should, as will be argued in the forthcoming discussion paper from the Communist Party, be replaced by a Land Value Tax. Such a tax would tax the playing fields of Eton, but not public services such as state schools.

6. The Labour proposal might hit the more mediocre institutions but not the really powerful public schools which educate the children of the 1% elite. These could easily afford the £160 million a year they would lose under Labour’s proposal.

Labour’s proposal can therefore be dismissed as both irrelevant and inadequate. A headline in the Daily Telegraph this week did, however, provide this writer with some wry amusement. Above an article describing Hunt’s idea was the banner:

“Public school children will be forced to play football with state school pupils”

So that’s how Labour’s reign of terror will begin!

Croydon – Heart of the World Revolution?

Red Croydon
Why have I modified the classic poster Moscow – Heart of the World Revolution this week to substitute Croydon for Moscow? Well, the skyline depicted in the original does look a bit like Croydon’s, does it not? More significant, however, there were two events of some significance in our town over the weekend. On Saturday the Croydon Assembly, sponsored by Croydon TUC, held a day of speeches, workshops and discussions at Ruskin House. The day was opened by John McDonnell MP and Philipa Harvey, Vice Chair of the NUT. At lunch time it was addressed by Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS union. Thus at one meeting Croydon hosted the leading socialist parliamentarian, a rising star in the NUT and the country’s most prominent left wing trade unionist. In between there were a series of dynamic workshops on topics as diverse as how to save the NHS, democracy and trade union rights, education, climate change and welfare cuts. Most of these workshops agreed to meet again in the New Year to press on the political parties standing in Croydon at the forthcoming General Election the need for progressive reform and an end to creeping privatisation, cuts and austerity. If they want our support and our votes, they can no longer rely on the old argument Vote for us, we are the least bad option.

The other big event in Croydon over the weekend was the 53rd Congress of the Communist Party, held at friends Meeting House on Saturday and reverting to Ruskin House on Sunday. The keynote speech by General Secretary Rob Griffiths took a similar line. Mr Griffiths said that “if Labour is serious about winning the General Election” it must commit to “taking the railways, Royal Mail, gas, water and electricity back into public ownership.” Resolutions passed by Congress included commitment to step up campaigns to save the NHS and oppose discriminatory policies against the disabled.

Perhaps Croydon – Heart of the World Revolution is a little over the top, but it was a moment of optimism and hope in Croydon last weekend. Revolution? Not yet perhaps, but the fightback against the rich and powerful is just beginning.

Hope and Opportunity

As we wallowed in the ‘commemoration’ of the start of the First World War (when does commemoration tip over into wallowing and celebration?), another anniversary slipped by largely unnoticed. August 2014 not only marked 100 years since the start of WW1, a conveniently long enough time to ensure that no one is still around to recall what a huge disaster it was, it also marked three years since the Croydon Riots. Take a stroll up London Road: the devastation is still apparent. The only green shoots in evidence are those growing out of abandoned and run-down buildings.

It is worth recalling that Boris Johnson, the then and regrettably still Mayor of London, was on holiday in the USA at the time. Our elites don’t like to stint on their holidays!  After all, it cannot be easy to hold down public positions, well paid second  jobs and consultancies at the same time as has become their custom and expectation. They also need lots of time to invest their grotesquely huge pension savings ready for the time when they will no longer be ‘serving’ us. In Johnson’s absence, the BBC turned to his predecessor, the principled and independently minded Ken Livingstone. Ken condemned the violence, but dared to point out that it was caused by depriving young people of “hope and opportunities”. For this he was roundly condemned in the capitalist press and media.

Ken, of course, was right. A report earlier this week from KPMG, an organisation that generally concerns itself with reducing in any dubious manner that remain just inside the law the taxes of corporations and wealthy individuals, not with the plight of workers, found that 22% of those in work receive less than the living wage of £7.75 an hour (£8.80 in London). in 2012 the number of teenagers staying on in school after the age of 16 fell for the first time in a decade and the proportion of 18 year olds not in education, employment or training’, so-called NEETS, rose by 8% in the same year. It would take a very optimistic youngster, not having been born into the 1% of the population that comprises our ruling elite, who did not to feel deprived of hope and opportunity by these findings.

Meanwhile, to end on a positive note, see you all at the Croydon Assembly on Saturday 15 November when we can discuss what is to be done about the mess we find ourselves in..