For sale: England’s school playing fields

Alan Johnson is currently the Health Minister trying to bring in a voucher sysem for the English NHS and is opening up “choice” between public and private hospitals – the better to channel money to big business and drain the NHS of resources.

When he was Education Secretary he was selling off school playing fields – despite the promise of New Labour when elected in 1997 that they’d end this Tory practice, along with the policies that were destroying the NHS.

He said of the reversal of some neoliberal policies by the Scottish government: ‘I wouldn’t go down the free prescriptions route, as I wouldn’t in a previous life go down the free higher education route.’

Johnson argued that the policy differences on health between the Labour and Scottish governments were not due to financial pressures, but was ideological. He explained that the Labour government disagreed with the approach of the Nationalists, who have established that the elderly must have free personal care, and that the government had much more important things to spend the taxpayers’ money on.

Like bailing out banks, funding illegal wars of occupation, and paying the mortgages of MPs second homes…

Would such a man be allowed anywhere near England’s health or education system if there was a devoluted English parliament with a fair voting system?

Get a load of the editorial of today’s edition of The News Line:

Labour is selling off school playing fields

SCHOOLS Secretary Ed Balls and his predecessor Alan Johnson have given the go-head to the sell-off of 19 school playing fields over the past year and a further 53 school and community playing fields are under threat.

Margaret Morrissey from the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Associations (NCPTA) told a Sunday newspaper: ‘We know they are selling off playing fields. What happened to the commitment in 1997 that they were going to stop the sales? We are doing children a terrible injustice.’

In the past decade, the Labour government has approved the sale of 187 playing fields, despite a pledge made in 1997 that they would ‘bring the (Tory) government’s policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to an end’. Between 1979 and 1997 the Tories sold off 10,000 playing fields.

In addition, there have been 1,331 sales of parts of schools’ sites to developers, driven by rocketing house prices.

There are scores of local campaigns. In south-west London, Barn Elms playing fields are threatened with being sold off to a developer who wants to build a private health club on the site.

In west London, there is opposition to Holland Park School’s plans to sell of some of its sports ground to developers in order to modernise this first purpose-built comprehensive school.

Protest actions have taken place recently in Duston, Northamptonshire, Blackpool and Reading, against plans to scrap playing fields and sell off the land.

Balls has attempted to cover up this scandalous record of the Labour government.

At the weekend, the Department of for Children, Schools and Families admitted the sell-offs. However, it added that Balls had announced that £30m would be spent on ‘the network of 422 specialist sports colleges’ and it claimed that money from land sales had been ‘ploughed back into sports or educational facilities’.

Even if the latter claim were true, using land-sale money to build more classrooms, or buy books, cannot compensate for the loss of children’s sports fields. Spending money on ‘specialist sports colleges’ does nothing to help community comprehensive schools that are losing their playing fields.

This is the same type of subterfuge engaged in by the government concerning its academies programme. Community comprehensive schools are starved of funds, while ‘specialist sports colleges’ and academies, owned and controlled by businesses, get generous hand-outs from the government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministers, the likes of Balls and Health Secretary Johnson, are handing over assets, like playing fields, and millions from taxpayers, to their big business backers.

Under this government, education, the National Health Service (NHS) and local council services are no longer primarily concerned with providing healthcare, the universal right to education, etc., free for everyone.

Instead, they are regarded as channels through which government funds can be channelled to banks and multinational corporations, to boost their profits.

Parents and teachers are angry about the government’s cuts and its privatisation of education, as NCPTA spokeswoman Morrissey and the teachers’ unions have made clear over the past week.

Last Tuesday, the NASUWT teachers’ union conference offered the union’s backing to strike action by members opposed to being forced to work in academies, when these replace existing local authority schools.

Alongside this, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference backed strike action by its members against pay cuts and heavy workloads, with the first walk-out taking place on April 24.

All the conditions exist to form a public sector alliance of trade unions to fight pay cuts, cuts in services and the privatisation of public services.