England’s poor childcare

No, not a story reviving the spectre of the single mother, the stereotypical young mum blamed for everything by the tabloid press and the Tories in days gone by… it’s an article on the costs and inequities of childcare services.

From the Morning Star, a quality tabloid:

Poorer families denied decent child care
(Wednesday 27 August 2008)
by LOUISE NOUSRATPOUR

TRADE unions demanded a major expansion of childcare provision on Wednesday after school inspectors raised concerns that families in poorer areas of England lacked access to quality care facilities.

The quality of childcare differs dramatically between areas, with provision worse in places with the most poverty and social deprivation, according to a three-year study by school regulator Ofsted.

In the 30 most deprived local authorities, nearly half of childcare facilities were described as “not good enough,” compared with 40 per cent nationally.

In Hackney, east London, just 29 per cent of childminders were judged to be good or better, compared to the leafy suburb of Wokingham in Berkshire where the proportion is 81 per cent.

“Children and families living in areas already experiencing relative deprivation therefore face further inequity because they have less access to high-quality childcare provision,” the report warned.

Despite improvements over the past three years, four out of 10 childminders and daycare groups still rank as “satisfactory” or “inadequate,” categories that inspectors said signal the need to improve.

Only 3 per cent of England’s daycare nurseries were judged to be outstanding.

The most serious problems identified by the report, which covered 90,000 inspections, included staff shortages, lack of proper training and nurseries with no first-aid kits.

A spokeswoman for public-sector union UNISON said: “Once again, children from deprived areas are losing out.

“UNISON is campaigning for major expansion of childcare provision. We need quality care, delivered by properly trained and fairly paid childcare workers.”

Fellow union GMB equality and inclusion officer Kamaljeet Jandu branded the figures “frightening,” adding: “This should be a wake-up call to government to improve standards and provide training for people working with children in this sector. ”

Childcare charity Daycare Trust official Maxine Hill said: “Even one childminder providing poor care is one too many.

“Disadvantaged children have much to gain from receiving high-quality childcare and every effort should be made to improve quality.”

The Daycare Trust warned that childcare costs for pre-school children in England continued to rise above the rate of inflation, with most parents complaining about lack of affordable childcare in their area.

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No Warwick 2

The trade unions which fund the Labour Party have failed to get their shopping list of demands taken up as policy at Labour’s National Policy Forum.

As the FT said “If this is a union victory I would hate to see them lose“. Here’s what they didn’t get:

* A change in the ballot process to make industrial action less prone to end up in the courts

* A windfall tax on fuel companies

* A change in the law to make secondary action easier

* A rise in the National Insurance ceiling

* An end to the privatisation of the welfare state

* Free meals in primary schools [in England]

Well, the first Warwick Agreement resulted in the unions continuing to back Labour on the basis of promises which haven’t been kept. So, it’s not as if agreed changes in policy would have been adhered to by ministers…

But as the News Line comments, union leaders failed to put up a fight:

The policy conference treated the trade unions and the working class like dirt. There was not even an attempt to disguise the fact that it was full steam ahead for three year wage cutting deals, privatisation, and the ending of all workers final salary pension schemes.

The joint union-party statement that emerged is truly pathetic since it does not deal with a single policy.

It states: ‘The Labour Party today announced it had agreed a comprehensive policy programme looking ahead to a fourth-term Labour Government.

‘Representatives for the local Labour parties (CLPs) and trade unions joined government ministers to welcome the deal, following a three-year process of consultation and discussion. The policies will go forward to feed in to Labour’s manifesto.

‘Simon Burgess, Vice Chair of the National Policy Forum, said: “This has been a comprehensive policy process unique in British politics. We have spent three years in close conversation with the British people, the trade unions, business and voluntary organisations”. . .’ And business has won hands down.

The statement continued that ‘Tony Dubbins Chair of the Trade Union Liaison Organisation (TULO) said: “After three years of discussions, culminating in an intensive weekend of keenly debated issues, the unions are pleased to join the CLPs and ministers in welcoming a set of policies which we believe positively address this agenda for the future of the British people. We have worked together co-operatively and effectively in the finest traditions of the Labour movement”.’

Dubbins was unable to name or laud a single policy decision that had been reached.

No wonder Brown was able to quit the conference – the trade union leaders were in the bag and were determined to do nothing that would rock Brown’s boat.

Why is an English parliament beyond the Tories’ Ken?

Consider the following:

Unpopular “reforms” such as Foundation Hospitals, student top-up fees, and the new undemocratic Planning Bill – have been imposed on England by the votes of Scottish Labour MPs.

If Camoron’s New Tories are really nicey-nicey, they’d want this anomaly to be resolved: it’s not very democratic is it? It’s rather nasty, in fact…

But no, not quite. Rather than simply support devolution for England (they didn’t support it for Scotland or Wales, either!) they Tories want to save their beloved Union. It’s the only union they support – though I suppose Ken and co are fans of the European Union…

So, instead of an easy-to-understand proposal for an English parliament, we have the confusing report from Ken Clarke – which might not even be adopted by the Tories as party policy, despite Camoron asking Clarke to come up with some ideas on the West Lothian Question. No, really:

For matters relating solely to England, only English MPs should vote, while English and Welsh MPs alone should vote on issues only affecting those two countries, it argues.

MPs from all countries could later vote to pass or reject the bill as a whole, the committee adds.

Mr Herbert seemed to agree in principle, saying: “Just as most of Scotland’s laws are now passed with the consent of the Scottish people, expressed through their elected representatives, so it is right to require English consent for laws affecting only England – or English and Welsh consent for laws affecting only England and Wales.”

The proposals will not necessarily become Conservative policy, although party leader David Cameron himself set up Mr Clarke’s Democracy Taskforce to come up with usable ideas.

Mr Clarke said his plan was a “compromise”, more workable than simply banning MPs from other countries from voting on England-only laws, and that this would help preserve the Union of England and Scotland.

The ideas comes amid concerns that the Scottish devolution settlement has created two classes of MP.

In Scotland, legislation on issues such as health and education are controlled by the country’s own parliament at Holyrood.

But policy for England is decided by the full Westminster parliament, with MPs from all parts of the UK able to vote.

Since some powers were devolved to the Holyrood parliament, there have been calls for just MPs with English constituencies to vote on England-only matters, or even the setting-up of a separate English parliament.

Hundreds of “satisfactory” schools in England are threated with closure

From The News Line:

TEACHERS WILL FIGHT SCHOOLS CLOSURES

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) declared yesterday that the Brown government’s threat to close 638 schools for not reaching arbitrary targets ‘will be resisted’ – after the union found the closures ‘even more shocking and random than first appeared’.

On June 8th, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, published the names of 638 schools who were allegedly below the Government’s floor target of 30% of pupils getting at least five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and mathematics.

However, closer scrutiny of the schools name, prompted NUT Acting General Secretary Christine Blower to say yesterday: ‘On deeper analysis, the government’s condemnation of 638 secondary schools is even more shocking and random than first appeared.

‘Only 11 per cent of schools in the sample were considered by OFSTED to need the intervention and threats now being employed by the government.

‘Indeed, it is extraordinary that 26% of the schools in our analysis are considered to be amongst the best in the country and around a third are in the top 40%.

‘A further 59% are considered to be satisfactory; a term in any normal dictionary definition which means that although there is room for improvement, those schools are meeting their pupils’ needs.

‘It seems to me that the government has decided to junk its recent attempts to introduce a measure of sophistication into evaluating schools in favour of a crude headline-grabbing measure to try to show that it is tough on standards.

‘The support outlined in the National Challenge programme will be obscured by this injustice. Teachers and head teachers will be very wary of wanting to join schools that could be threatened with closure.

‘I have written to our members and to all head teachers in the 638 schools expressing the NUT’s solidarity with them.

‘The NUT will not stand by and watch the vilification of school communities and the intolerable pressure put on Heads and teachers as a result of the government’s arbitrary actions.

‘School closures will be resisted and members will be protected from any excessive workload demands created by the National Challenge programme.’

The government’s proposals – contained in the documents ‘National Challenge’ and ‘Promoting Excellence For All’ – are the sticks used to beat educational workers into accepting the privatisation of schooling.

In her letter of support to NUT members at the berated schools, Blower says the NUT is not only opposed to the proposal to close schools, but also proposals to intensify monitoring and inspection regimes.

She continues: ‘The National Union of Teachers knows that you are making a positive difference to young people’s lives; young people who often come from the toughest of circumstances.

‘Schools need resources to meet the challenges posed by social and economic problems.

‘The £400 million committed by the Secretary of State to your school and the others covered by the “National Challenge” should be used to reduce class sizes, increase teaching, learning and study support and give teachers the time and space during the school day to develop links with their local communities, including parents.

‘It can’t be right that £260 million of the £400 million will be spent on establishing Academies and Trusts.

‘The Secretary of State is wrong in his view that somehow you can enhance the commitment, enthusiasm and innovatory capacity of teachers by threatening them with the closure of their schools if they fail to meet an arbitrary target.

‘The National Challenge should be about saying to teachers that it is a career advantage to work in schools in challenging circumstances, not a career threat.

‘You and your members will have worked hard for youngsters entering secondary schools, who may have started school caring little about learning.

‘For such youngsters, achievement in GCSEs, albeit that such achievement is below Ed Balls’ target may in fact be the pinnacle of achievement; yet nothing in Ed Balls’ target recognises that.’

Government ‘targets’, and the channeling of finances away from state schools into the pockets of the private sector, have created enormous tensions in the teaching profession, mirroring the same process in the NHS.

In the last week alone the NUT have been forced to also comment on:

• a threefold increase in the use of teaching assistants (costing £50 a day) to fill in for supply teachers (£150 a day) as highlighted by UNISON.

• pay rises for teachers, and,

• recruitment and retention of headteachers.

Commenting on the use of teaching assistants in schools, Blower said on Thursday: ‘Unison are right to highlight the injustice experienced by school support staff.

‘From our own evidence, many support staff are being expected to carry out inappropriate work and are paid very little for the unreasonable expectation placed on their shoulders.

‘Indeed our own evidence shows that support staff are being used to teach children with the greatest needs and are being used to cover for teaching staff over long periods of time.

‘Too often, support staff are considered to be the low cost option. It is quite clear to the NUT that all staff who work in school teams need a proper definition of their responsibilities and proper pay and conditions.’

Continuing on the question of pay, she added: ‘The justice of the case for increases in teachers’ pay has been reinforced by the inflation figures.

‘The Retail Price index is over 4%. Even the government’s preferred index for inflation is at a 10 year high of 3.3%.

‘In the face of energy prices set to rise by 40% by Christmas, the NUT will continue the campaign for Fair Pay for Teachers.

‘The Secretary of State must reopen consideration of teachers’ pay for September. 2.45% is not enough.

‘Teachers and other public sector worker unions cannot and will not stand by and see their members’ incomes and standards of living cut.’

These cuts have led to problems of Headteacher recruitment as highlighted by the National College for School Leadership.

Blower, said: ‘There is a problem with Headteacher recruitment; Steve Munby is right to highlight it. He is quite wrong to suggest that the solution is to appoint non teachers to such jobs.

‘Being a Headteacher is about leading learning. The NUT believes that to lead a learning community a background in teaching is key.

‘There is no shortage of classroom teachers who could become Headteachers. It is just that the pressures Heads face are intense and unreasonable.

‘The cause of low recruitment to Headship has to be removed. The second-class sticking plaster of people who have no background in teaching is not a solution.

‘More teachers would be attracted to Headship if the government didn’t pull stunts like the naming of 638 schools last week.

‘The education service needs Headteachers. The government needs to will the means and conditions that would make Headship an attractive option.’

The News Line calls on all teaching professionals to come to the ATUA conference on Sunday 29th June (see advert ), to organise the building of a leadership to defend all public services by bringing down the Brown government and going forward to socialism.

Labour losing support amongst public sector workers

From Unison, the biggest public sector union in the UK:

Labour’s traditional supporters look to be deserting the Party in their droves, according to an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by UNISON. Almost half (47%) of those who have regularly voted Labour at past elections now say they are less likely to vote Labour than they were in 2005. In addition, 51% of the public generally say they are less likely to vote Labour than they were at the last General Election. The exodus among public sector workers is equally bad, with 49% saying they are now less likely to vote Labour than in 2005.

The poll also found that the Conservatives are closing in on Labour’s territory, such as education and managing the economy. Both of these have traditionally been Labour strongholds so it is very worrying for us all that the Tories are now seen to have the better policies on these issues. Labour is still just hanging on to its lead in healthcare by 5 points (with 34% thinking Labour has the best policies on healthcare, and 29% thinking the Conservatives do).

And a potential vote-winner in the next election for the general public is Government policy on running public services, with more than 7 in 10 (71%) saying that Government policy on running public services will be important to them when they decide how to vote at the next election.

Public sector workers are beginning to see the Tories as better at getting good value for public money (28% think the Conservatives have the best policy on this, compared to 19% who think Labour do) and managing the economy (30% Con vs. 24% Lab). And more than 8 in 10 (81%) public sector workers say that Government policy on running public services will be important in deciding how they vote at the next election.

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said:

“It’s clear that the Tories are closing in on Labour’s natural territory. Gordon Brown must wake up and smell the coffee. Improve your game; heed this warning shot. If you get the public services right, you can start to win back voters. A massive 79% of people believe that public services should be run by the Government or local authorities, rather than by private companies. So it’s time to end the affair with big business and recapture traditional ground. Public sector workers – Labour’s natural supporters – are deserting the Party in their droves. Without their votes, Labour will lose the next election”.

Key Findings

In terms of which issues are most important for the Government to improve on, public sector workers’ are more likely to focus on education (29% compared to 24% general public) and the NHS (32% compared to 25% of the general public).

85% of public sector workers (compared to 79% of the general public) agree that public services should be run by the Government or local authorities, rather than by private companies.

More than eight in ten public sector workers (82%, compared to 77% among the general public) agree that people who provide public services should be employed by the Government or local authorities.

Public sector workers are more likely to say that Government policy on running public services will be important in deciding how they vote in the next election – 81% of public sector workers say its important (compared to 71% of the general public – and 42% of these say it will be ‘very important’ to them (compared to 36% of the general public who say it will be ‘very important’).

Amongst the general public, Labour is still seen as having the best policies on healthcare compared to Conservatives (34% vs. 29%). However the Conservatives lead over Labour on protecting the rights of individual citizens (31% vs. 20%), though Labour are seen as having the best policies on keeping Britain safe from terrorism (32% vs. 28%).

TECHNICAL DETAILS:

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,012 adults in Great Britain aged 18 and over. Interviews were conducted by telephone between 13th and 15th June 2008.

Data are weighted to match the profile of the population by gender, age, working status (including public vs. private sector workers), region, housing tenure, social class and car ownership.

End failed marketisation of public services – TUC calls for democratic alternative

Will words be matched with deeds?

Markets have failed public services – time for a new ‘public value’ alternative
Successive attempts to introduce market mechanisms into public services by Labour and Conservative governments – £44 billion worth of public services are now delivered each year outside the public sector – have not delivered better value and have often made worse the problems they were claimed to solve, says the TUC in a new pamphlet published today (Wednesday).

The second TUC Touchstone pamphlet – part of a series designed to inject a trade union perspective into serious debate about public policy issues ­- says that rather than go back to previous top-down ways of running public services that could ignore the needs of users, reform and modernisation should be based on an alternative ‘public value’ model.

Rethinking public service reform – the public value alternative says that this approach requires managers, users and providers to work together to shape the future of public services. The pamphlet recognises that the value for society created by public services cannot be measured using the same simple profit and loss accountancy used in the private sector, and needs to be based on a more sophisticated approach based on the wider needs of society, the satisfaction of service users and the views of local communities, without neglecting value for money.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘Politicians of all parties now have a kneejerk preference for private sector solutions, and seem to have lost all faith in the ability of public servants to deliver quality public services. Yet this is ideology and prejudice is not based on any evidence of what works. NHS Direct is one of the most innovative changes in health care and has been developed entirely within the public sector, while one private tube maintenance contract has collapsed at vast public expense.

‘Yet voters still back public sector values, and can see that the professionalism and commitment of public servants is as important as sound management and value for money. They don’t want to be customers at the public service supermarket.

‘It’s time that ministers ended their market obsession, that sees hospitals as potential profit centres, and started asking patients, staff and communities what they actually want.

‘This is not to say that public services do not need to change or modernise, or that we should not be looking for value for money. This is why we are spelling out exciting new ideas rooted in what works and what people want and need for a new approach to planning the future of public service.’

Rethinking public service reform – the public value alternative analyses successive market initiatives by different governments and shows that the original justification for contracting out was that it would simply deliver cash savings. But when this turned out to be normally at the expense of service quality (eg the quality of school meals), the government introduced more complex mechanisms and made a wider claim that market mechanisms would improve access to public services to those previously squeezed out by the better off and better educated.

But the evidence now suggests that:

* Private sector efficiency savings do not outweigh the extra costs of providing a return to shareholders and the private sector’s inability to borrow as cheaply as the public sector.

*While the private sector profits when contracts go well, the public sector has to pick up the tab when things go wrong (such as Railtrack, the Benefits Agency and Air Traffic Control) as ultimate risk cannot be transferred.

* Increasing choice can increase inequality. For example, parental choice has led to greater inequalities between the best performing schools and the rest, as better off articulate parents are more successful in getting their children into such schools.

* Breaking up the public sector into contracts for the private sector often has unintended consequences – e.g. the creation of Independent Treatment Centres – has reduced opportunities for junior doctors to develop skills, and left NHS hospitals with difficult, expensive cases and unused capacity.

* The original problem of the private sector often delivering lower quality services has not been overcome – e.g. private sector home care services and care homes deliver poorer quality than public sector services – often because they rely on minimum wage jobs with high turnovers and little if any training.

The pamphlet instead says that future public service developments should be based on the alternative ‘public value’ model, increasingly supported by academics and thinktanks, that aims to maximise the value from public services, not simply minimise the costs.

While value for money is always important, public value also involves service users in planning and assessing public services. It is non-ideological, pragmatic and while it asks users and citizens directly what they want from public services and then seeks to deliver it, there are no blue-prints and off-the-shelf solutions.

Cameron’s promises on tax cuts are guarantees for big business

He’s confident – hinting on lower taxation (promises for you and me, guarantees for big business!), preparing for power by arranging meetings with the Sir Humphreys.

If, as expected, the Tories win the Crewe and Nantwitch by-election, Cameron will be claiming he’s the PM in waiting. Liberal leader Nick Clegg – who was a student Tory – will shore up Cameron’s “New” Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament.

Cameron hasn’t explained how cutting public expenditure squares with other commitments on health and military spending. I mean, selling schools and impoverishing benefit claimants will leave substantial ammounts of cash spare, but not enough to fund conflicts in the Middle East and a cut in income tax…

As the multinationals get uppity with the Treasury over plans to tax overseas profits – and as the by-election approaches – Cameron’s speech is timely for the Tories. It’s just as well for them that they will not be forming a government any time soon, because economic conditions are worsening…

For big business, those tax cuts could be coming sooner than two years and a Tory government. After all, they’ll be able to lobby for tax cuts directly:

Some of Britain’s biggest corporation tax payers are to advise the Government about new tax proposals.

The financial directors of oil giant BP, Britain’s biggest banking group HSBC and engine-maker Rolls-Royce were among those named as members of a “multinational tax forum”.

The 12-strong body, which is to be chaired by Financial Secretary Jane Kennedy, will discuss a series of potential tax system changes, including controversial proposals to tax intellectual property rights held overseas.

And the Jelly Chancellor will be doing even more pandering to the plutocrats:

Business leaders will tonight put the screws on the chancellor, Alistair Darling, with demands for a broad sweep of tax cuts after forcing a climbdown in a long-running battle over corporation tax reform.

Calls for a more business-friendly approach from ministers will be led by the CBI president, Martin Broughton, who will use his speech to the annual CBI dinner to accuse the government of increasing the cost and complexity of tax measures. Referring to strained relations between business and government after the battle over capital gains tax rule changes and the botched tax of non-doms, Broughton will call on Darling to resist making business the “fall guy” for the global credit crunch through higher taxes or more regulation.

The CBI has intensified calls for Britain to cut corporate taxes to prevent companies moving abroad. The government recently cut the headline rate of corporation tax to 28% in response to intense lobbying, but has indicated it will cut the tax further when the Treasury’s coffers are healthier.

It’s a bit rich of them to be complaining, though:

Some of Britain’s biggest listed companies, including several that have threatened to redomicile abroad, paid little or no corporation tax in Britain in 2007.

Research by The Times shows that FTSE-100 companies – Cadbury, Standard Chartered and British American Tobacco, which have a combined market capitalisation of £75 billion, employed almost 11,000 UK staff and generated more than £6 billion in global profits, – paid zero corporation tax in Britain last year.

Although there is no suggestion of impropriety, the research indicates that some of Britain’s biggest and best-known companies contribute startlingly little to the Exchequer in corporation tax. Most of the companies earn the bulk of their profits overseas, meaning that they also pay most or all of their taxes outside the UK, allowing them to offset these against domestic tax liabilities. In some cases, this allows them to pay no British corporation tax at all.

Other large UK-domiciled firms that pay little tax qualify for exemptions that are, for example, linked to scientific research. Nevertheless, the study will fuel the debate over whether the Government should reform the way in which British-based companies are taxed on their overseas income, or whether doing so would have a corrosive effect on the economy by driving jobs and investment offshore.

Richard Murphy, an accountant with Tax Research UK, who contributed to the research, believes that the system is in urgent need of reform. He said: “Why does the UK have a tax structure where you can have significant operations in the UK but pay all your tax overseas? We have an extremely generous corporate regime, which needs to be reexamined if this is the case.”

A spokesman for Vodafone, which has 18 million UK customers, said that the company refused to be drawn into the debate over relocating and emphasised that even though the company had paid no UK corporation tax in 2007, it had done so in previous years and made other tax payments.

Mr Murphy cited Rolls-Royce, the jet-engine maker, which employs 22,900 of its 38,600-strong global workforce in the UK but paid only £13 million in British taxes last year because the majority of its £733 million pretax profit was earned from overseas sales. Rolls-Royce, which says that it has no plans to relocate overseas, pointed out that its UK manufacturing and research operation was costly.

However, Mr Murphy said: “This cost structure is inevitable, but international rules for pricing within a group of companies allow for this and should usually result in tax being paid where the profit is generated. I’d usually expect that to be where most of its people are, especially in an R&D-based company.”