Thursday, May 31, 2007

Political Education

Meet the wife
What on earth makes politicians think they can manage our education system?

Yes, I realise that's a pretty dumb question, but here we are again in the middle of a political firestorm over something politicians know no more about than you or I.

For future reference, Graham Brady's Telegraph article on grammar schools and social mobility is outstanding (and we agree 100% when he says that "academies would be more likely to show the improvements that we want if they were given genuine freedom from political control, including the freedom to decide their admissions policies").

But all that stuff about synthetic phonics, grammar school streaming, whole class teaching... it's the same old top-down one size world of Whitehall knows best.

And if there's one thing we've surely all learned by now, it's that Whitehall most assuredly does not know best.

If you have the slightest sub-molecule of doubt about that, you should spend a few minutes leafing through the latest DfES Annual Report, as I've just done (you may need a stiff drink).

Here are some gems from within its 176 pages:

"There is strong evidence that good parenting is good for children".

That may be news to the DfES, but the rest of us found out sometime around 26,000 BC.

"The White Paper set out the Government’s aim to achieve a world class education system, in which every school is a good school and every pupil is achieving. The reforms included fully engaging parents in their child’s learning."

Just like that huh? Given that a major problem with the real problem kids is precisely that parents are not "fully engaged"- or even slightly engaged- our politicos are solving the problem by engaging them. Brilliant. Why did no one think of that before?

"The Secretary of State commissioned a group of independent experts to report on personalised teaching and learning. The group, which was chaired by Christine Gilbert, then Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets and now Ofsted Chief Inspector, published its report 2020 Vision in January 2007. The report makes powerful arguments for taking a structured and responsive approach to each child’s and young person’s learning, in order that all are able to progress, achieve and participate."

A couple of points spring to mind. First, using the Tyler opposites test, who ever thought it was a good idea to take an unstructured and unresponsive approach to each child's learning? Apart, that is, from the last lot of education commissars.

Second, who Christine Gilbert? Ah yes, we remember now. She's the totally apolitical wife of hopeless Home Office Minister Tony McNulty. Politico and bureaucrat of one flesh.

Etc etc.

Oh, if only.

If only Willetts could follow through the logic behind his notorious grammar schools speech (see this blog). If only he could give real, cheque-backed, school choice to all parents. If only he could sweep from his mind any thought of administering school admissions policy from Whitehall.

If only there was Another Way, a way not driven by the destructive gamesmanship of Westminster electoral politics.

If only pigs could fly.
PS I'm currently reading Chris Woodhead's Class War, and will extract some of the more startling snippets for BOM.

Credibility Gap

Time to go

We've been holding off writing this post in the hope that the man in question would do The Right Thing. But sadly he hasn't.

A couple of weeks back we were all shocked and disappointed to learn that Sir John Bourn, our redoubtable Comptroller and Auditor General, had been abusing his position. On the back of that old favourite the "international conference" circuit, he and his wife had been jetting round the world first class, staying in luxury five star hotels, and generally living the life of larry. All at our expense (see this blog, and original Private Eye article posted at the Lone Voice).

Further details since then have served only to increase concern. Over the last three years he's taken 43 overseas trips , 22 of them with his wife in tow. At nearly £8 grand a throw, that's clocked up £336,000 of expenses. And it turns out he's stayed at some pretty fancy joints. For example, on several trips to Vienna to see the International Atomic Energy Authority:

"On every occasion he is reported to have stayed in a suite at the five-star Hotel Sacher.The elegant hotel, situated next door to the Vienna State Opera, is famous for Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake which is a Viennese culinary speciality.

A similar room there today varies from £453 in low season, to £2,789 at peak times."

And that in spite of the fact that the IAEA's official travel agency recommends a list of standard business hotels priced from a modest £70, to £108 for a double room with breakfast.
So contrary to what the NAO originally claimed, Sir John has not simply stayed at the hotels recommended by hosts. He's gone for the very best available, and has often stayed on well past the end of official business. For example, at a conference in the Bahamas last year, he and his wife did not arrive until the penultimate day, but then stayed on for a further four days.

Unsurprisingly Sir John is on the defensive, and he's just cancelled a trip to yet another conference at yet another five star hotel in Malta.

But defensiveness is not enough. Above all else, an auditor needs credibility. He has to be whiter than white: not just do as I say, but do as I do. All the forensic auditing skills in the world amount to nothing if the man himself is compromised by his own behaviour.

We taxpayers need an Auditor General who can walk the crooked streets of Big Government neither tarnished nor afraid.

Sir John can no longer do that.

He should resign now.

PS Sir John is 73 and has been in post for nearly two decades (appointed 1988). On both counts, there is something very unusual going on. First, the normal civil service retirement age is 60, so why is he still there? And second, according to a well-informed BOM correspondent who was himself a top government auditor, other countries have a fixed tenure arrangement for their audit chiefs. You can certainly see the case for it, so how come Britain doesn't have the same? We will investigate further.

Public Servants Run Amok

The way they see themselves...

We taxpayers are currently stumping up over £10bn pa on something that calls itself higher education. And for that kind of money, you'd have to expect a little service.

This week the industry's trade union is holding its conference. And public service seems to be the last thing on their minds. So far, they've voted for:
  • "a comprehensive and consistent boycott" of all Israeli academic institutions, as called for by Palestinian trade unions in response to Israel's "40-year occupation" of Palestinian land
  • no shopping of Islamic extremist plotting overheard on campus

You'd almost think they're trying to wind us up.

Of course, we know students have always been revolting. But shouldn't their teachers keep at least half an eye on the hand that feeds?

...and the way the rest of us see them

Notorious sixties firebrand on the job

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nuke Sell-Off

Coming to shed down the bottom of your road

Darling has announced the immediate sell-off of 25% of British Energy, the nuclear power company. It will reportedly raise £2.56bn.

A tidy sum. But as you may recall (see this blog), the reason we've got these shares at all is that the government baled out British Energy just before it imploded in 2002. And before anyone congratulates the DTI for such smart investment, remember they only did it because they got panicked. We taxpayers got a stinking deal.

As we noted last year:

"The DTI not only baled out the company- which nobody else would have done- but it then led a financial restructuring that left taxpayers holding a £5.3bn liability, but with a sizeable de-risked ownership stake still in the hands of the original shareholders and creditors.

The creditors received "new bonds and 97.5 per cent of the share capital in the restructured company", while the remaining 2.5 per cent was left with the original shareholders. Even better, neither group was any longer lumbered with the £5.3bn liabilities- ie the estimated cost of dealing with all that nuclear waste and eventual plant decommissioning. That was all parcelled up and pushed over to the taxpayer."

True, we taxpayers did get 65% of future revenues, convertible into shares, and true, the value of those shares has since rocketed with the surge in world energy prices. But we're STILL the ones carrying all the risk, and those original shareholders and creditors have now done even better.

And as we blogged here, that nuke decommissioning bill is likely to end up much higher than the latest £70bn official estimate.

I suggest you get yourself a lead-lined bunker just in case the money runs out before the radiation does.

Do It Yourself Public Services- Policing

The real fire's next door

As our hopeless clod-hopping rulers drive Britain's public services ever deeper into the high price/low output mire, we schmuck citizens must somehow cobble together our own do-it-yourself services.

Yesterday, the Times had a useful update on policing (htp BG).

Regular readers will recall previous BOM dispatches from the mean streets of Primrose Hill, where residents got so pig-sick of non-policing by pc PC Blair's Met they went out and hired their own private security firm to provide street patrols (see here).

All over London, and possibly other cities too, such services are booming. It started in extremely rich areas like St John's Wood and Regents Park. But it's spreading rapidly: six companies now operate in London alone:

"1st Class Protection, which patrols 26 streets in northwest London, adds another every month or two, and is now receiving inquiries from residents in middle-class districts such as Edgware, Totteridge and Bushey.

Assaf Cohen, 35, runs 1st Class Protection with Olga, his Belarussian assistant, from an estate agent’s in Hendon. Since 2003 he has built a team of 35 trained guards, including several former Israeli soldiers, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Slovakian Army, a former Lithuanian police officer and Olga’s husband, a former boxing champion from Belarus. To judge by his BMW convertible, he is doing very nicely. He says that streets usually approach him after particlularly nasty crimes have persuaded their residents that the police can no longer protect them and they must take charge of their own security."

And the cost?

"Cohen charges £10 an hour a guard. His customers pay from £1,000 to £7,000 a year depending on how many households participate and how long each day they want a patrol."

The services are by all accounts a very effective deterrent. Once a road has a patrol, the bad guys leave it alone to find easier pickings in the next unpatrolled road.

And therein lies a familiar old problem from A Level Economics- the Free-Rider Problem.

Because once your road has its patrol, why should you pay? Given that it's virtually impossible to exclude you from benefiting, why not just free-ride? Which is precisely what toff Times journo Camilla Cavendish herself bravely admits doing.

The security companies have responded by issuing plaques for payers to put on their walls. They're not exactly those "Armed Response" signs you see in front gardens in Beverley Hills, but they're very reminiscent of the pre-fire brigade insurance plaques you can still find on old buildings in London (before they worked out that a fire next-door in an uninsured building can be just as dangerous to the general neighbourhood as a fire in an insured building).

And what about those poorer people in the street next door who now get a double dose of crime because of the muggings and break-ins displaced by you?

For most of us, policing on an ad hoc private sector basis is Very Worrying. It's fine for the very rich to erect gates and hire Russian-style body guards to surround themselves. But what about the rest of us?

If only we could have proper policing accountable to local people via directly elected sheriffs and proper banging up for bad guys (eg see here).

Now, why can't we have that again?

Learning Money

Many years ago, long before we'd all discovered skilled and dependable Polish decorators, Tyler hired a recommended and keenly priced British artisan to paint the outside of The Towers. Unfortunately, Tyler was young and naive and made the serious mistake of paying a third of the estimate upfront. It was, the artisan explained, necessary so he could purchase all necessary materials etc.

Tyler later discovered the real name of such payments is "learning money". You hand over the money, and then spend the next six months cowboy chasing. Yes, of course you're sorry to hear his van has been nicked/he's dislocated his back/his ladder's caught fire/his wife's been diagnosed with a rare but fatal tropical disease/etc/etc but when the blanking blanking blank is he coming back to finish the blanking blanking work? Eventually you learn that the answer is never.

Learning money. You've paid so you never make that mistake again.

Unless, that is, unless you're The Simple Shopper. The £175bn pa Shopper may be far and away Britain's biggest, but he's a very very slow learner.

As we've blogged before, the NHS has made upfront payments to at least one of its Supercomputer contractors, iSoft. And iSoft has dislocated not just its back, but its entire business.

The firm- a vital software supplier to the Supercomputer- has been in serious financial trouble for at least a year. And just like our cowboy painter, having booked its advance payments it's had Big Problems actually delivering the work.

It's under the financial cosh, and desperately needs more working capital. Unfortunately, as we now learn, the latest attempt at corporate rescue has been blocked by one of the other NPfIT suppliers (CSC).

"Many analysts believe no alternative rescue bidder is likely to emerge, leaving a refinancing deal as iSoft's only other hope of survival. If iSoft directors believe there is no possibility of securing the required cash they will be forced to review whether the business is a going concern."

Which would be extremely serious news for the Supercomputer:

"Should iSoft collapse into administration and alternative software suppliers be appointed, it could set back NPfIT by more than a year. The programme is already two years behind schedule."

We all know that the horrendous no-hope top-down Supercomputer should be scrapped forthwith and the funds redirected for use at local level (see this blog). But I have a horrible feeling we taxpayers may be about to stump up another huge dollop of learning money. where's the learning?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In Denial

Burglary league table

I was in the shower with a man from Nottingham Council a few mornings ago. He was very upset that his City had been unfairly tarnished as the violent crime capital of Britain. He was particularly upset at the statistical analysis published by Reform last year which proved it.

Lies, damned lies, wrong areas, apples and pears, media campaign, anyway that data refers to at least six weeks ago, firm action taken since then, things have got miles better, etc etc.

Fair enough, you might say, his job is to spin for Nottingham.

Except that he sounded like he really believed it. Which for someone actually involved in running the city would be very concerning.

Today we get another statistical crime survey, this time on burglary. And guess what. Once again, Nottingham comes out top.

And this survey is not put together by a Westminster think-tank, but by Endsleigh Insurance. They are simply reporting the frequency of claims for burglary over the last four years.

In the real world, step one in resolving a problem is to recognise that it actually exists. In government, both local and national, step one is to deny it.

PS The Endsleigh league table is doubly interesting for desperate housewives round our way, because while Nottingham comes out worst for crime, despite the best efforts of our non-response local cops, Guildford comes out best. It sure ain't going to help wisteria angst levels when Ollie and Becky announce they're off to the University of Nottingham Trent Yardie.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Miscellany Of Waste

Somebody's got to do it

Item 1: Consultants

Heather spotted the latest news from DCMS on how they're blowing yet more of our hard earned dosh on nonsense consulting. The Abominable Lammy tells us he's currently signing cheques for the following:
  • Atisreal- "Europe's leading provider of integrated commercial real estate solutions"- £246,000 for phoning round to flog off some land behind the British Library
  • Euclid- "European & international information, research and consultancy services to the cultural sector"- £110,000 for being the "nominated cultural contact point for the European Commission" (that must be a wind-up, surely)
  • Deloittes- £99,000 for a review of the Olympic Programme Support Unit (well on the way to our £20bn...)
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers- £69,000 for an "assessment of the costs and benefits of the World Heritage Site (UK)" (er... any particular World Heritage Site UK??)
  • etc etc

Item 2: Schmoozing

They might not have got quite as much coverage as the Soap Awards (or indeed the Conservative Home Blog Awards, where, as predicted, BOM did indeed finish miles higher than Bulgaria... even if we were still "narrowly pipped" by Mr Dale), but last week saw the annual Public Private Finance Awards. MOD were tickled pink with their little selves because they won an armful. And here they are posing with Mine Host for the evening, Miguel Busstop:

Now I don't know if you're up to speed with how these industry awards work. But in case you're not, let me explain.

They take place over a lavish and very boozy black-tie dinner somewhere posh- in this case the Grosvenor House. The evening is hosted (at great expense) by someone off the telly, who delivers his standard speech, dishes out the gongs, and poses for snaps with the winners (actually, in this case they only got Miguel, but usually it's someone important like that girl off A Place in the Sun).

Anyway, the key point is that the customers win all the prizes and the suppliers pay all the bills. Of course, in reality, the customers' companies end up paying as the suppliers recoup their costs from suitably ingratiated buyers. But hey, everyone understands you need a little schmoozing here and there, and they can't touch you for it.

All of which is perfectly fine, so long as we're talking private sector b2b.

The trouble is, with these awards, we're not. We're talking private PFI supply companies wining and dining public servants (see here for previous awards sponsors). And we're talking taxpayers having to foot the final bill.

Irrespective of what it means for Miguel's after dinner earnings, I'd prohibit all such schmoozing of public servants forthwith. I'm hard like that.

Item 3- Patronising Propaganda

Westminster Council I thought were meant to be among the good guys. But they've just spent we know not what on producing an extraordinary bit of patronising simplistic propaganda explaining how hard their job is. It's called the Council Tax Game , and you can try it here (htp BG).

What particularly stuck in my craw was the fact that you are only given options for increasing council spending. What a contrast with their neighbours at Hammersmith and Fulham, where the new council managed to cut council tax for the first time in over a decade.

So Much For Thundering

As you will know, Heather Brooke is a journalist, author, and redoubtable FOI campaigner. She also has an excellent blog Your Right To Know.

A couple of weeks ago Heather wrote a piece for the Times on how our draconian libel laws stifle freedom of information (you can read it here). In it she commented on the out of court libel settlement between childcare pundit Gina Ford and website Mumsnet:

"The libel laws are an abomination. They favour rich, litigious bullies at the expense of free expression. Even a website for mothers to chatter on is fair game to this draconian law.

Last week was forced to pay a five-figure sum for comments posted on its chat site. It stood by the comments but this law is such an ass that the burden of proof rests solely with the defendant.

Meanwhile, claimants can make their allegations free from evidential proof. Their opinion is all that counts. They do not have to prove the comments are false. They don’t even have to show any harm to their reputation. I can think of no other area in law in which an individual’s spurious opinion outweighs the greater public good of truth and justice.

The Mumsnet case makes clear how libel affects everyone, not just journalists or those working in the traditional media. More and more of us, thanks to the growing ubiquity of blogs, chat groups and web forums, are vulnerable to this nefarious law. And while big media groups have deep pockets, the individual hasn’t."

Which is something that should seriously worry all bloggers. Especially in the light of what happened next.

Because after a complaint from Gina Ford's lawyers, the Times- the self-styled Thunderer- meekly removed Heather's article from its website. Just like that.

Clearly the Times will have taken expensive legal advice on the whole issue, thus, as Heather says, "rather" proving her point.

So what happens now? Ford's lawyers are seeking to have Heather take her own blogs down, which would be totally outrageous.

In her home country, Heather, the Times, and mumsnet could all plead the First Amendment. In Britain, we're on our own.

Making It Up As They Go Along

The body language has it- Home Office minister McNulty in listening mode

Lyin', cheatin', hurtin'... but most of all, mind numbingly, hog wimperingly incompetent.

It turns out that they're proposing to introduce their new stop and search powers without even consulting the police who will have to implement them. All too predictably, it further turns out that the police don't actually want them.

How stupid is that?

As regular readers of BOM may recall, Tyler is something of an expert on Stop and Search. In fact he's had three stop and searches in the last six months (eg see this blog). As an unprofilable white middle aged bloke with grey hair and specs who might easily be mistaken for an Islamic terrorist, he was naturally supportive of such a patently sensible use of police time. But he's since talked to non-white acquaintances who are somewhat less supportive.

In fact, most people who have looked into existing police powers in this area (s44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act) think they are already too extensive. For example, last December, one expert said:

"It is very unlikely that a terrorist is going to be carrying bomb-making equipment around... in the street." It was "a big price to pay" given some people feel unfairly targeted... the powers were well intended, "to try and prevent, deter and disrupt terrorist activity. But we have to question the way we use a power that causes so much pain to the community we serve but results in so few arrests or charges. Is it worth it?"

Shami Chakrabarti? No. That was Andy Hayman, the Metropolitan Police's assistant commissioner responsible for anti-terrorism. And he was commenting on the fact that while thousands of s44 stop and searches have been carried out, virtually nothing useful has come out of them. We noted the latest official stats:

"In the year 2002/3, police in England and Wales conducted 21,577 stops and searches in under Terrorism Act powers. Whereas 13 per cent of stops and searches under normal police powers resulted in an arrest, the arrest rate for stops and searches on suspicion of terrorism was just 1.7 per cent. And the overwhelming majority of these arrests had nothing to do with terrorism. Only eighteen arrests in connection with terrorism were made in that year as a result of the 21,577 stops and searches carried out. None of these arrests resulted in a conviction for terrorist offences."

So wtf does our blithering government believe that more of the same is going to help?

Setting aside the very real possibility that it's all actually nothing more than headline management (which has now gratifyingly blown up in their faces), the explanation is only too clear. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, these clowns still believe they know best.

Best when they're boldest. Even when they haven't the faintest clue how their top-level arm waving might translate into practical results out in the Real World (cf the GPs OOH fiasco, the HIPs fiasco, etc etc).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Recent Bonfires 66

In the news this week:

£9bn wasted on tax credits- "Gordon Brown has been accused of wasting £9bn of public money on his flagship tax credit policy, after official figures showed the Revenue made huge overpayments in the first three years of the scheme. The latest data, produced by the Office for National Statistics, revealed that tax administrators wrongly handed out £1.7bn to families in 2005-06, bringing to £5.7bn the total amount overpaid since 2003. Much of it will be irrecoverable. The Liberal Democrats said that their own research showed the true scale of the money wasted was much greater, and equivalent to one pound in every five paid out by the Revenue. David Laws, Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, said this was because the official data excluded £3.6bn paid in fraud and error." (Financial Times 23.5.07)

Illegal immigrants asylum claims cost £1bn pa- "Asylum claims made by illegal immigrants cost the public more than £1billion a year, a Government report revealed last night. The migrants - who pay trafficking gangs up to £12,000 to be smuggled into the UK - make up 70 per cent of all claims for refugee status. They accounted for 42,000 of the 60,000 annual asylum applicants in 2003 - the only year for which figures are available. Home Office researchers found the illegals cost £700million in housing bills, £79million in claims processing, £64million in appeals and £129million in legal aid. Educating their 9,100 children cost £37million - or £4,000 per child. The illegals also received £17million of healthcare. At £1.02billion, the total bill equates to £17 for every Briton. The figures confirm - as critics have argued - that the asylum system is at the mercy of those who lodge claims only after they have been caught by immigration staff or police officers." (Mail 25.5.07)

£3.6m staff bonuses at failing Home Office- "More than 5,000 civil servants at the Home Office shared £3.6million in bonus payments last year, despite the department facing a series of scandals.... More than 1,000 foreign criminals were released from prison without being considered for deportation. Officials also failed to alert ministers to the fact that convictions given to Britons overseas had not been placed on the Police National Computer. Despite this "collective failure", senior mandarins were still able to find 5,014 officials considered worthy of a bonus. The total bill of £3,612,916 is 75 per cent higher than in 2002." (Mail 21.5.07)

Total for week- £10,003,600,000

Candidates Should Should Answer All The Questions

Yeah, we know all that mate, but what about the hard questions?

Dave C writes in today's Mail on Sunday in defence of his secondary schools policy. He says:

"Most important of all, as David Willetts has set out, we will pull down the walls that prevent real choice, diversity and innovation within state education.

We will introduce the simplest possible system for setting up new schools within the state sector. These could be provided, for example, by voluntary organisations led by parents, charities, social enterprises, churches or even private schools themselves.

For far too long in Britain the education debate has been about dividing up the regrettably small number of good school places."

Hurrah. The candidate is definitely on the Right Lines (see this blog).

Unfortunately, he still doesn't answer some of the trickier questions. In particular:

1. Will schools be allowed to manage their own admissions? In the far superior independent sector (a superiority now formally recognised by the Education Secretary), that is taken as read. The head has to be able to manage the composition of his school, which includes academic selection. Of course, in the state sector, politicos enforce their own convoluted admission rules producing the nonsenses and heartbreak we hear about every summer, and contributing mightily to the job from hell.

2. Without academic selection, how can you have manageable human scale schools, such as he wants for his own children? A grammar stream in every comp implies a minimum school size of 1500. See this blog for the model calcs.


See me.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

BBC Business Coverage

Balanced and fair
Apologies for two consecutive BBC posts, but the abysmal standard of what passes for its business coverage has long been a trigger for much BOM gnashing. Compared to Fox, or even CNN, it's astoundingly flimsy and ill-informed.

Now we have the report of their own enquiry headed by Alan Budd. It concludes:

"We believe that the BBC is at times unconsciously partial and unbalanced in its coverage of business issues. This unconscious partiality may stem in part from a lack of awareness of the business world. Many BBC journalists have never worked in business and do not seem to have a full grasp of how it operates. In its evidence the BBC says many, perhaps most, news editors and producers would regard business as a weaker area than politics, international affairs, health or the environment."

"Unconsciously"? Hmm... and have any BBC journalists ever worked in business? Still, let's park that. The report goes on:

"...a lack of specialist knowledge and perhaps a lack of interest on the part of some mainstream programme editors can result in missed stories or angles.

Some witnesses were concerned about the poor level of knowledge among some of the researchers who contact them. There was also concern about the range and quality of the experts used on many business stories."

Yup. "Experts" such as lightweight Robert Peston, son of hopeless Labour peer Maurice Peston, who's actually their Business Editor for gawd's sake (see previous blogs eg here and here).

And the report agrees with the charge that much of the Corporation's "business" coverage is actually one long "narrative" (ughh) about evil capitalists ripping off the faces of the poor:

"Many of the BBC’s business stories are framed through the perspective of the consumer... such an approach can create a prism through which much business coverage is seen as a battle between "unscrupulous" company bosses and their "exploited" customers."

You said it Buddy Boy.

Public Service Broadcasting

I want more programmes about large breasts and flesh eating plague toads
While young and impressionable, I was given to understand that the BBC's Panorama was a heavy duty factual programme. Like everyone else, I now understand it is nothing more than cheap...well, no, overpriced sensationalism.

The last two have comprised that hysterical Scientology episode with the ludicrous ego-maniacal John Sweeney, and this week's wi-fi-eating-our-children horrorfest. Admittedly I'm no scientist, and admittedly I haven't actually seen either programme, but I have chortled my way through the Sweeney YouTube clips, and it now turns out the wi-fi programme was nothing more than a propaganda piece from conflicted pressure group Powerwatch.

Panorama, Graham Norton, F*** Off, I'm A Hairy Woman, this is what "public service broadcasting" actually means.

And that is the justification for the £3bn pa telly tax.
PS The BBC used to present Lord Reith as a saint. The son of a Free Church of Scotland minister, he was a strict Presbyterian who carried his religious views into his work at the BBC. But as we now know, what that meant in practice was extreme authoritarianism, and a whole raft of loathsome ideas. He was a big fan of Hitler and Musso, noting when Hitler came to power “I am certain that the Nazis will clean things up and put Germany on the way to being a real power in Europe again . . . They are being ruthless and most determined.” He admired the efficiency of their military machine, and their rigorous approach to cultural diversity: "Germany has banned hot jazz and I’m sorry that we (Britain) should be behind in dealing with this filthy product of modernity.” What is it about sons of the manse, and those psychological flaws?

Friday, May 25, 2007

A Very Bad Idea

'Course, I really wanted to be a rock star

Union man Alan Johnson is intending to introduce national pay scales for school teaching assistants and support staff. This is A Very Bad Idea.

Johnson's case is based on the arguments of his friends at Unison. The union's national secretary for education, Christina McAnea, says:

"Many school workers' pay does not in any way reflect the job they do and is determined almost on the whim of the headteacher."

The whim of the headteacher. God knows we need to avoid that because those guys have got far too much power already. Not.

But more fundamentally, the public sector's national pay scales never take proper account of regional pay variations. As a result, public sector employers in high wage areas like London and the South East struggle to keep staff, whereas employers in low wage places like the North East pay far more than they need to.

We've already ripped off one blog from Prof David B Smith's excellent paper* on regional tax and spend for the Economic Research Council (see here). So let's rip off another.

Using ONS data, Smith shows how median earnings are getting on for 50% higher in London than they are in the North East (44.2% in 2005 to be precise). Even in the South East outside London they are nearly 20% higher.

Yet if we look at say the DfES teacher pay scales, even for Inner London we find the top of the main scale for classroom teachers is set at only 15% above the national scale (£33,936 compared to £29,427 nationally). And the premium for the London "fringe" is set at a meaningless 3%.

Such weightings don't reflect differences in the basic cost of living, let alone alternative employment options. As Smith highlights, ONS figures show that the general price level is 16% higher in London compared to the North East, and average house prices are an eye-watering 102% higher.

No wonder the level of secondary teaching vacancies in London is three times what it is the the North East. In Britain's increasingly diverse economy, top-down national payscales inevitably give us staff shortages in the London area, alongside overpriced educational provision elsewhere.

Johnson would be much better employed breaking up the existing national pay scales for teachers rather than extending the problem to classroom assistants.

But then, if he could walk like that, he probably wouldn't be the first former trade union leader to have a seat at the cabinet table since Frank Cousins in the sixties.

*Footnote- On Tuesday, Tyler attended a session of the Economic Research Council and met David Smith- utterly charming, and extraordinarily well informed. He was presenting this very paper, which was originally his inaugural professorial lecture at the University of Derby. It turns out it's posted here.

A Tragedy Waiting To Happen

Penny Campbell: a victim of the Department of Health

"Penny Campbell, a 41-year-old journalist, died in March 2005 despite six telephone calls and two face-to-face meetings over the course of the four-day Easter weekend with doctors working for an out-of-hours GP service.

An investigation into her death has found that she was not offered appropriate care as a result of the the actions of a GP and because of problems in how the out-of-hours service was run."

Of course, the blame is being directed at the out-of-hours service provider Camidoc: the GP co-op in north London that employed the doctors, apparently "had no procedures to ensure notes on patients were easily available to all GPs". But the real blame lies with the Department of Health.

We've blogged the out-of-hours (OOH) fiasco many times, how the appalling Department of Health gave away our traditional GP service without having the faintest idea how they were going to replace it (eg see here, and here).

Last year, Tyler attended the Public Accounts Committee meeting where the DoH mandarins were grilled about the whole thing (see PAC Report and evidence transcript here). As we noted at the time, it was frankly scary. The Chairman described the mandarins as being "underwhelming", and we were shocked that they were so far out of their depth.

But even more shocking was the DoH's inability to define what the OOH service was actually meant to be doing. And remember, this was a full two years after the new GPs contract was introduced in 2004. Even by the abysmal standards of government, the muddle and confusion was appalling.

Let's note some the exchanges that took place on OOH that afternoon:

Q16 Chairman: What is the actual standard of care that is supposed to be provided? Are they supposed to meet simply urgent need, or is this a 24-hour seven-day NHS provision which is available to everybody? What can we as the public expect to receive?

Sir Ian Carruthers (NHS Chief Exec): Again, I think this is an area for further action. One of the matters which we shall be looking at following the recently produced White Paper is our urgent care strategy and how we define it. Broadly speaking, the approach taken at the present time is that members of the public are able to contact the out-of-hours services. They have a choice between A&E, out-of-hours services, walk-in centres and NHSDirect.

Q17 Chairman: How are the public to know which is the right service for them when there are so many options available? Previously, they did the rather old-fashioned thing of ringing up their family doctor.

Sir Ian Carruthers: I am sure that many people actually do that now and they are put through to the services, but we want the public to be able to choose what they feel is appropriate to their circumstances.

Q18 Greg Clark: Is the out-of-hours provision supposed to be an urgent or unscheduled care service?

Sir Ian Carruthers: As I said before, there is a view which says that the Department of Health should define it.

Q19 Greg Clark: What is your view?

Sir Ian Carruthers: I can express only a personal view. I have said that this is one of the issues on which we shall take action.

Q20 Greg Clark: To be clear, the Department does not have a view as to whether the out-of-hours service is urgent or unscheduled provision?

Sir Ian Carruthers: At this stage we have not defined whether it is “urgent”. Generally, people understand “urgent” to mean care and treatment given there and then with an appointment maybe the next day.

Q21 Greg Clark: How could you negotiate a contract with GPs when you were not even aware whether or not this was a service dealing with urgent or unscheduled care, since clearly one will be used far more than the other?

Sir Ian Carruthers: The contract was based on a broader range of issues, which was to say that when people needed out-of-hours care they could access it by a range of different routes. The precise definitions of those two areas were not undertaken.

Q22 Greg Clark: You are the Accounting officer of the Department and I know that you had
predecessors, but if the Department was about to negotiate a contract why did it not decide that issue then rather than start to think about it now?

Sir Ian Carruthers: What we are saying is that we now recognise that it is an issue.

Q23 Greg Clark: But the specific question is: why did the Department not decide this before negotiating the contract?

Sir Ian Carruthers: I cannot answer that. What we are saying is that we recognise this is an issue to be addressed.

Q24 Greg Clark: Do you concede that it was wrong and you should have settled it before?

Sir Ian Carruthers: I am not saying it was wrong or right. The out-of-hours service was about replicating what was there previously. We have now got into definitional issues which we have indicated will be taken forward as part of the White Paper.

I think that's more than enough. Just imagine how Tescos would be if Sir Terry worked like that.

The bottom line is that the DoH bumbled their way into the GP pay negotiations without having the faintest clue how the OOH service was going to be handled. Indeed, it's pretty clear they fondly imagined that GPs would just keep going with their traditional service. There was no plan as such. Just a dim and distant hoping for the best.

And now someone has died.

You have to guess there are many more such cases.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Capital Punishment

New Lo-Waste Wheelie Bins
This morning I was punished for driving a car in the capital. I was forced to pay £8 and then made to spend an hour and a half driving five miles.

Don't misunderstand me. Like most economists, on some theoretical level I'm very much in favour of congestion charging. The charge ensures that the true cost of using limited roadspace is reflected in the money price of the journey, punters make their travel decisions based on full information, externalities are internalised, and all those marginal thingies line up nicely just like the textbook equations say they should.

Of course, charging schemes do need to be implemented by a benevolent and competent Omniscient Being (such as my good self), who uses the revenue raised to provide sensible travel alternatives, including, yes, more road space.

And there's the rub. In the real world, London doesn't have a benevolent competent Ominiscient Being at the controls but a Notorious Car Hating Humbug. So in reality, I'm paying my £8 to travel on roadspace that has diminished since the charge was introduced. Bus and cycle lanes have eaten into car space, roads have been blocked off and paved over, and whole new banks of traffic lights have been installed and permanently set to "delay".

In reality, London motorists are being subjected to a cruel and unusual double punishment. Not only are they having to pay an extra tax, they are getting a worse service at the same time.

Steaming with rage, I finally got home and took a look at the congestion charging accounts. Here's the key table:

What jumps out of course is that of the £254m raised in 2005-06, collection costs amounted to a staggering £143m, or 56%. So that's money that's been ripped out of motorists and isn't going anywhere other than the tax collectors themselves.

And just in case you've forgotten, the tax collectors here are Blairite Capita Plc, whose head resigned in those... er... inauspicious circs just last year (see this blog). Even worse, they're now widely tipped to run those nationwide road pricing schemes about to nuke motorists everywhere. Another 56% collection cost ratio, anyone?

Now, you might think that would be quite enough blood pressure raising for one day. But you'd be wrong. While sat fuming in the traffic, I listened to BBC R5 discussing the latest on those millions of spy Wheelie Bins.

It seems pretty clear that these sinister automatons will soon be activated, primed to administer the new Waste Tax. But judging from the double punishment of London motorists, they'll almost certainly go further than that. The Major reckons they'll administer electric shocks of increasing severity if you try to deposit unapproved rubbish.

Look, I know this is a naive question, but weren't local councils set up to serve their local communities? Do you want to be fined for putting out more rubbish than the Commissars decree? Do you want an electric shock bin chasing you down the street?

Yes, I know, it's not really down to the councils. They're only doing it because they're forced to meet EU directives and the government is bribing them with a couple of mill apiece.

It's just that.... uhhh... gahhh.

Misdirected Email

Mr Ken
Since adding his email address to BOM, Tyler has received many interesting communications. But this latest one has clearly been misdirected, being addressed to AngelaShore@hmrc:

"Hello a very good day to you,I am Mr. Ken from Financial remedy based in Nigera WestAfrica. We provide security for money that are in your possesion that are not neccessarily yours. These funds could either looted funds or stolen Government money or money belonging to some of your clients that are deceased.

In any case we offer to such funds in safety for you for a specified period of time. There is going to be an agreement between us as to the sharing formular or the comission you will pay us for our services. It is usually 30/70,but sometimes we bring it lower whenvery heavy sum of money is involved.

We are assuring of 100% anonymity as we got all the security backing to carry out thehitch-free. But there must be a specification as to the duration of time we are to keepthese funds.

Also I am giving you guarantee that the said funds will be kept in top safety.

We are sending this mail to you in accordance with a search we carried out with anInternet searching software. We did this to search and find people that might be needingservices.

I would leave all the details untill we get a responce from you. But be rest assured the money and your personality will be highly protected.

That is a promise we have always kept."

You have to admire Mr Ken for cutting straight to the chase. He's right on the money in thinking that HMRC deals in looted funds and might be needing services. Indeed, HMRC has recently let slip it will be looting a criminal £453.4bn this year alone!

However, Mr Ken will find there's a slight problem as regards his hitch-free top safety security backed service: all that dosh, and a further £140bn as well, is already earmarked for burning.

Makes you you want to cry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hippy Shake Fiasco

Ruthie shaking it to the left when she should have been shaking it to the right

So what has the whole HIPs fiasco actually cost so far? Remember the "government" has been trying to introduce them ever since they were first elected in 1997 (see timeline here).
As per, we haven't been told. £10m? £50m? £500m? We have absolutely no idea.
We do know it has cost all those poor fools who trained as HIPs inspectors up to £250m of their own money. Only to watch as the government abandoned the actual home inspection part of the HIP under heavy stiletto fire from the redoubtable Kirstie (see here).
And we know that hundreds of people- probably the same ones- are now spending let's say a further £250m training to do the EU energy reports (which were't even in the pack as originally mooted a decade ago).
So costs to taxpayers? We're guessing the same again- £500m.
Once again we see a half-baked... well, no, "half-baked" does an injustice to those fine boil-in-the-bag baguettes you can buy from Cost Cutter... half-witted policy idea, which nobody apart from those anti-market statists at Which? ever wanted in the first place, and which was never even slightly evaluated in terms of quantified costs and benefits.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grammar School Entrance Test

Candidates have from now until the next election to answer all questions

Question 1

A Shadow Education Secretary promises grammar school education by means of streaming and setting inside comprehensive schools. How big would such schools need to be?

Model Answer

Under the old Tripartite System 25% of children got into grammar schools. Once in those schools, they were further streamed and setted according to ability. Since in a typical school there were three such streams, each one contained about 8% of the age group in the overall population. So the comprehensive has to be big enough to allow classes containing no more than 8% of the age group.

Since the average secondary class size today is 21.7, that implies the school needs at least 271 pupils in each year (equals 21.7 x 100/8). Five year groups at 271 each equals 1,355 pupils up to age 16. Assuming one third stay on for two years beyond 16 (the current average), that adds another 180. Which means the overall school size is 1,535.

Answer: 1,535


Question 2

Is that too big?

Model Answer


Consider the independent schools, where it's customers rather than politicians who determine what happens. None are this big. Even Eton, one of the very largest, only has 1,350 boys. And Eton selects its pupils with great care, ensuring that they are all fairly similar- not only proper toffs and rich (fees £26 grand pa), but also, these days, highly able. Indeed these days, it is easier for a camel to lead the Tory Party than for a stupid toff to get into Eton (well, obviously really REALLY blue blood still trumps IQ, but that's only to be expected).

Education is not some technical issue like tractor production, where Big may be Best. All our experience with those bog standard comps surely tells us that 1,000 is already way too big. And it's hardly Soviet rocket science- parents know it in their bones, which of course is why concerned aspirational parents always choose small.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Buying Votes... With Our Money

What have I been telling you!!

The Major is forever telling me that Labour governments always rob the South to pay for the North, because y'see, that's where most of their supporters live. He reckons it's a well-known fact, and Westminster politicos only don't talk about it because they know if it got out, the South East would secede within the week.

The last time I looked at this, I reckoned the Greater South East (the GSE- the London, South East, and East official regions, roughly bounded by an arc from the Wash to the Solent) was losing nearly 10% of its income through fiscal transfers up north. But that was several years ago during the City bonus boosting dotcom bubble, and I've been meaning to update the calcs.

A new piece by David B Smith for the Economic Research Council (sadly not online) makes it a whole lot easier, because he's already crunched most of the numbers for us.

What we need to establish is how much each region pays in tax, against how much it gets back in terms of public spending. The difference represents the fiscal transfer it is either making to, or receiving from, the rest of the country.

Now, it must be admitted, we don't have the data to do this precisely, because for some unfathomable reason the government doesn't publish it. Most of public expenditure is now available on a regional basis, but the only readily accessible regional tax data is for income tax (about 30% of total tax). For the remaining elements of both tax and spend, we must allocate pro rata to regional GDP (which almost certainly understates the contribution of the Greater South East, and overstates the contibutions from elsewhere).

On the expenditure side, Smith's calculations suggest that the GSE is getting about one-third of total public spending (33.7% in 2004-05). But on the tax side, the GSE is paying virtually half of all income tax (47.8% in 2004-05: see here). If we assume it's paying its GDP share (42.1%) of other taxes then its overall tax share comes out at 43.8%.

Applying those percentages to the government's projected tax and spend totals for this year (here) tells us that the GSE will pay over £240bn in tax and other public sector charges, but get back under £200bn in public expenditure. That £44bn shortfall is the fiscal transfer.

Now, the Greater South East's GDP this year is projected to be about £550bn (42.1% of the UK total). So we conclude that the region is still losing an extraordinary 8% of its income to subsidise the rest of the country. Which as we've pointed out before, is much higher than those controversial EU budgetary transfers, and higher even than the reparations the Germans were told to pay at the end of WW1.

As always, the major beneficiary regions include Northern Ireland- where the £6bn pa transfer represents a staggering 25% of GDP (see this blog)- and Scotland, on 15%. In fairness, both those regions might enter special pleas: NI because of its recent political history, and Scotland because our estimate doesn't attribute to them the above average share of oil revenues they claim.

Which means the real shocker is the North East, where no such special pleas apply. It currently pays about £18bn pa in tax, but gets back no less than £28bn pa in public spending. As a percentage of their GDP, that £10bn gap is a whopping 21% subsidy from the rest of us.

David Smith argues that with around 60% of its economy comprising public expenditure, the North East (and Wales) almost qualifies as a communist economy. Which is fine- as long as they pay for it themselves. The trouble is, they're not. Me and the Major are.

Which brings us back to buying votes. Because out of the 30 parliamentary constituencies in the North East, no fewer than 28 returned Labour MPs (including of course, the Dear Leader himself, and Mr Millipede). In Scotland the picture's not so very different, with 40 Westminster Labour MPs out of 59. (see here).

In sharp contrast, the GSE returned only 76 Labour MPs out of 207.

You know, I'm beginning to think the Major's right. The regional votes that keep NuLabour in power are bought and paid for by we poor schmucks in the Greater South East.

But hang on... if that's the case... then shurrely... we can't want that... I mean, wouldn't we all be much better off if we just said so long? Why do we need these regions anyway? What do we get out of the deal?

Uh-uh. We'd better stop there. Major Frobisher's starting to froth again.

Updates From BOM Correspondents

A couple of interesting updates on long-running sagas:

British Council- David Blackie at the Language Business draws attention to the latest outrage from the half-billion pa BC (see BOM's introduction here). The Council has a glossy ad seeking applicants to join its new "executive board". David writes:

"The ad mentions building the “brand”, “global business innovation”, “high return on investment”, “risk management” (a joke this, surely), “corporate strategy” and other bizspeak buzzwords. “This role will drive accountability and short-term delivery through the effective management of the organisation’s portfolio of regional and country-based products and services…” etc."

It's a right old game of Post Offices. With Our Money.

"The ad promises “attractive salaries and benefits”. You bet. A hugely subsidised business with a global unfair competition licence, with a tradition of promoting the incompetent, which is unaccountable, generously funded, with unmatchable job security, which has Establishment backing, tax privileges, provides the opportunity to back your favourite hobbies (and even your own companies), first class travel and sub worldwide, and all that while reporting to a CEO who can’t even answer emails.

Everybody should apply."

We've already dusted off the cv.

Spectrum sales- As you may recall from Gordo's last budget, for the forseeable future further spectrum sales will be a vital part of balancing the dodgy public sector books (see this blog). The problem is all the juicy bits have already been flogged, and after those notorious 3G auctions, buyers are very circumspect.

Now Keith McMahon points out that Ofcom are facing Big Problems agreeing a raft of knotty technical issues with the mobile players (see here). Until they've been resolved there can be no sales. The next auctions have already been put back to 2008.

Keith will be watching closely, and we can follow developments at

Sunday, May 20, 2007

PFI Land Giveaway

Easy boys! There's plenty of taxpayers' land to go round

We've blogged the poor value taxpayers have had from Gordo's PFI spending splurge many times (see here for BOM primer). Now we learn of a fresh problem, which may cost us further hundreds of millions.

Because it now turns out that our Simple Shopper has given away highly valuable rights over the land on which some of those shiny new hospitals and other projects stand.

In at least five of the early hospital PFIs, the private sector supplying company was granted a lease over the land extending way beyond the end of the PFI contract period, in some case by nearly a century. Which means that in certain, entirely plausible circumstances, at the end of the contract period, the PFI company could demolish the hospital and build new homes- much MUCH more valuable.

This is not at all what we've been repeatedly told by the Commissars, which is that at the end of the PFI contract period, the asset always becomes taxpayers' property. So what on earth's going on?

As per, it seems the Shopper was snakeoiled. He was led to believe that private sector operators would only be interested in bidding if they could help themselves to the farm. According to a senior PFI lawyer involved in some of these very deals:

"The leases sweetened the deals, helping to get bidders on board."

Sweetened. That's the word.
Anything else? Ah yes. According to our lawyer:

"[The extended leases] showed that the private sector had some real interest in the project, which facilitated off-balance sheet treatment.”

In other words, giving away the leases helped Gordo get the PFI liabilities excluded from his Golden Rule debt figures.

So a win-win.

Assuming you're not a taxpayer, that is. Because our lawyer reckons we will "need to pay up" if we want those leases back.

We don't like the sound of that at all.

PS The dependable Liam Halligan has a useful PFI piece here, commenting on the refinancing scandal we blogged last week . Like BOM, he also reckons PFI providers have had a cushy ride at taxpayers expense, and concludes:

"Over the coming decades, PFI will become a truly international business. And given that London is the global centre of PFI investment and expertise, calls to impose restrictions on any aspect of the business, including equity sales, will be fiercely resisted.

And as long as PFI allows ministers to carry on being photographed opening new schools and hospitals - while passing the bill onto future generations - the industry will continue to get its way."

Sounds about right. Unless that is, we can somehow force our politicos to remodel our public services along the insurance/voucher basis advocated by Reform etc. Because then we'll be doing our own shopping.

Recent Bonfires 65

In the news this week:

£15,000 for Prescott farewell boonie- "John Prescott is to visit Barbados on a "farewell tour" as Deputy Prime Minister. The trip – which will cost the taxpayer up to £15,000 – is billed as marking the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade. Yet it will be seen as little more than a final sunshine break for the gaffe-prone Mr Prescott who has been accused of enjoying the high life at public expense. As with previous world trips, Mr Prescott is likely to travel first class and stay in a five-star hotel with his advisers." (Mail 19.5.07)

£300m pa wasted on drugs- "GPs are wasting more than £300m a year by prescribing drugs to NHS patients in England which are never used and choosing branded medicines over cheaper generic alternatives, parliament's spending watchdog says today in a report to MPs. The National Audit Office found some doctors overprescribe, allowing patients with long-term conditions to build up stockpiles of medicines. In other cases, patients failed to collect drugs dispensed by pharmacies or refused to take them after they got home." (Guardian 18.5.07)

£93,000 on yet more rebranding- "The Children's Commissioner has been criticised for spending £93,000 of taxpayers' money on a rebranding exercise. Opponents say the new name - 11 Million - is meaningless and money which should have been spent helping children has been wasted. Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who was appointed two years ago to head the newly created Office of the Children's Commissioner, hired PR firm The Team to create the new identity... In 2001, The Team was paid £110,000 for designing the Government's ten-year strategy on education document, at a cost of around £537 per page." ( Mail on Sunday 20.5.07)

HIPS to cost £4.7bn- "The true cost of Home Information Packs (HIPs) will be massively more than the Government's estimate, according to research. What homeowners will have to spend on them has been underestimated while official predictions of savings on their energy bills have been wildly optimistic, the study found. In reality, the packs will cost home owners at least £337 million a year more than any savings they encourage, the researchers calculate. The difference is four times what the Government estimated and represents a total cost to the country of £4.7 billion by 2020." (Sunday Telegraph 20.5.07)

Total for week- £5,000,108,000

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Real Disgrace Of Secondary Moderns

As promised, Tyler took himself off to the LSE library last week in an attempt to uncover the facts about the underfunding of our old secondary modern schools.

The reason it still matters today, half a century on, is that it was the failure of secondary moderns that did for the Tripartite System. It was their failure that allowed the dire Wilson government to sweep away most of our grammar schools in favour of their bog standard low performance social engineering factories. And it was their failure that still reverberates down the years, poisoning any serious discussion of academic selection in today's state schools.

As you may possibly have gathered, on BOM we always follow the money. And it has long been our view that the key reason many secondary moderns failed was not some fundamental flaw in the concept of different schools for different aptitudes, but the simple fact that they were grossly underfunded. Despite having many more challenging kids than the grammars, they got much less money. The dice were loaded right from the start.

But getting the facts has proved difficult. The one estimate we've previously quoted is shocking- according to Correlli Barnett's Audit of War (repeated in Nick Timmins' Five Giants), secondary moderns only got around one-third of the resources for grammars. Could that possibly be right? Unfortunately, neither Barnett nor Timmins give any supporting data.

So off to the LSE.

The full account of my research is set out in the footnote below, but in summary, it's clear that secondary moderns were starved of resources at all levels.

Their buildings and facilities were generally old and unsuitable- many of the inner city ones being housed in decrepit elementary schools built by the Victorians. In contrast, many of the grammars had purpose built facilities, even with their own sports fields. More importantly, at a time of national teacher shortage, the operation of national teacher salary scales prevented secondary moderns paying their staff nearly as well as grammars (see footnotes). And the inevitable result of a 20-40% pay shortfall was poor quality staff and high turnover.

That much was evident at the time from a whole series of documents, including for example the influential 1963 Newsom Report, Half Our Future. But instead of tackling that specific funding problem, the Wilson government took their ideologically preferred route of chucking all schools into the same pot.

I had hoped to go further, to express all this in simple money terms, as a per capita funding gap. But sadly I'd reckoned without the arcane way in which education was organised. Funding was not just split between central government and local authorities, but also between items managed in cash terms (mainly books and paperclips), and items managed in quantitative "funny money" terms (including teachers and new buildings). That meant the schools had very little control over their total cash budgets as such, and certainly there was no concept of per capita funding to be spent as the school thought fit.

As a result, and extraordinary though it may seem, the contemporary policy debate never actually crystalised the issue of relative funding at all. In sharp contrast to all the political and philosophical knockabout, when it came to grubby details like money, nobody seemed to have a clue.

Still, the bottom line is clear. There was a significant funding gap between secondary moderns and grammars. Barnett's 3-to-1 may be slightly over-egging it, but even if it's "only" a more likely 1.5 or 2-to-1, that's still a massive gap.

Secondary Moderns never had a chance. Indeed, according to Nick Timmins in The Five Giants, right from the Butler Education Act in 1944, Whitehall's Education Commissars deliberately concentrated funding on grammar schools because they believed it was a better use of scarce national resources. Because of course, Whitehall knew best.

But yet another failure of state planning is nothing to do with the concept of academic selection. Underfunding is something we could fix. Something we could and should put right as we edge ever so gingerly towards the new diversity of voucher based school choice.


WARNING- this is a lengthy footnote with unexpurgated descriptions of dusty old official papers; those of a sensitive disposition may wish to avert their gaze.

As we've blogged previously, one widely trailed estimate of seconadry modern funding is that they got only around one-third of the funding of grammars (see here). In an attempt to pin down the facts, we've spent a few hours in the LSE's excellent library trawling through various dusty old education policy documents.

We started with the highly influential 1963 Newsom Report, Half Our Future. Newsom's brief was "to consider the education between the ages of 13 and 16 of pupils of average or less than average ability". And its overwhelming conclusion was that most secondary modern schools were failing catastrophically. There were a host of problems, including poor teaching, high staff turnover, poor accommodation, and bored disengaged pupils, especially in "slum areas". Something clearly had to change.

Funding? Ah. Apparently it was easier to enumerate the problems than it was to find solutions, and funding didn't really feature. Indeed, all Newsom came up with as its top three policy recommendations were, first, to raise the school leaving age from 15 to 16 (like that was going to make things better?), second, to do yet more research into better "teaching techniques", and third to set up an "inter-departmental working group"- no, honestly- to "deal with social problems in slum areas".

Now you'd think that such a report would have thoroughly investigated the funding of different types of secondary provision, wouldn't you? Given the importance of good teachers, surely anyone would wonder if money was an issue. But amazingly, on that the main Report is vitually silent. Plenty of handwringing about poor school facilities, and heart-wrenching quotes from JB Priestley, George Elliot, Charles Dickens etc, but no real focus on grubby details like money. You'd almost think it had been written by a bunch of armchair liberal education theorists who just wanted the world to be a better place. Somehow.

So even though Newsom was a key building block in the case for comprehensivisation (what a very beautiful Stalinist word that is), it sheds no light whatsoever on relative funding levels. Then as now, it seems, the foundations of state education policy were made entirely of sand.

But luckily, nestled in the LSE dust right next to Newsom, is another document that does set out in pounds, shillings, and pence, a Pretty Big Clue as to why so many Sec Mods were so bad. It's called The Scales of Salaries for Teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools, England and Wales 1963. Known as the Burnham agreement, it was thrashed out annually in a giant smoke-filled room by no fewer than 56 representatives of the local authority employers and the unions (can you imagine just how much smoke that would have involved).

And there we discover a simple truth: secondary moderns couldn't pay their teachers nearly as well as grammar schools did.

Classroom teachers across all state schools were paid according to their position on a set of incremental scales, position being determined by three main components: first, academic qualifications, with “Good Honours Graduates” (ie a first or second class honours degree from a traditional university) being paid most; second, experience; and third, whether they held a “Scale Post”.

As a teacher you couldn't do much about your qualifications or your experience. But you could chase a scale post, worth 10-20% of your salary.

So how were these scale posts allocated? Pupil numbers? No. Each school's allocation (and also the salary scale for its Head and Deputy) was determined not on the basis of straightforward pupil numbers, but on the basis of the school’s “Unit Total”. And the units were weighted according to pupil age. Take a look at the weighting scale:
  • 11-13 year old – 1 unit
  • 13-15 year old – 2 units
  • 15-16 year old – 4 units
  • 16-17 year old – 6 units
  • 17 and over – 10 units

What it meant was that typical secondary moderns, with virtually all their pupils leaving at 15, got hardly any units compared to grammars, where many pupils stayed on to 18.

Consider two schools, each with 700 pupils. The secondary modern would have got a unit total of around 1050 (equals 350 11-13 year olds at 1 unit each, plus 350 13-15 year olds at 2 units each). But, depending on exactly how many of its pupils stayed on for A levels (certainly the vast majority at my school), the grammar might easily have got 2,500- well over twice as much. Put another way, the average secondary modern pupil was worth about 1.5 units, whereas the average grammar pupil was worth around 3.5.

So the grammars got the units, and their teachers got the scale posts. No wonder grammars attracted the best teachers, and since most of them were also "good honours graduates", their salaries were doubly boosted. The most a typical non-graduate sec modern teacher without a scale post could earn was £1,310 pa, whereas his good honours grad grammar school counterpart with a Scale III post could earn up to £1,810 pa - 40% more.

And on top of that, grammar heads and deputies were also substantially better paid because their schools had higher unit totals.

Thus were the salary dice firmly loaded against the secondary moderns, made worse by the fact that in Baby Boom Britain, there was a serious national shortage of teachers. Whitehall's teacher training plans had broken down.

Darkness Returns To Slime Pit

Never EVER shake their hands

Even by their own dismal standards, yesterday's vote by MPs to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information legislation plumbs new depths.

For future reference, there's a useful teeth-grinding list of those who voted for it here. They include 20 government ministers, and some dear old friends of BOM:

Just in case we somehow forget, let's remind ourselves that these appalling people are supposed to be working for us, and are supposed to be supplying us with a "service". Indeed, they even claim to need the exemption so they can "serve" us better.

And we pay for that service. Big Time. As we blogged here, when you add up all the various perks and incidentals (like say those scandalous pension arrangements) , the cost of the Commons is running at around £0.5 billion pa.

Now, in any normal customer-supplier relationship, the customer rules. But not with our MPs. Despite ths fact that most are there on the votes of well under half of their constituency electorates (40% of electors can't even bear to vote for anybody), they carry on as if they rule the customers.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, rightly says:
"The MPs who voted in favour of this self-serving and hypocritical Bill should be hanging their heads in shame."
If only shame was something these people could actually feel.
Yet another reason why we need to get them out of our lives.