Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good enough for you, but not for the Benns

Comment from Peter Hitchens

The great infuriating unpunished scandal of socialist school hypocrisy never ceases. They take for themselves what they deny to others, just like the old Kremlin Politburo. And they have no shame about it. The late Caroline Benn, wife of Tony, was the most fervent campaigner for comprehensive schools in Britain. Mr Benn - consistent with his principles - withdrew his two sons from their private school to send them to a comprehensive. One of those sons, Stephen, then tried to become a Labour councillor and worked for the fanatically egalitarian Inner London Education Authority.

He married Nita Clarke, another career Leftist (one-time Press officer for Glenys Kinnock, later a Blair adviser at Downing Street). Now we find that their 18-year-old daughter, Emily, has been attending... selective grammar schools. These are the schools her family opposed for decades. Labour still hates them so much that its last Education Act (backed by the Useless Tories) banned the creation of any more.

Apparently unbothered by this ridiculous contrast between her private advantage and her public views, Emily Benn is now trying to become a Labour MP. `I care more about the people that aren't in grammar schools,' she trills. I bet she does.


Labour 'has failed state pupils' despite investing billions of pounds in schools

Billions of pounds spent on state schools has failed to give parents greater choice over their children's education, a report claimed today. Instead of funding new school places, ministers have spent the money propping up under-performing primaries and secondaries. Despite Labour promises to harness 'parent power' to drive up standards, places at good schools are decided by rigid catchment areas and admissions lotteries, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Many pupils are forced to accept the schools they are given because the Government allows councils to maintain only tiny numbers of spare places. And this lack of competition for places has allowed poorer schools to survive.

The damning verdict emerged as ministers prepare to unveil a blueprint to force the country's 638 lowest-performing schools to shape up or face closure. Some schools face immediate intervention amid concerns they have been allowed to fail for too long. The IFS researchers found the schools budget exceeded 40billion pounds in 2006-07 - up from less than 30billion in 1998-99. But billions have been channelled into keeping open poorly performing schools, while a 9billion school refurbishment fund will be concentrated on existing schools rather than giving new providers a foothold in the education system. Meanwhile only half the extra money intended to help disadvantaged pupils is actually spent on them - 3,670 at primary level against 5,950 allocated. The rest is wasted on bureaucracy or given to schools that are already well-funded.

The report, funded by independent education provider the CfBT Education Trust, says ministers must be prepared to allow surplus places to give parents and pupils a real choice. 'The Government's wish to encourage a diversity of school providers is undermined by a funding regime which, with a view to controlling costs, aims to avoid creating surplus places,' said Neil McIntosh, CfBT chief executive, in a foreword to the report.

The report claims that Tony Blair's vision for increased parental is far from being realised. 'The current system does not live up to the 'school choice' programme enthusiastically described in the 2005 White Paper, in which successful schools expand, new entrants compete with existing providers, and weaker schools either improve their performance or else contract and close,' it says. The report also found that the worst-performing primary schools were still 93 per cent full and the worst secondaries 89 per cent full. 'Schools that are all-but-guaranteed to fill their capacity, facing little or no threat of entry from new providers even if their performance is below the national average, do not face sharp incentives to improve their performance,' it said.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'We have made it easier for anyone, including parents, to set up new schools and by law, local authorities have a duty to encourage new providers to come into the system.


Like a gold coin on a dunghill, the truth about the EU

Comment from Peter Hitchens in Britain

Amid the silly soap opera that now passes for British politics, in which we are supposed to care more about hairstyles and mannerisms than about the country, there was one moment last week when a decent man said something important

The brief flash of truth shone out like a gold coin on a dunghill. The man was Peter Lilley, older and wiser than when he used to sing daft songs to Tory conferences. Mr Lilley looks to me as if, like several others, he is trapped in the Unconservative Party and would blossom like an irrigated desert if only he could escape from it.

Because what he said was important, there have been far too few reports of it. Hansard for Tuesday, June 3, at 3.35pm, will give you the details, if you want them. But his clear, hard message was that 80 per cent of our laws are now made in Brussels, and Parliament has no power to reject or amend them. If you wonder why our Post Offices are all closing, it's thanks to an EU directive. So is the increasingly hated Data Protection Act. So are Home Improvement Packs and fortnightly bin collections. In 15 years' time our Parliament will have only two functions left - to raise taxes and declare war - admittedly things that our current politicians are rather keen on.

Mr Lilley's mischievous suggestion is that MPs' pay should be cut each time they hand over authority to others. Incredibly, many MPs don't know what is going on. If they ended up on the wages paid to district councillors - which is all they really are now - they might care more. His own stark words cannot be improved upon: `Few voters, or even members of this house, fully realise how many powers have been, or are about to be, transferred elsewhere. There are three reasons for this.

'The first is that governments of all persuasions deny that any significant powers are being transferred. The second is that, once powers have been transferred, Ministers engage in a charade of pretence that they still retain those powers. Even when introducing measures that they are obliged to bring in as a result of an EU directive they behave as though the initiative were their own. `Indeed, Ministers often end up nobly accepting responsibility for laws that they actually opposed when they were being negotiated in Brussels.'

So now you know. Not since Dunkirk, 68 years ago, has our national independence been so imperilled. But back then, we could see the danger. Now most of us pretend it isn't there.


British council killjoys warn children of dangers of crabbing - the CRABS get distressed

When fishing for crabs, you'd be silly not to think about health and safety. After all, those pincers could give the unsuspecting finger a nasty surprise. But on the seawalls and quaysides around Wells, North Norfolk, this summer, the welfare concerns are all about the crabs. As the schoolchildren head down to the seashore with their hooks, lines and buckets to see what they can catch, experts say they should pack a leaflet on crustacean care too.

About 10,000 leaflets will be handed out this weekend, following investigations by Cambridge University students, which revealed that overcrowding crabs in buckets could cause stress for the smaller ones and lead to fights.

Fishermen say children are sensible enough to work this out for themselves - and don't believe the leaflets are necessary. But nature organisations say the creatures' welfare is a real concern. The guide explains to youngsters how to look after any captives without causing them undue distress. Instructions include:

* Keeping only ten crabs or fewer in a bucket at a time;

* Holding the captives in seawater - and changing the water every hour;

* Making sure your bucket isn't in direct sunlight.

Graduate Will Pearse explained: 'We are not saying people shouldn't go crabbing, which is fun. But there are concerns at the way in which they are treated. We want people to learn about crabs and understand their captive needs. If you are going to spend the day with something that is naturally beautiful then show it some respect.

'One of the main problems is that people put too many crabs in a bucket which results in some at the bottom asphyxiating through lack of oxygen in the water and males damaging each other in fights. In the sea males grapple with each other and the weaker one retreats. But they cannot run away in a bucket and keep fighting, leading to limbs being torn off or shed as a defence mechanism.'

However, local fishermen were not won over. John Davies, of Wells, said: 'Caring for crabs is a good message to send out, but this could be a little over the top. 'The crabs the youngsters catch are tiny and much more resilient than the edible ones we catch. Shore crabs are pretty indestructible. And I think most children look after them well. Youngsters get hours of fun out of it.'

Mike Richards, 44, of Cromer, Norfolk, said: 'Kids who catch crabs with a hook and line are generally pretty sensible and don't overcrowd or boil the crabs alive in the sun so this leaflet is a waste of time.'

Fifty miles along the coast, at Walberswick, Suffolk, the organisers of the British Open Crabbing Championships were quite taken aback by the guidance. David Webb said: 'It does seem rather extraordinary that they are having to do this. They must treat crabs more harshly in Norfolk. 'Here when we hold the championship we insist on a maximum of two crabs in a bucket.' Last year's winner, Oscar Kane, eight, from Kent, caught a crab of almost 6oz.

The leaflets, paid for by the Norfolk Coast Partnership and the Wells Fields Study Centre, may ensure the safety of the local crabs. But if you're uneasy about the fate of others, worry not: The scheme may well nip into neighbouring resorts soon.


NHS in England spends 400 pounds less per patient than Scotland as 'health apartheid' widens

Scots have 400 pounds more of taxpayers' money per head for health and social care than the English. Official figures showed yesterday that the difference between NHS and social spending on the two sides of the border means everyone in Scotland has 20 per cent extra. This means Scots have more hospital beds, a higher ratio of GPs to patients and more qualified clinical staff in their health service.

The report from the Office for National Statistics said that total expenditure on health and personal social services during 2006-07 in England was 1,915 pounds for each person. In Scotland the figure was 2,313. Scots also have on average 16 per cent more to spend per head on NHS drugs than the English. The cost of their prescription drugs is on average 191.40 a year compared with 164.40 in England.

This form of 'health apartheid' means Scots are routinely prescribed drugs on the NHS that are not available free across the border.

The illustration of the scale of the gap in health spending between England and Scotland was set out in a volume of health statistics published by the Government yesterday. It comes amid growing tension over the way public money is directed towards Scotland. Tory leader David Cameron has promised to tackle the 'West Lothian question', the system that allows Scots MPs to have a say on NHS and social spending in England while English MPs have no equivalent input on Scottish affairs.

Concern has centred on the way that key NHS drugs - to treat conditions such as Alzheimer's and lung cancer - are available on the NHS in Scotland but not in England. The number of hospital beds available for Scottish and English patients is also affected. There were 3.5 daily hospital beds for every 1,000 people in England in 2006, the analysis showed, but 5.6 in Scotland.

The ONS warned that 'comparisons between countries have to be treated with caution because of differences in the classification of services'. However officials confirmed that health and social spending in England in 2006-07 was lower than in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

The publication of the figures triggered calls to correct the imbalance in spending between England and Scotland and for a revision of the Barnett formula. The Barnett formula was the system developed in the 1970s under which Scots received 1,500 pounds a year more each of taxpayers' money to compensate for not getting devolution.

Jill Kirby, of the think-tank Centre for Policy Studies, said: 'These figures confirm that we have a two-tier health system and that the English are on the wrong side of the bargain.


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