Friday, 16 November 2018

Profligate BBC in crisis

Roger Mosey is right to point out that when younger viewers are clearly not being properly catered for is a "particularly bad time for the BBC to be facing a cash crisis" (Off the Air, 9th November). Saying, however, that the corporation "must bear some responsibility for this outcome" verges on understatement, with the decision to retain multiple channels rather than output on demand a costly management error. 
Mosey omits to mention the fact that there have been so many other mistakes made by BBC bosses, from failing to use the year`s notice sensibly prior to the pay declarations, with the publication revealing obvious gender bias, plus the tax avoiding scandal involving the offer of self-employment contracts to highly paid presenters, to its list of well over one hundred managers earning over £150,000 a year. Public sympathy for its financial problems is unlikely, even if some of the blame lies clearly with George Osborne. The co-author of the current austerity programme damaged society in ways far more serious than cause cash problems for our spendthrift broadcasting corporation!
 It is impossible to have years of profligacy with licence fee payers` money, with massive salaries for mostly male presenters and managers, and low pay for production staff, without whom no programmes would be possible, without eventually receiving a "reputational hammering". 

Keynes was right about peace

"Yes" is surely the answer to the question posed by Margaret MacMillan at the start of her excellent article on the Treaty of Versailles (The consequences of Mr Keynes, 2nd November, 2018). The "brilliant, self-assured British economist" was "right", and "all the assembled statesmen" at the 1919 peace conference "wrong". Even in the context of an angry public opinion spurred on by a right-wing press, determined like Geddes to "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked", the Diktat`s punishments of land losses, demilitarisation, "war guilt", Rhineland`s occupation, and excessive reparations appear ridiculously harsh and myopic.
     Keynes`s idea of "getting Germany`s economy going again" should not have been treated with such disdain, especially as only seventeen years earlier the British after the Boer war, despite similar media-induced hysteria, and huge suffering on both sides involving atrocities and concentration camps, imposed the lenient Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902. This not only promised self-government to Transvaal and the Orange Free State, but granted three million pounds from the British to repair damage done to Boer lands. Unsurprisingly, South Africa fought on the British side in the first world war!
     Sadly, as MacMillan intimates, "building lasting peace" seems beyond our politicians, but that doesn`t mean it`s rocket science!

Monday, 12 November 2018

i letter on police chases

Will someone please ask police chiefs what they expect to happen when trained drivers in souped-up police cars start to chase stolen cars driven by youngsters, mostly male, at high speeds through built-up areas (Named, father and baby killed after police chase, 12/11/18)? The risk of a crash has to be phenomenally high, and with it serious injuries or worse. Arresting thieves is important, but not important enough to warrant putting lives at risk, so that arrest targets can be met, and policemen can play at being Steve McQueen in Bullitt!
         How many more innocent lives have to be lost before either police chief constables ban them in their areas, or a politician takes notice and starts campaigning to have them banned nationwide?

Education system in need of reform

Jyoti Wilkinson`s excellent article on the failure of academisation rightly condemned school academies for "lowering the pay of the workforce and increasing the pay of management", but ignored another aspect of their behaviour (Morning Star, 08/11/18). Not only does "one of the government`s favourite academy trusts", the Harris Federation, pay ridiculous salaries, especially to its CEO, it is one of the four chains which have the highest number of 15-16 year olds leaving their schools. According to a report in the Guardian, the three other academy chains are Delta Academies Trust based in Wakefield, London based Aldridge Education, and the Inspiration Trust, based in Norwich.
  These academy chains are "off-rolling", with a view to keeping pupils not expected to do well in GCSEs away from the exam room. The effect is that results look better than they really are, and that academies can claim to be improving education!
  Is this any worse, though, than what most private schools do? In the independent sector schools often do not even enter their pupils for GCSEs and A-levels, preferring iGCSEs and Pre-U exams, both run by Cambridge Assessment. The latter have a very high percentage of grade A*-As awarded, far higher than traditional A-levels, explained by the chief executive by the "above average" cohort.
These exams are taken by mainly privately educated pupils, mostly set and marked by teachers in the independent sector, and not subject to the "additional rules" which Ofqual applies to A-levels. Should they be eligible for university entrance, when the government has gone to great lengths to reform "national qualifications based on content set by the government" - in other words, A-Levels? Cambridge Assessment, unlike all the other awarding bodies, is not even required to compare similar qualifications when setting a grade level to ensure a measure of consistency! 
     It is especially worrying to have such significance attached to these lightly-regulated exams after they were involved in a cheating scandal in the summer of 2017. Chief executive Michael O`Sullivan even admitted to the select committee on education that there has been a "sharp rise in the number of cases of exam malpractice" involving his exam board, rising from 269 in 2013 to 719 in 2017!
  Has our education system ever been in more need of reform?

Friday, 9 November 2018

Guardian letter on tax increases

With “a fifth of workers earning below the £9 national rate set by the Living Wage Foundation”, Polly Toynbee’s ideas for “most of us” to pay more tax need a little tweaking. Depending on universal credit should exclude many households from a higher level of income tax, but those with above-average incomes must pay more.
It makes little sense for those earning £49,000 to be paying the same rate as those on £149,000, nor should those earning £500,000 pay the same as those getting £200,000. The Laffer curve was only created to enable Ronald Reagan to lower taxes so it needs to be discredited, and draconian measures introduced to ensure that the rich, for the first time in our history, pay their fair share. Let’s start with a 90% tax on incomes over £1m.
All tax avoidance should be made a criminal offence, as should giving advice to enable it to take place. And of course, VAT needs to be imposed on private-school fees

Monday, 5 November 2018

Letter on Hammond`s appalling budget

The Tories` utterly despicable budget this week was yet another example of a callous government at work (Morning Star, 30/10/18). Prioritising tax cuts at a time when public services are at breaking point, and giving another billion to "contribute to the Trident nuclear weapon system" are typical Tory responses when the country`s least fortunate have to rely on charitable donations to survive.
   Having nuclear weapons is no defence against terrorism, and can serve no purpose other than to claim Britain is deserving of a "seat at the top table". What about the real necessity, which, yes, is defence, but against the real enemies?
  How much importance does this government attach to defending our children from ignorance? None whatsoever, judging by the massive underfunding of the state sector, and Hammond`s deeply insulting £400m for the "little extras". Meanwhile uncharitable private schools continue to avoid paying 80% of their business rates because of their charitable status!
 Then there`s the defence, urgently needed, against illness and mental health conditions. Does anyone really believe the generous chancellor has given extra funds "with his fanfare announcement of £4 billion" to deal with the crisis, when the truth is that it is a part of the already promised and insufficient £20bn for the NHS?
     More defence is needed to protect the country from tax avoidance and evasion, but this unsurprisingly is ignored. So too is defending the people against exploitation, both from greedy employers who do their utmost to pay workers as little as possible for as many unpleasant hours as possible, whilst pension funds disappear, and from Rachman-like landlords whose abominable behaviour should be penalised with imprisonment.
   There`s more, of course; defence against global warning, against injustices like the rights lost by trade unionists and pensions lost by women born in the 1950s, against homelessness, against monopolies who overcharge and under-invest, and perhaps most importantly of all, against poverty.
How can you claim to be defending the country when ignoring the most important dangers, selling arms to war-mongering nations, and ripping off the people you are meant to serve?

Hammond is not out of touch with education - it`s deliberate!

Labour`s Angela Raynor is right to criticise the chancellor for his failure to inject serious money into the underfunded state school system, but like Andrew Morris of the National Education Union, mistakenly puts the blame on  Hammond being "desperately out of touch" (Headteachers insulted by Hammond`s "nice gesture", 31/10/18).Tories know the situation very well; it was they who so underfunded schools that teachers would have to be either removed and not replaced, or so badly paid recruitment crises would ensue. Even using the contemptuous term, "little extras", reveals how deliberate is this government`s attempt to undermine state education.
   When headteachers are driven to protest, even Tories in their Whitehall bubbles get the message! The truth has to be that this government does not care about state education, otherwise it would take action to end schools having to close early, reduce staffing and cut subjects. A smirking chancellor making "nice gestures" is again taking us for mugs!

Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders is right to criticise the chancellor for his failure to inject serious money into the underfunded state school system, but surely the failure has little to do with Hammond`s "complete misunderstanding" (Schools to get £400m towards "little extras", 30/10/18)? Tories know the situation very well; it was they who so underfunded schools  that teachers would have to be either removed and not replaced, or so badly paid recruitment crises would ensue. Even using the contemptuous term, "little extras", reveals how deliberate is this government`s attempt to undermine state education.
   When headteachers are driven to protest, even Tories known for being out of touch and residing in Whitehall bubbles, notice, and know why; they understand perfectly!