“Big Society” a big failure says Parliamentary Committee: £1 billion plus wasted

Owl says: Vanity projects – imagine how much we could spend on necessities if they were all abandoned! Hinkley C, HS2, the Big Society, EDDC relocation, Exmouth “regeneration”, Devon and Somerset devolution …!

“A publicly funded £1bn “big society” project set up by former prime minister David Cameron to restore values of responsibility and discipline among young people has been criticised by MPs for lax spending controls and poor management.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said the National Citizen Service (NCS) trust lacked appropriate governance arrangements, could not justify its high costs, and was unable to prove whether its courses had any long-term impact on youngsters.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “We urge the trust and central government to review fundamentally the way NCS is delivered and its benefits measured before more public money is committed in the programme’s next commissioning round.”

MPs said that the scheme – which has received £600m in government funding since 2011 and stands to get another £900m investment over the next two years – should be “fundamentally reviewed” by ministers.

Hillier said although there was some evidence the scheme had a short-term positive impact on participants this did not in itself justify the high level of public spending on the programme, nor demonstrate that it would deliver the proposed benefits.

The PAC report criticised the trust for refusing to disclose directors’ salaries, and accused it of a “lack of discipline” after failing to recover £10m paid to providers for unfilled places. It concluded that it was unclear whether the trust management had the necessary skills and experience to run the scheme. …”


“Ministers can no longer ignore protests over the school funding crisis”

” … The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that by 2020 funding per pupil will have been cut in real terms by 6.5% for schools, and 16-18 education will be at a similar level in real terms to that 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, the costs of employing staff – usually something like 80% of the outgoings of a school or college – are growing because of increases in employer contributions to national insurance and pensions, plus pay increases for which there has been no additional funding from government.

The government is going to find that ignoring this issue is not going to make it go away as voices of protest become louder. Suddenly places that rarely made the headlines – east Cheshire, West Sussex – are in the news, with headteachers, governors and, increasingly, parents are all warning children’s education will be damaged unless funding is found.

The budget could have addressed the educational needs of the many over the few. Instead, what we got was an announcement about building new free schools at a time when schools are having to make £3bn of savings.

Cuts could mean schools close early two days a week, say teachers
There is already a need for some 284,000 new secondary places by 2020. It is therefore essential that any new schools are built in areas where places are needed, rather than creating deliberate surpluses, as has often been the case with free schools. Unless new schools directly help communities that lack school places, then parents and other taxpayers are going to see this as a shocking waste of public money. …

… As I know from my 15 years as a headteacher, always working with specialist business managers, saving, say, £150,000 in your budget in a year, cannot be achieved by deferring new textbooks or leaving the maths block unpainted.

Instead schools will have to increase class sizes in order to maximise the number of students being taught by the minimum number of teachers. They will limit courses at GCSE and sixth-form level to reduce the number of teachers needed. They will even have to contemplate cutting staff time for preparation, marking and planning.

Cuts, cuts, cuts. Headteachers tell of school system ‘that could implode’
This growing crisis comes on the watch of a prime minister and secretary of state for education who talk a lot about social mobility and have identified education as the engine room of national progress. Yet it is disadvantaged students and schools in fragile communities that are likely to be hardest hit by funding reductions that this budget has not addressed.

These are the schools where parent teacher associations are least likely to be able to contribute to funds, where budgets are already being disproportionately used to bring in expensive supply staff from agencies, where decisions not to upgrade facilities simply intensify the social gap between the haves and have-nots.

Many school leaders already serve as the social glue that helps hold together such communities. Now those leaders are saying that on behalf of the children, parents and governors more funding must be found – for all our schools, not just for pet projects.

This is a government that speaks loftily of social justice. In the budget it had one parliament-defining opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. Instead we witnessed the triumph of dogma over evidence.”

(Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds. He was elected general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders in February 2017)


Health trusts and impossible performance targets

“The QC who carried out a review of failures at the Mid Staffs Hospital five years ago says that a similar collapse is ‘inevitable’ under current circumstances where some health trusts are accepting impossible performance targets.

In an interview with Shaun Lintern for the Health Service Journal, Robert Francis QC warned of a “a real danger of a relapse” unless the present NHS leadership continue to focus on the lessons learned in Staffordshire.

The QC described a repetition of the same problems as “inevitable” in cases where financial stress is combined with unrealistic targets. He said: “If you look at the number of trusts who are not only in deficit but won’t agree their control targets, the fact some are not agreeing their control targets is good because it means they are saying we can’t actually do that and carry on the service you want us to provide.

But there will be those that have said ‘yes’ when they actually can’t do it. Absolutely yes, that is a danger. …”


Information Commissioner v Exeter City Council re business case adjourned

This case has direct ramifications for Exmouth regeneration and Knowle relocation.

“… The lengthy hearing, held independently of the government at Exeter Magistrates’ Court from 10am, was attended by members of the public, city councillor’s and members of the council. It continued into the afternoon with closed sessions which discussed the information in question.

The Information Tribunal was adjourned pending further information to an, as yet, unspecified date after the Judge heard in-part from both sides.

The appellant, Exeter City Council, is battling against the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should publish the details for the business case for the £27 million leisure complex development on the site of the current Bus and Coach Station.

Joined Party, Exeter resident Peter Cleasby, had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the details last year, so it could be open to wider scrutiny before contracts were signed. The Council refused on grounds of commercial confidentiality, and Mr Cleasby complained about its refusal to the Information Commissioner.

The Commissioner ordered key information in the business case to be made public, but the council appealed against the Commissioner’s decision. Peter Cleasby added: “Wider scrutiny and challenge of the business case assumptions is vital.”

Before the hearing, a city council spokesman said: “The Council will make its case before the Tribunal. It would be inappropriate to comment further ahead of the hearing.” The council say they are unlikely to comment until a decision is made in the coming weeks.

The development of St Sidwell’s Point has been put on hold because the council has not appointed a contractor. An Extraordinary Meeting of the Council, to direct questions about the delay, will be held at Exeter Guildhall at 6pm on Tuesday. March 21 – after being called in by political opposition.”