“£600m underspend on tax-free childcare to return to Treasury”

“Labour has accused the government of failing to support hard-pressed families after it emerged that a £600m underspend on its tax-free childcare (TFC) scheme is to be returned to the Treasury.

The underspend on the troubled programme was uncovered by Labour analysis of data from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which showed that spending on TFC is projected to be £600m lower than expected over the next four years.

The TFC scheme has been struggling to improve levels of uptake among families. Earlier warnings from the OBR said the programme had helped less than 10% of the families originally predicted, and spending in the first year was just 5% of initial forecasts.

Instead of reallocating the £600m to support other childcare policies, however, the Conservatives said the leftover funds would go back to government, prompting fury from those working in the early years sector.

Childcare providers say they are struggling to try to deliver the Conservatives’ 30-hour free childcare promise to working parents. They say the Tories’ flagship policy is underfunded and poses a risk to the financial sustainability of early years providers.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, called on the government to re-invest the leftover funds.

“Given that childcare providers across the country have long been crying out for additional funding, the suggestion that government underspend on the tax-free childcare scheme is to be returned to the Treasury rather than used to support a sector in crisis beggars belief,” he said.

“Such a decision suggests that pre-schools, nurseries and childminders are being left to struggle not because the government simply doesn’t have the money for additional investment, but rather because it doesn’t believe that there is a true need for it in the childcare sector.”

The underspend confirms that uptake of tax-free childcare remains way below government projections, either because parents don’t understand their entitlement or they’re choosing not to take it up. …”


Another council in trouble: East Sussex

Owl says: it makes you wonder how many other councils are sailing close to the wind and fast apperoaching the rocks.

But didn’t the Chancellor tell us last week that austerity is over?

“A cash-strapped council has warned it will not be able to afford to provide basic services unless it receives more government money.

Conservative-led East Sussex County Council (ESCC) said it needed to save more than £45m by 2021-22.

In its Core Offer document the council sets out a list of services it could provide as a “bare minimum”.

However, the chief executive said it was “unlikely” that even this reduced level of services could be sustained.

In August, ESCC set out plans to strip back services to the “legal minimum”, following fellow Tory-run Northamptonshire County Council’s proposed “radical service reductions” to tackle its financial crisis.

The Core Offer would result in cuts to training for social workers and doing less preventative work, saving £854,000.

Another £1.3m could be saved by doing less monitoring of school performances, the document added.

The council also said more than £500,000 could be saved by cutting library services and £884,000 cut from the road maintenance budget.


By Ben Weisz, BBC Sussex

A “basic but decent” offer – that’s how the council leader Keith Glazier sees the Core Offer document, setting out East Sussex County Council’s view of the bare minimum it should provide to residents.

It combines those services the council must provide by law – like free bus passes, or adult social care – with other services the council feels it couldn’t do without.

And it sets out what the council would axe, too. So, no more funding for meals on wheels, more cuts to libraries and tips, and fewer families getting early help from social services.

This “bare minimum” would save the council £12m each year.

But unless there’s a big change to its financial situation, rising demand for its services and falling government grant means it needs to save £46m by 2022. Even the core offer isn’t affordable, as things stand.

Yes, it’s a way of asking residents what the council’s priorities should be. But it’s also a political statement, aimed squarely at the government.

The message is simple: “We won’t even be able to afford the bare minimum in a year or two. So either give us more money, or let us off some of our legal duties.”

Becky Shaw, the council’s chief executive, said: “The Core Offer will help us in our lobbying with government to set out the realistic level of funding we need to continue to serve local people adequately.

“The council is using its best endeavours to live within its means and is continuing to work to make sure it is making the best use of resources.

“It remains unlikely, however, that even the Core Offer will be sustainable by the end of the next three year planning period.”

The council said the document would form part of public consultation into the authority’s spending plans.

Council leader Keith Glazier said: “We’d all like to provide more than a core service because none of us came into politics to make cuts, but this proposal is presented as a realistic ambition in a time of austerity.

“We have a budget to deliver and we have to make best use of that. This is not about budget setting.”

The proposals are due to be discussed by the council’s full cabinet on 13 November and will be used to develop the budget for the next three years, a council spokesman said.”


“Headteacher acclaimed by Tories is banned from teaching”

“The headteacher of a high profile multi-academy trust, which won plaudits from former prime minister David Cameron and his then education secretary Michael Gove, has been banned from teaching indefinitely.

Liam Nolan, who was executive headteacher and chief executive of the now defunct Perry Beeches academy trust in Birmingham, was found guilty of “unacceptable professional conduct” after a hearing before the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA).

Acknowledging Nolan’s contribution to the teaching profession, the TRA report said he should be allowed to apply to have the prohibition order lifted after a minimum two-year period, which would give him time to “reflect on his failings”.

The prohibition order against Nolan is the latest chapter in the demise of the Perry Beeches academy chain, which was stripped of its five schools after an investigation revealed financial irregularities at the trust, including third-party payments to Nolan, on top of his £120,000 salary as executive headteacher.

The Education Funding Agency investigation found nearly £1.3m in payments without contracts to a third-party supplier, a private company called Nexus. That company also subcontracted to a company named Liam Nolan Ltd, paying Nolan a second salary for his role as chief executive officer of the trust.

At the time, critics of the government’s academies policy, which takes schools out of local authority control, said the case should ring alarm bells over the accountability and financial management of academy chains and the government’s ability to police the system.

The TRA hearing found that Nolan failed to comply with recognised procedures and principles in relation to management of public funds and was in breach of the academies’ financial handbook, which sets out the financial management, control and reporting requirements for all academy trusts.

“Mr Nolan stated in his evidence that he was under pressure in developing the Perry Beeches schools and that it was against this background that he made what he described as mistakes,” the TRA report said. “However, the panel was not convinced this justified his lack of integrity in managing public finances. Although Mr Nolan apologised for some of his failings as accounting officer, there did not appear to be sufficient insight into the seriousness of those failings or his responsibility in that post.”

Cameron opened one of Perry Beeches’ new free schools in 2013, when the then prime minister praised the “brilliant team” at the trust. In 2012, Nolan addressed the Conservative party conference and appeared on stage with the then education secretary Michael Gove, who described Nolan as “wonderful”.


“Bus firms pay fat cats £1.5 BILLION – while prices go up 55% and routes are axed”

“Bus firms have paid shareholders £1.5billion in dividends in the past 10 years, while fares have soared and services have been axed.

Fares have gone up 55% on average since 2008, far outstripping pay growth. Some passengers have even been hit by increases of 100% and bus use is at a 12-year low.

Arriva, FirstGroup, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach carry 70% of all bus passengers and have paid an average £149million a year in dividends in the past 10 years.

The most recent company records show they paid out dividends amounting to £48,077,200 from profits in the South East, £23,521,200 in the North East, £18,460,700 in the North West, £13,767,700 in the Midlands and £27,309,700 in London.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: “Our bus networks are being bled dry by greedy private operators. Labour will bring buses under public control and ownership in order to reverse bus cuts rather than fill the pockets of shareholders.

“It is an outrage that bus companies enjoy colossal profits as thousands of routes are cut or withdrawn. The bus network has shrunk to its smallest size in decades and passenger numbers are plummeting.

“A combination of privatisation and Tory cuts is killing local bus services.

“Labour would enhance and expand bus services, including providing free travel to under-25s.”

The research by campaign group Better Buses for Greater Manchester also found bus journeys had fallen by 40% in urban areas since the deregulation of services by the Tories 32 years ago.

In London, where deregulation did not apply, passenger journeys on the franchised network have doubled and bus companies’ profits are around 4%, compared to 8% in cities where services are deregulated.

The Better Buses for Greater Manchester findings are revealed as a campaign is launched today urging Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to re-regulate services, bringing buses under public control.

Pascale Robinson, of Better Buses for Greater Manchester, said: “The deregulation we have now means bus companies just run the routes they want to at a whim. They can charge what they like.

“This means the big five bus companies are cherry-picking the profitable routes, making a killing, and it is us in Greater Manchester who suffer infrequent, unreliable and expensive buses.”

Greater Manchester is one of the first cities to consider re-regulating its bus network, which would give the mayor the choice to put the public in control instead of the big firms.

Ms Robinson said: “By this method bus firms are given controlled contracts to run the services we need, services which are reliable and affordable.

“We call on Mr Burnham to be bold and give us the bus network we deserve. We can’t keep letting these companies run a Wild West, charging through the roof for a patchy service.

“For every pound of dividend given to shareholders in London, 82 journeys were taken. Elsewhere across the country, where buses are mostly deregulated except for a few small pockets, it was just under 20.”

In Greater Manchester, passengers have complained that changes to the 372 Hazel Grove-Stockport service means taking two different buses to do the same journey, which used to pass by the hospital.

They now need a £4.50 “day rider” ticket, adding £1 to each journey.

This summer the Mirror revealed how mum-of-nine Gemma Headley, 36, of Driffield, East Yorks, had to walk seven miles to get her daughters to infant school because of bus cuts. Department for Transport figures show the number of bus routes at a 28-year low.

The bus network has shrunk by 8% in the last decade. Since 2010, the Tories have almost halved funding for bus services in England and 3,347 routes have been axed or reduced.

Experts say investing in bus travel would bring benefits as people return to towns and cities to spend their money.

An analysis for Greener Journeys by auditors KPMG LLP shows that targeted investment to improve bus services would typically generate £3.32 of net economic benefit for each £1 spent.

Steve Chambers, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ”Across the country we are seeing the alarming impact this is having on communities, especially in rural areas, as people are being left isolated and unable to get to work, get to the shops, visit friends or access vital public services.

“The loss of bus services also has an adverse effect on congestion and air pollution as more people turn to cars, jamming up already congested roads.”

Mirror reader and retired lorry driver Michael Palmer, 74, tells how a half-hourly service from his home in the North Fitzwarren, Somerset, to Taunton, is now every two hours, finishing too early for workers returning home.

He said: “We are living in the 21st century, this is England, we should have the best public transport service in the world. Where did it all go wrong?”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We provide around £250million every year to support bus services and a further £1billion to support older and disabled people using the free bus pass scheme.”

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, which represents bus and coach operators, said the dividends paid were outweighed by investment, with Stagecoach investing £1billion on around 7, 000 new buses in 10 years.

How bus prices have risen over a decade…

All prices are for day tickets except London.

2008 – £3.30
2018 – £6.70
A 103% increase

2008 – £3.50
2018 – £5.20
A 49% increase

2008 – £3.30
2018 – £5.60
A 70% increase

2008 – £2.60
2018 – £5.20
A 100% increase

2008 – £3.20
2018 – £4.20
A 31% increase

(All day)
2008 – £8.20
2018 – £12
A 46% increase

2008 – £2.20
2018 – £4.50
A 105% increase

2008 – £3
2018 – £4.80
A 60% increase

2008 – £3.00
2018 – £4
A 33% increase

(No day tripper anymore)
Single journey 2008 – 90p
Single journey 2018 – £1.50
A 66% increase

Why ‘On the Buses’ loses comedic fun to big fares
By Paul Routledge

Maggie Thatcher may not, as legend says, have sneered that “any man over 26 who finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure”. As an inveterate user of public transport, I’m happy to be seen as a failure.

The bus is a traditional part of the British way of life. It’s a place for gossip, getting to the shops, the hospital and to see friends, a moving theatre of society.

No wonder On The Buses was so popular. The soap played to our affection for the bus. “Sit at the back for a longer ride!”

But it’s getting harder and harder. Thatcher’s deregulation and privatisation of the industry was a failure for would-be travellers of any age.

It brought fewer routes and higher fares – with profits and subsidies creamed off for investors, many of them foreign.

I hear grumbles galore from fellow passengers about late and cancelled services. But it’s not the crews’ fault that the system isn’t working.

The sell-off brought redundancies. The clippie went out with cost-saving one-man operation. Drivers face exhausting schedules.

The Tories cut local government funding, so councils slashed subsidies to the companies, who take it out on the passenger.

We’ve waited too long at the bus stop for an end to this rip-off.”