Brexit: Threat to exams and school meals (THAT wasn’t on the bus!)

“Schools may have to close, exams could be disrupted and fresh food for pupils’ meals could run short because of panic buying with prices soaring by up to 20%, according to a secret Department for Education analysis of the risks of a no-deal Brexit obtained by the Observer.

The five-page document – marked “Official Sensitive” and with the instruction “Do Not Circulate” – also raises the possibility of teacher absences caused by travel disruption, citing schools in Kent as particularly at risk.

On the dangers of food shortages to schools, it suggests that informing the public of the risks could make matters even worse.

In a section entitled School Food, it talks of the “risk that communications in this area could spark undue alarm or panic food buying among the general public”.

And it adds: “Warehousing and stockpiling capacity will be more limited in the pre-Xmas period. The department has limited levers to address these risks. We are heavily dependent on the actions of major suppliers and other government departments to ensure continued provision.”

Listing the actions the department would take in the event of food shortages affecting schools, the document says: “In light of any food shortages or price increases we will communicate how schools can interpret the food menu standards flexibly. DfE may make exceptional payments – or submit a prepared bid to HM Treasury for additional funding. Worst case scenario estimate of the increased costs – £40 to £85m a year for schools in relation to free school meal provision based on price increases of 10-20%,p. ….”

Johnson countrywide broadband fibre promise totally unachievable

Owl says: What planet is this man living on? Planet Trump?

“The UK’s telecoms industry has issued the prime minister a challenge of its own after Boris Johnson said he wanted full-fibre broadband “for all” by 2025.

An open letter says the target is possible, but only if the government tackles four problems causing delays.

It adds that all of the issues must be resolved “within the next 12 months” to achieve the high-speed internet goal.

But one expert said at least one of the measures was unachievable in that time frame.

Mr Johnson originally declared his desire to deliver the 100% rollout of fibre-optic broadband to properties across the UK “in five years at the outside” in an article for the Telegraph published before he won the leadership vote.

In it, he described the government’s former target of 2033 as being “laughably unambitious”.

The letter sent to 10 Downing Street lists four policies that the industry says require urgent attention:

Planning reform – at present telecom providers need to get a type of permission known as a “wayleave agreement” to get access to land and buildings to install cables. But in many cases property owners are unresponsive. The industry wants ministers to force landlords to provide access if a tenant has requested a full-fibre or other connection be installed

Fibre tax – the so-called tax refers to the fact that fibre infrastructure currently has business rates applied to it, just like other commercial property. The industry claims this discourages investment and should be rethought

New builds – the government has carried out a consultation into whether new-build home developments must incorporate gigabit-capable internet connections, but has yet to publish its response. In the meantime, the industry says too many new homes are still being developed without provision for fibre broadband

Skills – a large number of engineers will be required to carry out all the work involved. BT and Virgin Media have previously warned that Brexit could result in labour shortages. The industry says more money must be committed to training, and it must also be allowed to continue to “compete for global talent”

“Nationwide full fibre coverage is not a can that can be kicked down the road,” the letter concludes.

“Work needs to start now, and 100% fibre coverage requires a 100% commitment from government.”

The letter has been signed by the chair of the Internet Services Providers Association, the interim chief executive of the Federation of Communication Services and the chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association.

Their members include BT, Openreach, Sky, Gigaclear, CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Virgin Media, Google and Vodafone among many others.

Openreach, which maintains the UK’s digital network infrastructure, said it welcomed the government’s ambition but warned: “Upgrading the entire UK network is a major civil engineering challenge.”

It urged the government to “boost the build” by “creating an environment that encourages greater investment”.

Number 10 referred the BBC to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for comment. …”

“All English councils told to appoint ‘Brexit lead’ ” [funding = £57,000 per council*]

* If all councils given an equal share – except ports of entry will probably get more so other councils will get less.

“English councils have been told to designate a “Brexit lead” to work with central government to prepare for the possibility that the UK will leave the European Union with no deal at the end of October.

But a £20m funding pledge to help authorities step up preparations was immediately described as an “insult”, as the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) was forced to concede that the full amount had already been pledged in previous announcements.

In the new policy announced on Saturday, Robert Jenrick, the recently appointed communities secretary, instructed authorities to appoint staff in every community to plan intensively for Brexit with local stakeholders.

The funding was being made available for communications as well as for recruiting and training new staff, Jenrick said.

Officials were considering how best to allocate the cash to ensure that those areas facing more acute potential stresses, such as ports of entry, get the funding they need. Shared equally, it would amount to about £57,000 for each of England’s 353 councils and combined authorities, according to the Guardian’s calculation.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “The idea that £20m across the 353 main councils of England is enough to prepare is an insult to our intelligence and to the hard work of public servants struggling with the consequences of the government’s decision to force a vicious Brexit on us.”

Criticism intensified after a MHCLG spokeswoman admitted half the pledged funding comes from the chancellor Sajid Javid’s £2.1bn announcement on Thursday. The other half comes from funding announced by the department in January, she added.

“This offers no new money and no new ideas for how to address the cliff-edge councils are facing,” Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, said.

The Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine added: “This extra money is a drop in the ocean for cash-strapped councils desperately concerned about what no-deal Brexit will mean for crucial public services in their areas.”

Councils across the country welcomed the funding but highlighted the shortfall they are already facing.

Kevin Bentley, the chairman of the Brexit taskforce at the Local Government Association, said: “With councils already facing a funding gap of more than £3bn in 2019/20, it is more important now than ever that councils receive the resources they need for their ongoing Brexit preparations.

“There remains information and advice gaps that councils are facing while helping their communities prepare, which need to be met by the government.

“Councils also need certainty to plan for their communities over the longer term, such as on the domestic replacement for EU funding.”

“Local elections: How voters in England were cheated by a broken voting system”

“Local democracy in England and Wales has long been under strain – with contests often seeing dismally low turnout, or indeed no contest taking place at all. But new research from the ERS adds fresh cause for concern.

There’s a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ for local elections in England, with the most detailed analysis of May’s elections in England yet revealing widespread disproportionality and absurd ‘wrong winner’ results.

In analysis published to mark this week’s 15 year anniversary of the introduction of proportional representation for Scottish local elections, we’ve highlighted a stark gap between the fairness of representation in Scotland and England.

In 115 English councils this May, a single party won over half the council seats up for election, despite getting fewer than half the votes in the area. This represents nearly half of all councils (46%) where local elections took place in England this year. In the most extreme case the Conservative Party took all of the seats up for election on Havant Council with just 43.9% of the vote.

Yet in the Scottish local elections in 2017 – conducted using the fairer Single Transferable Vote system – no council saw a party get more than half the seats with fewer than half the first preference votes. In other words, you only get a majority if you have majority support.

There are many other benefits to proportional representation. In many cases under First Past the Post, single-seat wards become ‘no go’ areas for other parties: the same person gets in every time, even in other parties have significant levels of support. That creates an incentive for parties to ignore areas all together and focus on ‘winnable’ seats. Voters lose out, denied a real choice.

In 2003, at the last Scottish local elections held under First Past the Post, 61 wards (5% of the total) were totally uncontested: there was only one candidate running.

In 2017 – having switched to proportional representation – there were just three uncontested wards in the whole of Scotland. Compare that with the broken winner-takes-all system in Wales where in 2017, 10.4% of Welsh council wards were uncontested.

In addition, in 17 English councils this May, the party with the largest number of votes did not secure the most seats creating ‘wrong winner’ results – a damning indictment of England’s woefully out-dated voting system.

As ERS Director of Research Dr Jess Garland noted, our analysis shows how our broken electoral system is distorting local election results. First Past the Post is delivering skewed results in over a hundred councils across the country meaning many voters’ voices are unheard.

England continues to rely on this undemocratic system for local elections, where only the votes for the top candidate to ‘get over the line’ secure representation – all others are ignored. Spread out over thousands of individual contests, this can lead to some parties being drastically over- or under-represented.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, voters can rank candidates by preference, and ‘surplus’ votes (which would be ignored under FPTP) are redistributed according to voters’ other choices. Most advanced democracies use proportional systems where seats more closely reflect parties’ share of the vote.

It’s time we ended the broken First Past the Post system in England – a system that continues to warp our politics. A more proportional system would help open local democracy and make sure all voters’ voices are heard.

Local elections: How voters in England were cheated by a broken voting system