Schools in Newcastle have been forced to put classroom improvement plans on the “back burner” as they look to cover the shortfall of the Government’s free school meals programme.
As of Tuesday, almost 6,000 children across the city in the first three years of school are entitled to a free lunch under a new £1bn scheme, spearheaded by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The move means that children in reception, years 1 and 2 at 74 schools will be able to eat a free meal at lunchtime, saving families up to £400 per year and helping children to do better in the classroom and improve their diet.
Although Newcastle City Council is behind the scheme in principle, its leader Nick Forbes said Government funding to bring school kitchens up to scratch has fallen short.
Coun Forbes, who is also vice chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“Nobody argues that this is a sensible policy, but it does mean that many essential repairs in classrooms across the city will have to be put on the back burner.
“It’s not appropriate that children are being taught in buildings more than 150-years-old that are simply not fit for purpose.
“Schools have had to make the impossible choice; do they repair their leaky roof or put in place this national policy?
“The council and schools have been working really hard to make this happen within this ambitious timescale.
“The government didn’t make enough money available to implement this policy in the timescale they set for it.”
The LGA estimates that councils without enough money have had to find an average of £488,000 each to ensure all pupils will get the meals to which they will be entitled.
Those that were short of money said the balance would be found either by them, by schools or from general school funding intended for repairs and maintenance.
In Gateshead, 5,221 primary school children will receive a free school meal while 5,698 in North Tyneside are eligible.
Elsewhere, in Northumberland 6,631 children will pick up a school dinner from this week and 3,935 children will do the same in South Tyneside.
In County Durham – where the scheme was piloted between 2009 and 2011 – 13,439 children in the first three years of primary school are now entitled to a free school meal.
Results from the pilot showed that where children were given free school meals they were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers elsewhere in maths and English.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:
“All the evidence, including the pilots in Durham and Newham, shows that free school meals will not only help ease the pressure on household budgets and encourage positive eating, but will also help improve concentration and raise educational performance so that, regardless of their background, every child can have the best possible start in life.
“This is one of most progressive changes to our school system for a long time so there will always be critics but that won’t cloud my goal to create a level playing field for all of our children so their success will be determined by their talents and efforts alone and not by their parents’ bank balance.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Sept 2014
By Jenny Howarth
Her Majesty the Queen has delivered the final speech at the opening of parliament before next year’s general election. A speech that Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as ‘bold’.
In a joint statement issued alongside the Queen’s speech, the prime minister and his deputy said: [The coalition was] “still taking bold steps” [to] “take Britain forward to a brighter future”, adding:
Among the measures announced in the speech were:
- A bill implementing reforms to annuities announced in March’s Budget. In future, people will not be required to buy an annuity with their pension savings and will be able to draw their retirement income in one go if they choose
- A separate bill to allow employees to pay into collective pension funds shared with other workers, a move it is hoped will cut costs and encourage saving
- A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year, replacing the existing employer-funded scheme
- A Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence or breach of duty if they acted heroically or in the public interest
- Curbs on “excessive redundancy payments” for highly-paid public servants
- Tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and a crackdown on the abuse of zero hours contracts
- Plans for a 5p charge for plastic bags in England as announced at last year’s Lib Dem conference
- Reforms to speed up infrastructure projects, including new freedoms for the Highways Agency and allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines on private land without getting prior permission
- New criminal sentences for those assisting organised crime syndicates, tougher sentence for cyber criminals and tougher powers to seize the assets of crime bosses – and making the possession of written paedophilia a criminal offence
- A modern-day slavery bill with tougher penalties for human trafficking
- Help for pub landlords including a statutory code and a body to adjudicate disputes
- Giving voters the power to trigger by-elections where MPs have committed serious wrong-doing
With polls showing a Labour Party average lead of 6.6%, the speech, written for the Queen by her government highlights how out of touch and removed from reality the coalition government is. With Labour sources for the BBC saying it was “staggering” that the NHS and immigration were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
You would assume that David Cameron would have ensured that this final speech would have contained elements to woo voters. But sadly, it has failed, just as Cameron and his coalition government has failed the people of Britain and here is why:
National Health Service (NHS)
This week in a letter to The Guardian, top health officials including Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, and the chairs or chief executives of acute hospital trusts in London, Nottingham, Teeside, Kent, Sheffield, Oxford and elsewhere, warned that the NHS “is at the most challenged time of its existence.”
In a separate article, Rob Webster, speaking to The Telegraph, warned, that if “significant changes” were not made and the “decline” was to continue that:
- Hospital patients would be forced to pay for their meals, bed and even for patient transport.
- Swathes of the country would be left without a GP, because family doctors refuse to work in areas where they cannot keep up with demand.
- Accident & Emergency departments would be increasingly shutting their doors without warning, because they are unable to cope.
- Hospitals would go bust overnight because bills cannot be paid.
- There would be Longer waits for surgery, and increasing numbers of cancelled operations.
With the NHS so critical, it is something that should have been addressed in today’s speech but it would appear that Cameron and his Health Secretary are more determined than ever to place the NHS in private hands.
Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) welfare reforms have been an unmitigated disaster.
His flagship Universal Credit Scheme has been beset with problems, with The Guardian reporting in May this year that The Major Projects Authority (MPA) – responsible for grading its implementation – has said that it has undergone so many fundamental changes that it is “reset” (gone back to drawing board).
In addition, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, also released in May showed that over half a million ESA claimants are still waiting for the results of their assessment.
Then there is the hated Spare-room subsidy (bedroom tax). In a survey of 183 housing associations (HA), conducted by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the National Housing Federation in February this year, it was found that:
- One in seven of those hit by the bedroom tax has now had a notice of seeking possession issued to them.
- 66% of HA residents hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears
- More than a third (38%) reported to be in debt because they were unable to pay the bedroom tax
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said:
“If these notices of seeking possession turn into evictions it will be the direct responsibility of those who introduced a measure which is economically incoherent, socially divisive, disruptive of family life and causing real damage to real people. It really can’t be allowed to go on.”
The failure to address welfare reform in today’s speech would indicate that if the Conservatives were to win next year’s election then it is likely it will go on, inflicting more misery to more families.
It is clear, that Cameron is not listening. The recent local and European elections proved that the people of Britain are not happy. Ed Miliband, picked up on this by saying ahead of today’s speech:
“The local and European elections show the depths of discontent with the direction of our country which people increasingly feel does not work for them.
“We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces.
“We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. “A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”
So what would be in Labour’s first Queen’s speech if they were to win next year?
Mark Ferguson, writing for Labour List, has put together what he thinks would be in it, based on Labours plans so far:
A first year priority, that would mean breaking up banks to create competition in the banking sector – and reforms intended to boost lending and support small businesses.
Make Work Pay bill
Mark Ferguson acknowledges that this one still needs some detail adding to it, which he believes we should get in the months ahead. In short, this bill would see Labour legislating for a higher minimum wage (maybe even a statutory living wage?) and legislating on zero-hours contracts.
Currently Labour is talking about building 200,000 homes a year by 2020. For Mark Ferguson, that’s a little slow, believing that Labour should be aiming to build a million homes over the next parliament with the expectation for Miliband to upgrade Labour’s offer on housing before the election.
However, it is already pretty substantial, and this bill would act on land banks, legislate for new garden cities, crack down on fees for private sector tenants and provide more stable and secure long-term rents for those in the private rented sector.
Nicknamed, the “taking back the high street” bill. This would give communities a say on payday lenders and betting shops on their high streets – thus reducing their volume and growth.
Angela Eagle has stated that Labour would legislate on immigration. Such a bill would seek to stop workers being undercut and ban recruitment agencies from only recruiting from overseas.
A new Scotland bill
This would enshrine the recommendations of Scottish Labour’s Devolution Commission, introducing a form of “Devo-Max” – obviously this is in the event of a No vote in this year’s referendum.
Or perhaps more accurately, the energy prices bill. Labour’s big energy price freeze pledge would be enacted in the first Queen’s Speech
Outlawing discrimination against armed forces bill
This would put discrimination against members of the armed forces on the same footing as other forms of discrimination.
Mark Ferguson, goes onto state the other priorities for Labour in the first year of the next parliament that don’t necessarily need primary legislation, but which would be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. These include:
- The jobs guarantee,
- The return of the 50p Tax rate
- The abolition of the Bedroom Tax.
Unlike Cameron and his Conservative Party, it is evident, although some may disagree, that Ed Miliband has thought through what the people of Britain need.
> More likely the thinks its the sort of thing people might vote for at this moment in time. Unfortunately, an increasing number of people believe that should Labour win the next election, it’d actually just be a case of neo-liberal policies as usual.
And In case you’re wondering where the NHS fits in, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has said today that it would be a “joyous moment, when next year, Her Majesty the Queen says: “My Government will repeal the Health & Social Care Act 2012″. Assuming of course that there will be a Labour victory.
With 336 days to go to the general election, the stakes have never been higher. David Cameron has to start listening to the people of Britain, has to axe the bedroom tax, has to curb welfare reform and stop privatizing the NHS. Failure to do so will mean he will be out of a job – not only as prime minister but also as leader of the Conservatives.
Source – Welfare News Service, 04 June 2014