Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
Church's Labour Team, led by our Councillor Ashley Pearce

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Reading will unite after the tragedy in Forbury Gardens

The last few days have been an incredibly challenging time for Reading residents, and everyone connected with our great town. The unimaginable horror of this unprovoked, senseless act of violence is difficult to fathom. Three lives have been cruelly cut short and 3 others sustained serious injuries. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of the victims and hopes for a full and speedy recovery to those that are injured. Huge thanks also go to our emergency services, yet again showing huge bravery to protect our communities and then pick up the pieces after such tragic events as this.

Anyone connected with Reading will know the importance of Forbury Gardens, one of the best descriptions I have read is that it is Reading’s back garden. That’s the thing, it is ours. Each of us will have our own memories and our own stories of the Forbury, which is what makes this tragedy seem so real and so close to home. For me it means teenage cider drinking, picnics on a first date, food festivals, political gatherings with colleagues, meetings friends for lunch and walking through with my kids to just take in the vibe and scenery. It’s a focal point of our town and will continue to be so.

Over the last few days as more details emerge of the victims and the lives they lived, the futures that have been lost I have found myself welling up and shedding tears at various points during the day. I don’t want to see my town on the news or on the front pages like this, because this is not Reading, this is not the Reading I have known and loved all my life. The Reading we all know is the one that cares, the one of great community, the one with great respect for one another and where we all just get on.

In the last few days I have felt grief for those lost and hurt, sorrow for those loved ones left behind, anger-how dare you do this in my town but also strength and pride. Pride in how already this great town and its residents have come together and will continue to do so to not cave in the face of this mindless terror. We have already come together for minutes silences and a more fitting, permanent memorial will come in due course. We will reclaim our Forbury, our back garden as the heart of Reading.

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TWO votes for Church Ward residents in May’s local elections

Labour’s two candidates in Church Ward, Ashley Pearce and Ruth McEwan.

On Thursday May 3rd, local elections will be taking place across Reading including here in Church Ward. This is your chance to send a message to the Government to end their reckless Austerity regime. This Government has presided over real terms pay cuts to our teachers, police officers, nurses and care staff. This has seen fewer teachers in our classrooms, the worst winter performance in A&E at the Royal Berks and fewer police officers patrolling our streets. All this whilst the national debt has rocketed and real wages across the country have fallen. Austerity has failed and it’s time to change.

Here in Reading we have seen our Council’s budget from central Government cut by over 90%, stretching our resources to breaking point. The huge majority of your Council tax money goes on caring for our elderly, schooling your children and looking after the most vulnerable in society. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do this with the Government’s severe budget cuts to Reading, whilst wealthier Tory run Council’s such as West Berks and Wokingham see smaller cuts. There are many other things we would love to do as a Council but this Government is making it impossible.
Reading Council still has much to be proud of over the last few years, with a successful school expansion plan including Reading Girls School and Ridgeway Primary here in Church Ward, the works to develop the new community hub on Northumberland Avenue with the relocated library, café and meeting spaces, Academy Sport has seen its facilities upgraded and funding for Green Park station secured. We want to do more but we need a Labour Government to achieve this.
Due to one of our Councillors standing down, you have TWO VOTES in May’s local elections. Cllr Ashley Pearce will be seeking re-election and says “I have been a Councillor for 4 years & it has been a privilege to serve this community. I have engaged with residents, helped residents & spoken up for residents. If re-elected I will continue to be the residents voice on the Council.”

Candidate Ruth McEwan is looking forward to the challenge, she says “I look forward to working with all residents in Church Ward, getting to know people in the area and listening to their concerns. I will use my experience from my community and charity work to build links and relationships across the community.”
Use your TWO VOTES on Thursday May 3rd to elect Labour’s Ashley Pearce & Ruth McEwan.

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Vote Pearce in Church Ward on May 3rd

I have had the privilege of serving this community for four years, I have met hundreds and hundreds of residents, all with different stories to tell and issues to help solve. I have attended many resident meetings and fun days, as well as knocking on countless doors all year round. Unlike some, we campaign and listen all the time, not just at election time or for a photo. 

I was born in Whitley and being able to give something back over the last few years has brought me great joy. I attended Geoffrey Field Junior School, and worked at Ryeish Green secondary School until a Tory Council closed it to save money. I have been a teacher at a secondary comprehensive for ten years and have been a Governor at Ridgeway Primary School for over 5 years. Education matters to me. Giving kids the best start in life can’t and shouldn’t be done on the cheap as this Government is attempting. We have excellent Primary schools here in South Reading but we know we have work to do with our secondary’s to improve provision. New head’s and sponsors have already started this process and I will do all I can to help this along.

I have been involved in some tough decision making at the Council that this Government’s reckless Austerity regime forced us into. I did not come into politics to cut public services, and a Labour Government will restore public provision to the levels it should be. Nevertheless, we have still managed many improvements in the area, including refurbishing local schools, creating the new Community and library hub as well as the renovations of Academy sport. I also personally oversee the creation of the South Reading calendar every 6 months, which I hope has helped bring people together and keep them informed of local events. Your voice matters and we will do all we can to support it.

I recently got married and like most people my age, will be looking to start a family and get on the housing ladder. Like everyone else I want fair wages and job security for me and my wife. I want more affordable housing that would shorten the time we’ve had to save for a gigantic deposit. I want good local schools and facilities for my family that are funded fairly.

I hope I have done enough over the past four years to merit another four years to help serve your wonderful community. I have enclosed a postal vote form in case you wish to make voting in the local elections easier. Vote Labour and Ashley Pearce on May 3rd.

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Accountability but little control

I asked the following question at this week’s Full Council meeting to Cllr Jones, the lead Cllr for Education:

“It was recently reported that Reading Borough Council will have 1887 more secondary school pupils by 2020 and will need two new secondary schools to accommodate these. Can the Lead Cllr update us on what is happening to ensure future provision?”
Council research shows the projected surplus of 60 year 7 places in 18/19 becomes a deficit of 190 in 19/20. An extra eight form entry school sufficient to accommodate 240 pupils will suffice through the 2020’s. So only one school is needed. The council is currently planning for this. Several sites for the school have been identified and a bidding process will shortly be started to find an academy sponsor. Before the opening of this school agreement has been reached with five local secondary schools to take sufficient extra bulge classes. These must be thanked.
It is the process here I’d like to focus on. I’ve been a teacher for ten years and a Governor for five years. I’ve met many parents and I’ve never encountered one who has asked or cares about who runs their school, they just want the best for their child. But this is where the Tories fragmented education system comes in.
The new school cannot be run or administered by the local authority. All new schools must be academy run.  We, as elected officials, and who parents hold to account, have no say in who gets to run our children’s schools. This is despite the fact that last year, 93% of local authority schools were rated good or better by Ofsted compared to 33% for academies. So who does choose the academy sponsor then….?
The academy sponsor is chosen by the Regional schools commisoner. Never heard of them? Well, that’s probably because our one for the South East, spans an area from Milton Keynes, half of London and across to West Berks. It includes hundreds of schools and there is no way, however good the member of staff, they know and can relate to the schools and areas. They also have a huge remit, from taking action on underperforming schools to finding sponsors. Residents will never meet them but it is these people who hold the responsibility of helping schools. Our new school will be under their remit too.
Lastly, the location of this school. Reading Council and Cllrs know the area and where the need is, so we decide right? Of course not! This is decided by the Department of education, suits in Whitehall with spreadsheets! We can recommend and research areas, but the final decision is not ours. But when it goes through planning, are the Dfe present to discuss? Of course not.
All parents want is the best education for their child, and I wholeheartedly agree. But the local authority is being given less and less chance to make this happen. Cut funding, mix up accountability, split school systems and then what? Privatise? We shall see.
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Government not interested in Reading’s housing crisis

Reading Borough Council unanimously (all parties, all Councillors) agreed a motion put forward by me in January asking for Councils to be able to borrow to build homes and that all right to buy receipts should be kept to reinvest in housing stock.

I today received this response Reading Borough Council response letter 21 Feb 2018

As expected from this Government, no real response with smoke and mirrors leaving our housing crisis to get worse. Also not a surprise that housing Secretary Sajid Javid, doesn’t really care about Reading’s housing crisis. This is a man who was a director of his brothers £11m buy to let company and who is a landlord himself, he plays an active role on restricting housing supply. His voting record also shows he voted to phase out secure tenancies for the very poorest and voted against a bill that would have ensured properties were fit for human habitation.

The response is short, non specific and dismssisve, much like Tory housing policy. “Local authorities will be able to bid for increases in their caps”. Translated, we’ve kicked this into the long grass and we may help out some of our Tory mates in Surrey. “An additional £2bn to deliver more affordable housing at social rents”. Not quite what Housing Minister Dominic Raab said this week on his “ultras” WhatsApp group when he called for all social housing to be sold off. “You also proposed that local authorities keep all of the money received from right to buy”. At this point the response may as well say F off. But the Tory record on right to buy record is pretty appalling, between July 2016 and June 2017, 12,383 were sold but only 4813 were built. Or in other words, a 62% loss in affordable social housing.

The house price bubble suits the Tories, it suits the landlords amongst them and all of their landlord friends. The entire economic house of cards is built upon the inflated prices remaining high. They have no real interest in increasing the supply via building social housing, ending land banking or speeding up planning permission. Only Labour will do this. Every Tory policy is all about increasing demand (Help to Buy, Cutting stamp duty, help to buy ISA). This may help a few of the current generation get on the housing ladder but more importantly keeps the bubble in tact. A 1945 style approach to our housing crisis is needed, and Jeremy Corbyn will provide it.




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Urgent action needed on housing

The Councils new homes for Reading company is helping but Central Government action is required.

At this month’s Full council meeting I will be submitting the following motion for discussion:
“This Council notes:
The average monthly rent in Reading is now over £1000 a month (valuation office agency)
The average house price in Reading is over £300,000 (according to the Land Registry)
The earnings to house price ratio in Reading is now 10:1.
The average house deposit in the UK is £33,960 and in Reading this is much higher (Halifax)
Reading Council is doing all it can to ease the housing crisis with the Homes for Reading company and the building of new Council houses including at Conwy Close.
This Council resolves to write to Housing Minister Sajid Javid to ask if he will support the Local Government association campaign that asks to enable Councils to:
Allow Councils to borrow to invest.
To keep all of the money received from the sale of homes on right to buy.
To use this and other funding to reinvest in building new homes that are good quality and affordable.”

I hope that this is able to gain cross party support as it is an issue in Reading that needs urgent action and spans party political lines. It supports a local Government campaign (again, cross party) that calls for local Councils to be able to borrow to build and help us solve our housing crisis.
Teresa May visited a first time buyer in Wokingham earlier this month which was reported on in Get Reading. Some of the kinder comments included: “How old is this first time buyer? 58?”, “first time buyer from a wealthy family who chucked 50 grand at them” and “First time buyers? Do they still exist?”

The number of first time buyers has dropped by nearly 250,000 in 20 years, the average age of home ownership has risen and the deposit needed is now somewhere in the region of £50,000. Without the bank of mum and dad, many people are unable to even entertain the idea and have simply given up on the prospect of home ownership. This has led to many people moving out of the area all together. For someone that has spent all of their life in Reading, seeing people having to up sticks due to housing costs is deeply saddening.

The tinkering in the budget was not enough, the crisis is now and needs immediate action to remedy it, not vague promises and targets that are tied to some artificial goal post. If Councils were able to borrow to build homes, for real people and families, not buy to let landlords for profit, then a future revenue stream or asset sale is created for the Council. An asset is on the books and welfare bills fall from lower housing benefits and B&B accommodation. It really is a win win situation.

The Conservative leader of Norfolk district Council John Fuller said after the budget that the opportunity to “Fully lift” the cap on local authorities ability to borrow and build has been missed. I hope that he is wrong, that this motion will pass and that housing Minister Sajid Javid will press for this change and help the residents of Reading.

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Hammond’s crumbs from the table

The crumbs from the budget table. That’s what I thought when listening to the budget delivered by the robotic spreadsheet known as Philip Hammond.
First all of the Macro (big stuff). Erm, well it’s bad. Economic growth (what the country produces) forecasts were out. Well out. In fact they will be a quarter worse than we predicted. Imagine that for your household budgets?! Thought your wage was going to be £1000 a month but was actually £750, this isn’t a minor error. This means lower tax receipts (but still plenty to give to top rate earners and corporations!) so less funding for schools and hospitals. This pushes borrowing and debt up even more. It is the lack of growth in the last 7 years that has pushed borrowing up, not excessive spending. It was the early choking off of growth from austerity that caused this. Productivity is also down, it is not expected that the UK will produce anymore. In terms of a household, it’s the same as your wages falling when you expected them to rise, credit card bills going up and the quality of your house getting worse, hang on that’s pretty accurate for many.

Onto the policies. Nothing on public sector pay. Still being cut. Our teaching assistants to our soldiers will continue to see prices go up more than their wages. But the paradise papers last week show us that there is plenty of taxable money out there, it’s just that it’s on Lewis Hamilton’s private jet. Oh but there will be a premium paid for Maths study, the fact there are no teachers out there to teach it is neither here nor there. The NHS will get an “extra” £2.8bn, this is a unique way of additional funding. Cut the funding (it is claimed the NHS will have a £30m black hole by 2020) then give back just a bit of it. If you have ever been burgled, I’m sure you would be oh so grateful if the burglar came back with your kettle whilst hording all they stole. On the railways, ignore the fact that since 2010 rail fares have gone up 27% and all of the profits are flowing to shareholders abroad, 25-30 year olds can save a third on a trip to London once a month! No nothing on commuter fare, still £5000 a year for you I’m afraid.

The planned fuel duty rise for petrol has been stopped, that’s good news. Hang on, planned by whom? They’ve been in power for 7 years, did they plan to increase it and then didn’t? How’s this good news!? It’s the same as it was! But a great boost when real wages are collapsing. Then on housing, a “long term goal to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020’s”. An admirable goal, I have a long term goal to be playing Premier league football by the mid 2020’s, I have absolutely no idea how but nor do they on this xso on we go. Cutting stamp duty for first time buyers as usual with Tory housing policy is throwing fuel onto the demand side fire. A simple demand and supply diagram could show spreadsheet Phil that it is supply that needs to rise not demand. It is this that would make them more affordable. The policy may help someone my age but just pushes home ownership further away from those younger.

Take the crumbs away, and this is another budget of falling growth, falling wages, falling productivity, falling home ownership, and rising debt. How long is this long term economic plan?

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Critical friend

A critical friend isn’t that person that always criticises your dress sense or tells you that you are drinking too much, this is the phrase most often used to describe a Governors relationship with the schools they govern at. A quick recap on the role of Governors. They give up their time for FREE because they have a sense of community and wish to help. Last year the Government floated the idea of getting rid of Governors in academies but quickly back tracked when they realised the leafy shires may rebel. They have also made it more difficult to become a Governor, inflicted more paper work and created more hoops to jump through. Yet still people do it. Governors oversee the running of a school, from appointing heads to authorising exclusions. It is a big responsibility made more difficult be the Government every week it seems. 

I recently became chair of Governors at one of the Primary Schools in my ward. As a teacher in my day job, I cannot advocate enough the CPD (career and professional development) this provides. Far better than paying an expensive consultant or toddling off to a course, go into another school. Talk to other teachers, see what happens and listen to everyone involved. Since I have been a Governor at my school, we have been inspected, so have had “cosy” chats with Ofsted, we have expanded so we have met with the Local Authority and most importantly, we have been running along, as a school does, as usual.

The biggest change in the last year has been the proposed and now staggered introduction of the new school funding formula. This formula has been mooted to change for years and there are good arguments either side, but its implementation has been a mess. Within two years all money for education will go directly to the schools. Good you may say, keep those meddling local bureaucrats away from messing it up. But that does negate the ability of collective buying and costs saving. It does negate the ability for a local authority to plan provision. And possibly most importantly, what if it goes wrong? What if a poor head is appointed or there is just bad decision making. Well, then it is left for the Governors to try and scoop up the mess.

There are other big issues with the funding changes. Funding depends on a myriad of things: pupil numbers, deprivation funding, Pupil Premium Grant, numbers of students with education health and social care plans, in year pupil movement and pupils being there on census day to name but a few. All of these things take paper work, admin and planning. Just the things that schools have had to cut back on since the Government has cut funding. On a side note, funding has categorically been cut, the “record levels of funding” argument a huge deceit when cost rises and pupil numbers have been taken into account.

But all of these issues pale into comparison when you go into school for Governors meetings. Because at 8am meetings or 7pm meetings, I see the dedication and professionalism of the teachers in school. I see teachers singing songs to year 3’s, I see teachers calming down the student with anger issues in year 6 and I see good teaching throughout. This in the face of 7 years of pay cuts, struggles to recruit and redundancies.

It is a Governors role to ask questions of the school they govern, and that of course is right. But I would also argue it is to question the Government that has made it so difficult to do so.

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Alok Sharma’s thought & actions on education

I recently received a letter from Reading West MP Alok Sharma after I had emailed him as part of the NASUWT campaign on school funding. There appears to be a big disparity between Alok’s words and his actions, so I thought I’d have a go at translating.

He starts by saying “I am enormously grateful for the work they do to ensure  children have the best chance to succeed in life”. What he probably meant was, I’ve consistently voted to cut your pension. Mine’s gone up.

On teachers pay he says “The recommendations are consistent with the Governments 1% public sector pay policy”. What he probably meant was, I’ve consistently voted to cut teachers wages. Mine have gone up.


Alok says he wants fair public sector wages “while balancing this with being fair to other taxpayers”. What he probably meant was, we spent £1bn to cling on to power, cut taxes for the richest and most powerful.

On teacher numbers Alok says”Im encouraged that there are more teachers in our schools than ever before”. By this point I think Alok had just given up…..

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Nationalisation and Tory profiteering

I was interested to read Newbury MP Richard Benyon’s comment piece in this week’s Reading Chronicle. It would appear Mr Benyon is not a fan of nationalising industries. I won’t bore you with graphs, talk of natural monopolies, dynamic efficiency and elasticities. Instead I will just point out some facts and inaccuracies Mr Benyon appears to have missed. Mr Benyon says that “Nationalised industries were a shambolic drain on public finances”. I wonder if he includes in this the subsidies that are provided to our current “Privatised” system of railways. Whereby in 2015-16 the railways received £4.8bn in net Government support, double the level from 1985 under the oh so terrible British Rail. (Figures from the ONS). This of course has not stopped these private firms paying out dividends to shareholders. So, overall UK tax burden has gone up (we are paying more to the exchequer), Rail subsidies have risen and dividends paid to shareholders have risen. Or more simply, Robin Hood in reverse. The poor are paying more in tax to subsidise rail shareholders.

Mr Benyon goes on to say “If the national debt increased by this much we would have to spend at least £7bn more on debt repayments every single year”. This from a man in the Government that has increased the national debt to 88% of GDP, the highest level since 1996 and lest we never forget, the Tories in the last 7 years have increased national debt more than all Labour Governments put together, ever! Not finished there, Mr Benyon compares this figure to what we could spend it on. “The equivalent of 81,000 nurses, 69,000 teachers and 66,000 police officers”. Its so nice that he now cares. Nurse numbers have fallen by nearly 2000 between March 2016 and March 2017, 50,000 teachers left the profession in 2015, up from 10% in 2011 and police numbers have fallen by 20,000 since 2009 according to the home office. So we better not nationalise things otherwise what, the Tories will cut more public servants!? And he proudly proclaims “And that’s according to the Office for budget responsibility by the way”, yes, the same OBR that this week said there will be a huge whole in the public finances thanks to the UK’s poor productivity.

But it is the water industry where Mr Benyon proclaims the greatest expertise, he says that “around £120bn has been invested in water and sewerage infrastructure”. A very impressive figure although he doesn’t say what it was before so we have no idea if this is an increase or decrease. What I do know however is that when the water industry was privatised back in the 90’s, nearly £5bn of debt was written off. It’s easy to invest if the Government have picked up the debt tab. I also know that in the first 8 years of privatisation, profits went up by 142%. This could be due to huge efficiency increases of course. But I also know that the average water bill in 1995 was £315 per year (at current prices) but in 2015 it was £340 a year. So investment has gone up but so have prices. Or in other words, you are paying for the investment.
Benyon goes on to say “Since privatisation, Investment has been financed by an inflow of cash from around the world”. But prices have gone up? And this is one way of looking at it, the other way of looking at it is that these tax payer subsidised industries are paying out dividends to go abroad! My water company Thames water is part owned by the China Investment Corporation and the Abu Dhabi Investment authority. Why is it ok that foreign Governments can own and run our railways but not our own Government?

But maybe, just maybe Mr Benyon has his own agenda? I say maybe, a quick glance at the register of members interests tells me that he is director of UK Water partnership which is a not for profit company set up to promote the interests of the UK water sector. Not for profit for some but Mr Benyon is paid £15,000 a year for 12-14 days of work to do this job. So much like the railways, Governments are not to profit from it but fine for shareholders and individuals.

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The road to Privatisation in education?

“Defund, make sure things don’t work, get people angry, you hand it over to Private capital”- Noam Chomsky.

This is the view of historian and economist Noam Chomsky on the standard model of neo-liberalism in privatisiations. This argument is currently being used more for how the NHS is being treated but is education really that far behind? Since 2015 when the Conservatives won a Parliamentary majority, the number of schools in deficit has risen from 8% to 18%. This is a huge number of schools that are dipping into reserves, making staff redundant or cuttiing down on resources. The graph below shows spending per pupil in both Primary and secondary schools over the last 25 years. From 90-97, under John Major’s conservative government, spending broadly remained flat. Then from 97-2010, spending increased hugely under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown’s Labour Governments. Now, this money may not have been spent completely wisely or efficiently as I hear some Tories say but few people say spending money on education is a bad thing. In Economics we call it a “supply side policy” or basically an investment. The country spends money now so that workers of the future have higher skills, produce more and earn more money. Simple. I would also argue that this large increase was due to 25 years of under investment by Tory Governments in buildings, resources and staff wages that were all hugely neglected and had left education in a crumbling state come 1997. From 2010-2015, education spending is broadly flat under the coalition Government, so maybe the Lib Dem’s did tame the Tory free marketers in education. Then from 2015-17 education spending per pupil falls, for the first time since the mid 90’s. No wonder many young people and parents of young people believe this Government doesn’t care about them. Then there are predicitions based on the parties 2017 manifestos, only Labour said they would increase education funding. In short, the Tories have not increased education spending in around 20 years of Government. A shocking endigtment.

But, a spokesman from the Department of education says “The Government is spending £40bn more in 2016-17, the highest amount on record”. This claim is frankly laughable. Well not the claim, but what it hides. Let’s take a family of 3, 2 parents and 1 child. Currently they spend £250 a week on shopping. A second child comes along and now they now spend £251 a week on shopping. This is the highest amount ever!! True but this in no way reflects the true cost reality, and this is what schools are facing. Below is the only graph that matters when it comes to this. Spending PER PUPIL is to fall by nearly 10% between 2015-2020. The other bars show why, pupil numbers have jumped considerably, as have costs such as the apprenticeship levy and national insurance contributions that Government has placed on schools. The Government was also fond of saying that “Budgets have been protected”, at worst this is an outright lie, a clear deception at best. The overall (nominal) budget remains broadly the same for 5-16 education, but this does not include the cost increases pointed out or post 16 education. These budgets therefore have been cut. Why do our 16-18 year olds deserve less than their predecessors or those in the year below them? The excellent NUT campaign at this year’s election pointed this out and poll numbers as well as my own experience on the doorstep show that parents felt the same.

So spending has gone down, only the most deluded or Tory amongst people will deny this. But what about the rest of the developed world? I’m not a great fan of international comparisons, PISA tests are not a reliable comparison, and anecdotal stories of great education systems in Singapore or Finland are just that really. Every countries context and circumstances is different. But we can compare how much each country spends on education as a proportion of GDP. GDP measures what a country produces each year so its equivalent of saying what percentage of your income per year do you spend on housing say. Below is the OECD (major economies) and what % of their GDP they spend on education. The UK is 18th below the OECD average. But it is something else about the graph I’d like to focus on. The blue bar is the amount spent on private education. The UK’s is around a third of overall spending, higher that the “free market” USA. Part of this is the UK’s historic class system and huge private school fees for the top 7% of the population. But part is also the fragmenting of schools. Academy chain bosses can now pay themselves large salaries. Schools can “buy in” services. Parts of schools are contracted out. All of this is money that you pay in tax and is finding its way to private shareholder hands to educate your children. I received a brochure through the post recently in my role on the Council’s education committee from a company that provided “education solutions”. It was a glossy 8 page booklet that I read from cover to cover several times. I had no idea what they actually did. They introduced their team, a lawyer, a marketing manager and yes some ex teachers, but I had no idea what “solutions” they provided. Is this the future?

The other part of this private education spend is on the explosion in private tuition. I am in no way speaking out against tuition, I have been a tutor for students in the past and I know that many of my students have used a tutor and found it useful. But the graph below demonstrates many interesting things. Firstly, tutors are used to get into grammar schools. One of the Tories great policies for social mobility does nothing of the sort and they know it. You need to pass a test to get in and those with the most money and sharpest elbows will always find a way to boost their child’s chances in this. The graph on the left also says that the average fee per hour of tutoring is £40. To put this into context, the minimum wage per hour is £7.50. I know many parents struggle to get their kids the best education, some working all the hours God sends to fund a private school place or private tutor and I am not knocking that. But the more there is a creep or expectation of private tutoring, the greater the gap will become because many cannot afford this. The graph on the right below shows that to tutor a 5 year old, people are charging £30 an hour. Just think about that, a FIVE YEAR OLD! After school they are not playing, discovering, enjoying life, they are being tutored. To me that is frankly ridiculous but is part of a culture where all that matters is exams, even at key stage 1.

I don’t know if this is or was a great plan by Cameron and now May to defund the education system so much that privateers step in. But it is what is happening. Chomsky said people get angry as the service fails, I would like students and parents to get angry. But not at the schools or teachers, I’d like students and parents to get angry at this Government who have wilfully underfunded and fragmented education.

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The Tory economic competence myth

The Tory Economic competence myth

Labour can’t be trusted on the economy. The Tories are “Strong & stable” as Teresa May keeps bleating on about. Labour spend all of our money. All the polls show that on economic competence the Tories come out ahead of Labour, and on doorsteps I have heard this a few times in the last couple of weeks. A member of my tutor group even said it to me this week. How on earth have they got away with this image? It is completely and utterly lacking in truth. Let’s have a look at the key economic measure that I teach my 16 year old year 12 students Government’s aim for.


Economic growth: If the economy is growing, jobs are created and people are better off (in theory). The UK’s trend rate of growth (our long term average) is around 2-2.5%. Under the coalition and Tories, only once has growth been above 1%. That leaves us with a negative output gap (i.e. we could & SHOULD be doing better). When Labour left power the economy was growing until Osborne and co cut any stimulus (the US & Germany, now thriving, did not do this).

Inflation: Thanks to Boris, Gove, Fox and the other right wing zealots getting their way, Cameron agreed to an EU referendum in which his preferred outcome didn’t happen. We all know that. But since then our exchange rate has collapsed. This is good for exporters & bad for importers. Problem is, in the UK we don’t export as much as we perhaps should and we import a lot. Especially consumer goods and food. If imported food is more expensive, we can’t just stop buying it, so we spend more money on it. This leaves less money for everything else. Inflation has been steadily rising ever since the vote, it is now 2.7%, well above the Bank of England’s 2% target. This is due to costs rising and certainly not due to rising wages…..

Real Wages: Real wage is your actual wage minus inflation. What you actually have to spend. Nurses pay has been “capped” at a 1% rise, as has teachers’ pay (incidentally, MP’s voted through an 11% pay raise for themselves 2 years ago but all in this together eh!?) So this is a pay cut. If prices are up more than my wages, I can afford less. My landlord doesn’t accept lower payment nor does my electricity supplier. “Between 2007 and 2015, the UK was the only big advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded.” This is from that well known lefty source the Financial Times. Wages in the UK have been falling for ten years. We are the only western country aside from Greece where this is happening. In work poverty is now widespread and linked to the below.

Unemployment: This is the Tories big trumpeted claim, the “jobs miracle”! Record numbers in employment (this is an obvious claim, we have more people so of course we have more jobs!) But the % unemployment rate is also at a record low. Firstly, as usual the Tories have changed the measure, it now excludes more people from the official figures. But most importantly are the types of jobs that have been created. Nearly a million of these jobs are zero hour. Low paid, insecure and importantly, where the employer rarely trains or up skills the worker. This means they can get rid of them whenever they want, and have added no value to their employability. Then there are the self-employed. This induces images of a trading go getter doing deals and making lots of money. The reality is very different. The average wage of the self-employed is £240 a week, 15% lower than in the mid 90’s. These self-employment jobs now account for 15% of the UK workforce. If unemployment was really as low as the figures show, wages would be rising as there would be a lack of labour. But it’s not and they are not.

Trade: The UK has had a trade deficit (importing more from abroad than we export to them) for many decades. Cameron and Osborne wanted a rebalance but it never came. This is hugely impacted by the exchange rate which as mentioned earlier, has meant a rising cost of imports (and the UK consumer imports a lot). So if more money is leaving the country than coming in how is this balanced. It’s balanced by something called the capital account (mainly UK assets). The fall in our exchange rate means it is easier for people abroad to buy things in the UK. And do you know what they want? Houses. Many high end price houses have been purchased by people abroad who will very rarely even frequent it. But it is not just these. Many houses at a “reasonable” price are snapped up by buy to let landlords abroad and then rented back to us. A house is taken off the market for a UK resident wishing to get on the property ladder and the rent being paid goes abroad so that the UKL never sees it again. This is the “trickle down” nonsense you might hear about.

Debt and Taxes: But Labour always put up our taxes! And they increase our debt! It is just untrue. The UK national debt (the total amount the Government has ever borrowed) has risen by more in the last 7 years than ALL LABOUR GOVERNMENTS EVER COMBINED!! Re-read that sentence. It is a huge lie Labour are frivolous with taxpayer’s money. If you look back through history, Labour have also ran smaller budget deficits year on year on average, and paid off more of the national debt in the past. On tax, “the amount of tax paid in the UK is poised to reach the highest level in 30 years and will rise even further because of mounting debt and pressure on public services” according to the Institute of fiscal studies. It is about how they tax too. They are very proud of the income tax allowance changes, “lifting 10million people out of income tax altogether”. Thanks very much, oh but you have raised VAT to 20% taking it back and making the poorest pay most as usual. It’s the equivalent of not punching me in the face so you can kick me in the shin. In their manifesto they have now said they won’t rule out income tax or National insurance increases. But they can cut the top rate of income tax, corporation tax on companies and raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m. It is the greatest transfer of wealth and income from poor to rich ever.

Then there are the public service, per head (which is what we care about) we all know that school funding, NHS funding and funding for any other public service has fallen. We are now told we will work until we are 67 where we will now get a lower pension and benefit trimmed back. The bombshell of the Tory dementia tax is another astonishing attack on the poor and ill. If you are unlucky enough to be ill in later life, we will take away your last wish of leaving your kids something and make you pay for it.

The Tories tax you more, give you less in crumbling public services and increase debt. It is an astoundingly bad legacy.

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Rob Wilson won’t stand up for Reading but Labour will

Reading East MP Rob Wilson thinks “it’s not his job to stand up for Reading Borough Council”. The man who continually puts his parties interests above those of Reading residents will presumably continue to do so. It is Mr Wilson and his party who vote through cuts to Reading Council that will see its funding fall from £53m a year to £2m, a £185 cut per head of the population compared to just £116 in Mr Wilson’s favoured Wokingham.

Mr Wilson denies these budget cuts are even happening, and claims that school budget pressures “aren’t about budget cuts”. Were Caversham Primary lying when they asked parents for £190 each to plug their funding gap? He says 90% of that schools budget is taken up by wages. But the average salary of a teacher is under half of what Mr Wilson earns, and teachers don’t get to claim lavish expenses like he does. Teachers have also faced a year on year pay cut since 2010, not getting to vote through an 11% pay hike as Mr Wilson did for himself.

Schools are struggling because budgets have been “frozen” but pupil numbers have increased, national insurance contributions and pensions contributions have risen, costs have risen and school improvement budgets have been slashed. It’s time to stop running Mr Wilson, these are you and your parties cuts. Time to stand up for Reading and not your party. Continue reading

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Further broken Tory promises

The Chancellor delivered his first full budget today and the grim Chancellor continued the incompetent work of his predecessor. Austerity will be extended to well into the next Parliament. There will be no surplus in this Parliament. National debt keeps soaring (more has been added to national debt in the last 7 years than ALL Labour Chancellors ever put together). No extra funding for the NHS. No new funding for schools. Not the school your son or daughter goes to now anyway, only more money for the PM’s pet project of Grammars to further entrench Tory inequality. Some of the numbers covered up in the full report are grim. Household income to FALL by £900 a year by 2020. This is to be the worst decade for pay growth in 210 years, that is when Napoleon was a worry for the UK. And the headline grabber, more Tory tax rises. Whilst company tax has continued to tumble, VAT that we all pay is still high and now the Tory strivers tax is to be implemented. National insurance contributions rises for self employed workers punishes innovators. It’s a tax on brick layers, cab drivers, consultants and a whole range of workers whose incomes may be irregular and insecure.

This is a Tory Government that breaks its manifesto promises and RAISES tax, it ADDS to debt, and it DESTROYS the public services we hold dear.

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Conservative Cuts Cause Care Crisis

Reading Council is facing unfair and unprecedented cuts in its budget in the next few years. The revenue support grant that funds Councils from central Government is to be cut by 92% over the next 4 years. This leaves the Council over £5m worse off than expected, and with £100m slashed from the budget from 2011-2020, this is around a third of the Council’s overall budget. Meanwhile inflation has raised Council costs, National insurance contributions have gone up and demand for many statutory services has risen.
Reading’s Labour Council has continued to strive to improve the lives of residents despite these cuts. A School expansion programme has provided desperately needed new school places, the award winning Council owned and run Reading buses continue to provide low cost transport and the Council will soon be building the first new Council houses in years to add much needed housing to the town.
But these things are becoming increasingly difficult to do. Services the Council has to legally provide such as schools, adult social care and refuse collection take up around ¾ of the Councils budget. The lower the Government funding to Council’s goes, the less money we have for things we’d like to provide for residents such as parks, leisure and pot holes. Reading’s two MP’s consistently vote for these cuts, it’s about time they stood up for Reading residents and not their own parties interests.

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Tory cuts underfund social care

As the tipping point fast approaches when the number of older people with care needs is predicted to surpass the numbers of working age people available to provide unpaid care, the role of the state in helping should be rising up the agenda. But the Conservative party continues to cut budgets and ignore the issue, chancellor Philip Hammond did not mention it once in his Autumn statement. The Government has failed to listen to urgent calls from Councils, the NHS, charities, MP’s and care providers about the critical funding crisis in social care. They refuse to acknowledge let alone fund the £2.6bn funding gap the country faces by 2020. The crisis is real and its happening now, the social care funding crisis is one of the main reasons the Royal Berks is at breaking point. Around two thirds of the Council’s budget is spent on adult social care. These are the elderly and most vulnerable in our society and the Government should adequately fund this. By providing better care services locally we can also reduce hospital admissions and therefore pressured the NHS. Between 2010-2020 the Council’s budget would have been cut by 40% whilst the number of people requiring and deserving of social care has risen. The position this Government is putting Coucnils and vulnerable residents in needs to change and fast.

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Autumn statement failure

This week the Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his autumn statement.  As an economics teacher these statements always intrigue me.  He went through with the usual sound bites.  First up was “Fiscal discipline”, this apparent fiscal discipline includes scrapping the surplus target for 2019 and borrowing more money than ALL Labour Governments ever put together. Whilst your National Insurance went up last year, they can still find room to cut tax on big business. Next up was being “Match fit” for Brexit.  This match fitness apparently includes a huge one month rise in the trade deficit by £0.9bn to £5.1bn.  The crash in sterling does not mean we suddenly import less, it just means the cost of our petrol and weekly shopping basket rises. Match fitness also encompasses a downgrading of future growth in the upcoming years. Then there was “record employment”, firstly with population level at an all-time high this is a given.  Then we need to consider the “2.7m new jobs” & “security for working people”. Nearly 5m of these jobs in “record employment” are self-employed jobs, which the resolution foundation recently discovered were paying less now than in 1995. The recent court ruling against Uber and press around work practices of Deliveroo show that these jobs are anything but secure. With less panache than his predecessor, Hammond delivered the same old smoke & mirrors budget, the Just About Managing households, will be no better off than before.
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