Thankful for devolution as English public services enmeshed in Tory fire sale

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The new Glasgow South University Hospital in Govan.

Derek Bateman on the crisis facing health and education in England

We used to say during the indyref that we had no argument with the English people. That was, and is, true. Our case is for reform of the British state by taking sovereign control of our country and maintaining normal friendly relations – like the Republic. I have to say though that I’ve grown exasperated by the apparent indifference of voters in the South to the systematic erosion of social provision.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Can you imagine the reaction across Scotland if the government announced the end of parental choice in education and the rapid conversion of local authority schools to privately-run but taxpayer-funded academies? Groups of religious zealots and profit-seeking investors taking control of all school education? Even, it appears, being handed, free of charge, the title deeds to billions of pounds of buildings and land with no long-term prohibition on selling and developing…

Picture the apoplexy at BBC Scotland if hospitals here had debts of £2billion like health trusts in England. Many foundation trusts are failing to meet NHS waiting times for A&E care, cancer treatment, non-urgent operations in hospital and vital diagnostic tests.

The NHS can no longer afford operationally and financially to deliver the cuts required by the government and ensure patients get the services they need. The medical director of the NHS in England says it may no longer be able to maintain a free service.

The Britain we thought we belonged to is being steadily dismantled from within by Westminster politicians whose tenure will be judged historically as more transformative than Thatcher’s. The Royal Mail sold off at bargain basement prices. The government no longer legally responsible for running health services. It’s devolved to regional groups with a legal requirement only to provide emergency care and ambulances. The rest is optional. Of nearly £10bn of NHS contracts in England last year, 40 per cent went to private companies.

Groups of hedge fund managers and financial spivs are now running schools having been given taxpayers’ money to help them and, it seems, the property rights to dispose of – up to and including selling to investment companies in tax havens and renting them back at exorbitant rates.

ADVISERS

Look at the people Michael Gove brought into act as advisers at the Education Department. Anthony Salz, corporate lawyer on the board at Rothschild, the bankers. Theodore Agnew of right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange, Tory donor and  trustee of the New Schools Network, given £500,000 of public money to advise anyone who wanted to set up a free school. Paul Marshall, hedge fund manager. Jim O’Neil, formerly of  Goldman Sachs Asset Management. John Nash venture capitalist, Tory donor and sponsor of Pimlico Academy. He was put in the Lords and made a schools minister…get the idea?

The barrister and campaigner David Wolfe writes: “Academy status is being presented to parents, teachers and governors across England as benign, a way of taking back control of money being wasted by lazy local authorities. Then before you can shout Land Grab! school buildings, land and other assets are handed over to philanthropic-sounding trusts with links to private equity and hedge funds.”

The education of England isn’t just being privatised, its assets are being ripped off by ministers in cahoots with their financial friends. Members of trust boards are paid huge salaries while contracts for services are handed out to each other’s companies in a glut of self-serving redistribution of public money. The same hard-nosed carpetbaggers will negotiate teacher salaries. How do you think that will go? The way schools are run, parents’ right to know and management accountability are being thrown on a bonfire of the social consensus that has sustained the UK for 70 years. A select few who see an opportunity for profit and self-aggrandisement are the inheritors of the state school system devised for community betterment and paid for by generations of British taxpayers.

CORNERSTONES

Education and health are the cornerstones of public service, but in England are now being turned outside in with barely a nod to any democratic mandate. And yet, where is the anger?

Labour’s reponse so far is muted (they having started the whole academies nonsense) and confined to the practicalities and timing. Thus far, it’s left to the teachers themselves to sound the warning to parents and voters. Yet the academies have been largely accepted, the uncoupling of school from local control agreed by parents and the longer-term potential for educational decline and fad interference without accountability ignored. The regulator in England currently rates 85 per cent of state schools good or outstanding while question marks hang over the performance of hyped academies.

Are English parents working in the belief that these are just like private schools and therefore to be aspired to in the British game of class consciousness? Is there some underlying concept that ‘private health’ and ‘private schools’ are what middle class families should aim for? Or is the political culture in England generally less well-informed. Is ignorance of the real revolution in the schools and in hospitals passing them by? Certainly the BBC reports lacked any historical perspective that this was a generational change in how education operated and even the Guardian didn’t include the schools story in its online headlines.

It’s sounding patronising, isn’t it? As if they don’t get it. But I just feel it is unthinkable that these reforms could be proposed here without a shocked and utterly implacable opposition. Look at the persistent media attacks on education and health in Scotland, when the comparative reality is that we live in a welfare haven where services are protected and budgets, where resources allow, chase the need. Yet there is no sign of that in England. I want to shout at them to wake up and realise what they’re losing and in whose interests this is being done.

One thing we do have to thank the politicians for – the devolution of valuable public services to Holyrood, without which we’d be trapped in the Tory fire sale.