A Birmingham teacher writes: mainstream parties will not take the one single action most needed to improve educational outcomes.

tristram hunt mpTristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, records in a recent Guardian article:

“Analysis by the Sutton Trust reveals an interesting spectrum: an independent day school student is 22 times more likely to attend a Russell Group university than a state school student from a disadvantaged background”.

Labour’s prescription

Hunt continues: “Labour’s plan is this: we will introduce a School Partnership Standard requiring all private schools to form genuine and accountable partnerships with state schools if they want to keep their business rates relief”.

Fee-paying schools’ advantage

Above all others, as the writer has long pointed out, the generally recognised reason for good performance is very low class sizes in fee-paying schools – in some, eight children to one teacher:

“Low pupil-to-teacher ratios are one of the principal reasons many parents opt for independent schools rather than local state alternatives. Smaller class sizes allow greater one-to-one attention and make for better public examination results”.

Tristram Hunt says that he believes ‘we’ deserve an education system where the majority of young people enjoy the same access to excellence as the privileged 7%:

But will either of the mainstream parties promote this by funding state schools to offer children the same access to a teacher’s attention?

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Solihull and Birmingham councils appear to be placing the interests of developers above those of established residents and businesses, aided and abetted by ‘new permitted development rights’ – quietly passed without any parliamentary debate.  

planning order 2014 header

The construction of Monkspath Business Park was permitted on the understanding that it only provided office accommodation (below). Earlier this year, however, Solihull Council admitted application No. 2014/667 to vary conditions and allow the owners of the premises to ‘conduct industrial uses on the site’ (Cllr Hawkins’ phrase).

blythe valley business office

Though the councillor visited the factory to be relocated from Bromsgrove and made a video showing evidence of noise and other nuisance emanating from the factory, the change was approved.

The Post reports that ‘new permitted development rights’ have enabled city developer Court Collaboration and Hong Kong-based Headland Developments to ‘transform’ Franklin House, the former head office of Cadbury in Bournville, into an apartment block.

Will the Digbeth situation recur?

A spokesperson for Cadbury owner Mondelez International said it opposed the development: “We . . . believe it is inappropriate to have residential property so close to a factory which is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

rainbow digbeth

Will the new Bournville residents call for the limitation or even closure of the Bournville factory as they did in the city centre, harassing the Rainbow, Fiddle and Bone, Spotted Dog and the Nightingale Club, as the Post recorded?

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Last week, the Financial Times noted that British outsourcing companies have ‘strengthened their grip on public sector contracts’ over the past decade, and that -according to the National Audit Office – Capita is one of the UK’s biggest beneficiaries.

service birmingham logo

Service Birmingham chief executive Stewart Wren has said: “Service Birmingham is one of the most successful public-private partnerships in the UK and we remain committed to delivering quality services.”

Quality services?

As a reader who has recently moved to Birmingham informs us that on the contact form sent, presumably, by Capita/Service Birmingham her name was mis-spelt and her postcode was wrong – other ‘rumblings’ come to mind.

In January, the Mail reported that Service Birmingham took two payments instead of one from 3,447 householders and business ratepayers.

David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston Business School has received a large amount of correspondence from distraught and seriously ill constituents who have been waiting months for Capita to carry out an assessment for their claim for disability benefits, many of whom are now facing serious financial problems because of these delays.

Value for money?

birmingham city council header

Concerns are being raised in parliament over whether outsourcing deals represent best value for taxpayers. Birmingham City Council handed over its council tax collection department to Capita Service Birmingham in 2011 with a commitment to raise collection rates, but in July the Post reported that Council tax arrears in Birmingham have risen by 15% in the last year with the local authority owed more than £105 million.

In October, the Post reported – after a reference to uncompetitive practice – that a total of £23 million was paid to the private firm last year by City Council, up from £8 million in 2012 – a 187% rise. Dividends for 2013 rose as the city council announced it would be cutting 6,000 further jobs in the next four years.

MP Roger Godsiff, who has questioned Capita closely about its costs and profit margins (a taxpayers’ subsidy) said the contract for IT, call centre and pay roll services is an “egregious misuse of Birmingham citizens’ public funds”.

Professor Bailey has repeatedly called for the contract to be market-tested, and said: “If the contract had been cancelled in 2012, at my estimated cancellation cost of £25 million, then there would actually have been a net in-year financial benefit for the council given the £28 million saved.”

As the Serious Fraud Office investigates Serco and G4S, the National Audit Office has called for tighter scrutiny of government contracts.

public accounts committee

MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the public accounts committee (above), has called the privatisation of public services – with around half the government’s £187bn annual spending going to private contractors – “the most important public policy issue of our time”.

Would the council be well advised to return to in-house administration?

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Sussex University research, awarded distinction, reflects on the experience of Birmingham Energy Savers and recommends modifications to Green Deal policy enabling it to make a better contribution to strengthening local economies and maximising opportunities for local supply chains. 

‘The Green Deal and energy efficiency supply chain development: Policy lessons from a case study of Birmingham’, is based on the dissertation research by Anna Watson, author of Localise West Midlands’ 2010 report, Own Goal: the Globalisation of Football Finance.

Anna Watson Attwood award eventAnna, at a civic reception, where Jon Morris, Matthew Rhodes and Keith Budden received an Attwood Award on November 4th from the Lord Mayor, Len Gregory at the Council House.

This celebrated their development and promotion of the Birmingham Energy Savers scheme within ‘Be Birmingham’ and the council, right through to delivery.

Anna concludes with recommendations for local and national government and, as the LWM briefing says, this should be useful reading for all those involved in the development of the retrofit agenda.

gnd anna cover

Click here to read the Policy Briefing.

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Localise West Midlands, which promotes local supply chains, money flow, ownership and decision-making for a more just and sustainable economy, congratulates Anna and adds contact detials for a full copy of the report:

Anna Watson: https://au.linkedin.com/in/annahollidaywatson,
Email: annahollidaywatson@gmail.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/annaholliday
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Priory Rooms atrium & walls insulated

Compass: a home for those who want to build and be a part of a Good Society; one where equality, sustainability and democracy are not mere aspirations, but a living reality. We are founded on the belief that no single issue, organisation or political party can make a Good Society a reality by themselves so we have to work together to make it happen . . .

compass logoA discussion event for Compass members and supporters led by Michael Orton, will take place tomorrow evening.

The event will be informal with the emphasis on identifying progressive and positive solutions from the upcoming Compass report ‘‘Something’s Not Right: Insecurity and an Anxious Nation’.

When: Wednesday 19 November, 19:30 – 21:30
Where: William Penn Room, The Priory Rooms,
Quaker Meeting House, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham B4 6AF

The event will be very interesting and here at Compass we are looking forward to hearing what the Compass West Midlands group come up with.

If you require any further information do not hesitate to contact Michael at michaelorton100@gmail.com

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Former MP Dr Richard Taylor, co-founder of  the National Health Action Party, calls for urgent and complete reform of the NHS Complaints Process.

dr richard taylorHe describes it as toothless and unhelpful from the patients’ or their relatives’ points of view. An impartial, independent opinion is not available until the complaint is passed to the Ombudsman.

As a medically qualified MP, assisting constituents with complaints, on several occasions the only ‘independent’ experts employed appeared to be on the side of the NHS and not really independent. They were defensive and expert at rubbishing the complaint or justifying the action, or lack of action taken, that led to the complaint.

In order to make effective complaints, patients need expert, independent help made easily and generally available early in the process and long before legal action is considered. Legal action must always be the last resort.

The Independent Health and Disability Commissioner of New Zealand, with offices in all major towns, is an example of an independent, accessible official to whom patients, relatives and staff can raise complaints and concerns with preservation of anonymity if desired. The Commissioner has the knowledge and ability to cope with these or to pass them on to the highest authority when appropriate.

Before Community Health Councils were abolished they had the ability to listen to complaints and then direct access to local NHS authorities or even the Health Secretary if necessary. There has been no adequate replacement for this vital service. Health Watch appears to be toothless in this respect.

An appropriate reform of the Complaints Process could fill this gap. Dr Taylor adds:

“Even more important is the need to avoid complaints. This can be achieved by improving communication between NHS staff and their patients. With open, comprehensible information-sharing and discussion most complaints can be avoided before they develop. As always full, open communication between patients and staff is vital”.

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COMMENT FROM CUMBRIA BY EMAIL

Our nearest hospital is Carlisle which is nearly bankrupt having been involved in what I think was called PFI, ie private funding.

The car parking there is so bad that one has to take a driver so one can go to the appointment whilst the driver waits to park the car. I am told many people give up and go home missing the appointment, thereby wasting time and costing money.

 

central library cropped

Rumours of flooding in the building reached us but cannot be substantiated – have readers any information on this subject? An online search refers to the building being flooded with natural light – no complaint there.

It is alleged that there are structural faults but these are not being publicised. True or false?

Facts

Samantha Peace, the regional Health and Safety executive, explained in the Post a few months ago that problems which left staff unable to reach books was down to “bad planning” not safety issues. Thousands of books could not be accessed six months after it opened because it had not bought equipment to reach high shelves in the reference “stack” area.

Josh Allen, in the LRB blog, recalls that the shortfall in this library’s funding this year could be as much as £713,000. Cuts of £500,000 to the library’s services are pencilled in for next year with more to follow if the rest of the deficit can’t be made up from charity.

He notes that members of the council’s Labour group have attended trade union rallies protesting against the £12 million a year needed to service the loans taken out to build the library. The construction cost £187 million, but the council will pay back nearly £500 million before the debt is cleared in forty years’ time.

The only library left in Birmingham?

Pointing out that many of the city’s community libraries are now open only a few days a week, Josh Allen sees a danger that they will close altogether, and ‘the Library of Birmingham’ will become not only a name but a statement of fact.

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The inaugural Royal Geographical Society Lecture, in partnership with the Birmingham & Midland Institute, will take place at the Institute on Thursday 6 November at 6.30pm.

BMI best

It will be given by Dr Lee Chapman from the University of Birmingham, Reader in Climate Resilience in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who will speak about “Building Urban Climate Resilience”.

dr lee chapmanRGI website: “Located across the city of Birmingham is a near real-time, high-resolution network of automatic weather stations and air temperature sensors – the Birmingham Urban Climate Laboratory.

Dr Lee Chapman (left) will discuss how this network is monitoring the impacts of ‘urban heat’ on infrastructure and health, and explore the ongoing work with Birmingham City Council and Amey PLC that is helping to improve weather and climate resilience in the city”.

Tickets cost £3.00, available on the door, and will include light refreshments following the lecture.

Admission is free to BMI and RGS members.

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john hemming plus brummieA link in The Brummie, the most useful West Midlands aggregator site, led to an article in this week’s Post by Jonathan Walker  with a promising title: ‘MP John Hemming is often a beacon of truth’.

Overlooking the patronising introductory jibes, Mr Walker rightly said that John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, ‘marches to the beat of a different drum’. More should join him.

Some of his campaigns are described:

School holidays: Mr Hemming is chairman of a campaign group called Parents Want a Say, which opposes the increasing fines for term-time absence following the law introduced in September 2013; headteachers are now to receive new guidance on when they are allowed to authorise pupil absence. Jonathan Walker misleadingly describes John Hemming’s campaign on the school holiday issue as asserting ‘that parents should have the right to fly their children off for a fortnight in Malaga during term time’. He failed to list serious implications for parents – one being that many have work commitments which do not permit them to take a holiday between school terms.

Family law courts: at first this MP’s claims about family law courts were dismissed; he charged that these courts were making decisions in secret about child welfare – often taking children away from parents, with parents denied proper representation and without the welfare of the child properly taken into account. However, in 2009 the Labour government announced family courts across England and Wales were being opened up to journalists as part of a government bid to boost public confidence in the system. Furthermore, in January 2014 rules were changed so that judgments in the family courts and the Court of Protection were to be be publicised unless there are “compelling reasons” not to do so. John Hemming chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and The Court of Protection set up to address the concerns raised by the public and professionals working within the family justice system.

Highlighting massive electoral fraud: as a councillor, when he warned that electoral fraud was taking place in Birmingham, West Midlands Police named the inquiry into his complaints “Operation Gripe”. But he was right. In 2005, election Court Judge Richard Mawrey found six councillors guilty of carrying out “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud – one had the finding reversed on appeal.

Energy security: he was a lone voice in parliament, highlighting the fact that the UK lacked sufficient gas storage facilities – and could actually run out of gas in a cold winter. Later, Malcolm Wicks, Energy Minister at the time, admitted the UK’s winter gas supply was “uncomfortably tight”.

appg peak oil and gas

As chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, he commented on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil’s report into TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas), co-authored by Shaun Chamberlin: “We urgently need to have a system in place to mitigate the economic and social consequences of peak oil. I believe TEQs provide the fairest and most productive way to deal with the oil crisis and to simultaneously guarantee reductions in fossil fuel use to meet climate change targets.”

John Hemming’s role in promoting global environmental welfare, which might well prove to be the most important of all our concerns, deserves far wider recognition.

nhap header

Call ​for a Health Service Ombudsman for England​

Since the demise of the Healthcare Commission in 2009 the PHSO is the second and final tier in the NHS complaint process.  If the NHS trust has not given a satisfactory response, after the complaint process ends, the complainant can go to the Ombudsman free of charge. 

The National Health Action Party is supporting a call ​for a Health Service Ombudsman for England​ rather than the current joint Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman. Read more here.

Dr Kishore Tewary informs us that a Birmingham group has been in existence for some time, and will soon be launching a Facebook group as well as online discussion sessions.

The group aims eventually to have face to face meetings, and decide on strategies/actions.

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