Well first, they are serious about protecting and enhancing civil-liberties – which is something we can all cheer about. Secondly, the other thing that is keeping Lib-Dems happy (or at least quiet) right now, there is to be significant constitutional reforms – with a likely elected second chamber and a referendum on AV for the commons. So far, so good.
But listening to George Osborne and David Laws yesterday my thoughts turned to another area – that of the future of our current crop of school-leavers. Already worried about the unenviable choice between going to University and facing a mountain of debt on graduation, or entering a jobs market where 1 in 6 of their peers cannot find work, yesterdays announcements should come as a dire warning that things are going to get a lot worse.
We already know, or at least fear, that the Lib-Dems are likely to drop their long-standing opposition to tuition fees – preferring to preach from the safety of the fence, rather than risk undermining the coalition. Early indications suggest that not only are differential fees here to stay they are likely to face sustained increases, particularly if you fancy studying on a popular course at a decent university. However, cuts to the Education, Business and Work and Pensions budgets now mean that the next generation of workers (the ones that will be looking after us in our old-age) are now hit with substantial cuts in the following areas:
– The training and development agency for schools – saving achieved by cutting the scheme to attract the brightest and best graduates into teaching.
– Efficiencies in the university budgets – actually this is just a nice way of saying that 10,000 university places will be cut in September.
– Higher Education Funding Council for England – inevitably leading to a drop in the grants given to our Universities – so, even if you do manage to get a place at University, chances are that less is going to be spent on you.
– Cuts in reforming vocational qualifications – a long-overdue piece of work looking at how best to deliver high-quality vocational training at a level perceived to be equivalent to that of a degree.
– The Future Jobs Fund – cuts of over £1/4 billion in a scheme which finds work for unemployed 18-24year olds.
In all over £500million of the proposed £6billion directly impacts on programmes that help to educate, train or employ young people. This isn’t the end however – both Osborne and Laws made it clear that yesterday’s announcements should be seen as a statement of intent rather than a one-off cut. It can be easy to pull funding from schemes and programmes that many people have not heard of, but we should be aware that there is nearly always a consequence to it. Taking money away from educating, training and employing young people now does not just impact in the immediate term but risks leaving us with a lost-generation similar to the legacy left by the Thatcher and Major years.
It is true that there is a need for a grown-up debate around what we as a society are willing to pay for, and how much we are willing to pay in tax to get it – but in the absence of that, I like to finish with just one thought – yesterday, at the same time as cutting the funding mentioned above the government made a guarantee that no-savings would be sought in the MoD budget this financial year – when did the cost of war become of greater value than that of educating and employing our children?