April 1: Rebuilding an economy to last: Jobs link to home ownership

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THE desire of David Cameron to preside over the creation of two million new jobs in the next Parliament is a statement of intent on the Prime Minister’s part – and that prosperity is still the key to eradicating Britain’s deficit. His optimism is underpinned by GDP figures which show that the country’s economy grew by 2.8 per cent last year – marginally more than the increase that was envisaged by the Office of National Statistics.

Yet, while the Prime Minister’s ambition contrasts with the decisions of the past five years that have seen the Tories portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as the party of cuts, Mr Cameron needs to remember that the quality of job opportunities is as important as the number of posts that the Conservatives hope to generate over the course of the next Parliament.

This necessity is made even more pertinent by the National Housing Federation’s new report which reveals the extent to which ‘self-sacrificing seniors’ are compromising the future of their finances by using the equity in their homes to help their children, or grandchildren, onto the property ladder. However this is of little comfort to those people being employed on zero-hours contracts and who cannot count on the so-called ‘bank of Mum and Dad’ for a financial leg-up.

Yet, while the Chancellor’s Budget did set out plans to create a help-to-buy ISA to boost home ownership amongst younger generations and could, in time, revive the spirit of Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy revolution, the NHF points to a growing shortage of affordable homes for older people. This is an important point – a new generation of jobs needs to go hand-in-hand with the construction of affordable homes, and policies which reward savers, if the country’s future finances are not be skewed by a generation of people who do have not made sufficient financial provision for their old age.

Clegg’s candour: The NHS and Lib Dem remedies

NICK CLEGG remains a political enigma. Even though his decision to lead the Lib Dems into coalition with the Conservatives may backfire on May 7 if the party suffers heavy losses and finds itself on the margins of politics, he has earned the right to a fair hearing from voters.

His party is also not afraid to challenge established orthodoxies – it was Mr Clegg’s party who persuaded the Tories to change their thinking on tax cuts for the less well-off – and it is the Lib Dems who are now going out on a limb by campaigning for greater investment in mental health services.

And, unlike the Conservatives and Labour who continue to wage war over how they will fund the £30bn ‘Stevens plan’ to shore up the National Health Service, Mr Clegg has said that his intention is for spending to be aligned to economic growth as well as a tax squeeze on high earners.

It remains to be seen whether the Lib Dems will continue to be this specific on other policy pledges, but at least the party does recognise the need for clarity and believes passionately that investment in mental health services could actually save the NHS money in the longer-term.

In this regard, it is curious that David Cameron began his election campaign by visiting the Tory target seat of Chippenham which is currently held by the Lib Dems. If both the Conservatives and Mr Clegg’s party are to have any chance of staying in office, assuming that a hung parliament is still the most probable outcome, it seems odd that they’re fighting each other rather than hunting down their common enemy – Labour.

Kevin Sinfield: A league of his own

THERE HAVE been few finer exponents of rugby league than the talismanic Leeds Rhinos skipper Kevin Sinfield, who has shocked the sporting world with his decision to switch codes. His leadership qualities and metronomic-like accumulation of points as a nerveless goal-kicker have been instrumental to the side’s unprecedented success and his status as an all-time great of the 13-a-side game is secure.

Yet it also bodes well for the future of rugby union in the North that the 34-year-old intends to take up a new challenge at his beloved Headingley with Yorkshire Carnegie. Despite the wisdom of Lions legend Sir Ian McGeechan, the side remains stuck in rugby union’s second tier and in need of a major impetus in order to return to the Premiership where the club belongs. In Sinfield, the club have secured a player widely regarded by his peers as one of sport’s ultimate role models. It’s an accolade that has been achieved by the player leading by example – on and off the pitch.