Brinkmanship over economy

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AS THE dust settles on the last Autumn Statement before the next election, it is clear that each of the three main parties has significant challenges if they are to earn the trust of sufficient voters.

First the Tories. Despite George Osborne’s stewardship of the economy and reform of stamp duty being praised by, amongst others, Nigel Lawson, it is becoming clear that the post-2015 austerity cuts will be far deeper than many had anticipated. It is a difficult dilemma. Many attribute Britain’s financial difficulties to the size of the state and back Mr Osborne’s transformative attempt to reduce public spending to just 35 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade.

His challenge is doing so in a progressive and compassionate manner that is sensitive to society’s most vulnerable members – and public opinion. If he cuts too aggressively, his strategy could backfire.

This is not to say that Labour has the answers. Quite the opposite. The response of Ed Balls amounted to little more than an attack on the Tories for missing their deficit reduction targets (ironically because of the scale of the economic mess bequeathed by the last Labour government). The Shadow Chancellor promised to protect key public services, but declined countless opportunities to outline the taxes that would be raised to pay for this. Voters have a right to expect more clarity.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they are now in danger of imploding after Nick Clegg chose to visit Penzance during the Autumn Statement because he wanted to put political distance between his party and the Tories. Yet the very essence of coalition government demands collective responsibility, a notion that the Deputy Prime Minister appears to have forgotten in this game of political brinkmanship.

Yet the economy is not a game. Livelihoods depend on its successful stewardship – and it is time that the country’s political elite recognised this.

Pay-off poser

£26,000 paid to Rotherham boss

SOME financial context is required to the £26,000 that has been paid to Rotherham Council’s former chief executive Martin Kimber who resigned in the wake of his authority’s response to the sex grooming scandal that has engulfed the town. Contrary to perception, this is not a pay-off – it is a salary entitlement after the official left the troubled authority two months earlier than anticipated following Jan Ormondroyd’s appointment as his successor.

The greater issue is why Mr Kimber did not see fit to resign immediately in the wake of Professor Alexis Jay’s horrific report into the grooming of 1,400 young girls by predominantly Asian gangs. Not only did he try and ride out the storm that claimed, amongst others, South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner Shaun Wright, but he decided that no council colleagues should be disciplined for their complacent role in one of Britain’s worst child abuse scandals.

This blind loyalty alone made it impossible for Mr Kimber to remain in post and the tantalising question now is whether he walks into another role in the public sector. At the time of the Jay report, he said many of those in senior positions in Rotherham during “critical periods” were now working elsewhere. “It’s really important that their current employers read this report for their own judgements as to their particular role at that time,” he advised.

Given this, it can only be hoped that Martin Kimber practices what he preaches until the Government has time to make the necessary changes to the law so that senior public sector officials can be held to account

when their leadership falls short of the high standards rightly expected of them.

A man of integrity

MP to step down after 22 years

LIKE so many political grandees who are taking their leave of Parliament at the next election. Hugh Bayley will be a tough act to follow when he steps down as York Central MP. First elected in 1992, Mr Bayley has always been a conscientious MP who has striven tirelessly to put the city at the forefront of the living wage agenda now being championed by the Archbishop of York.

Yet, while his Ministerial career was a relatively brief one, Mr Bayley’s integrity meant that he was often asked to chair debates in Westminster Hall and he recently completed a stint as president of Nato’s parliamentary assembly. He has also helped to shape Britain’s overseas aid policy.

Mr Bayley’s successor as Labour candidate is awaited with interest. So close to the election, the local party can expect to come under pressure to endorse an individual favoured by the national leadership.

This would be mistaken – the role needs to go to the person who can do the very best job for York.