NOW that George Osborne is no longer constrained by the presence of the Lib Dems in government, he will use this week’s Budget – the first to be outlined by a majority Conservative government in 18 years – to set the economic parameters for the next Parliament.
Yet, while aspiration will be a recurring theme as the next tranche of welfare cuts are offset by eyecatching measures to stimulate business growth, home ownership and to keep the BBC’s profligacy in check, there will be pressure on the Chancellor to offer greater clarity on his Northern Powerhouse blueprint after much-promised rail improvements were abruptly put on hold.
If Mr Osborne does not deliver, political and public confidence in his strategy will suffer. And it’s not just transport – the actual powers being devolved to Yorkshire remain fluid and a consensus needs to be reached on how best to deliver services, and infrastructure improvements, in an effective manner. Understandably, the focus is on Yorkshire’s city-regions and how to maximise their productivity. This need is highlighted by today’s report by the highly respected Centre For Cities think-tank which has identified vast untapped potential which could be harnessed if town halls kept a greater proportion of the business rates generated locally.
However, it would be remiss of Mr Osborne – and local leaders – to ignore the plight of rural districts, which have found themselves on the margins of the devolution debate, after the National Housing Federation identified those areas in Yorkshire which will be home to a disproportionate number of pensioners, and the impact of this demographic changes on local services. As such, Mr Osborne’s investment, housing and transport policies will have far-reaching repercussions for rural areas, a point that the Government would be ill-advised to overlook.
College challenge: Cinderella service’s vital role
AFTER BEING made a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours last month for his lifelong contribution to education, Peter Roberts could make an even greater contribution to forthcoming policy-making – and the future prospects of young people – if the Government heeds the prescient advice of Leeds City College’s soon-to-retire chief executive.
He believes the importance of colleges, Yorkshire’s headline success story when it comes to academic attainment, continues to be downplayed by those politicians who place a premium on the exam results accrued by schools and universities, and that there needs to be greater collaboration on the part of the further education sector regionally.
This intervention is timely. If the Prime Minister is to fulfil this pre-election commitment to abolish youth unemployment, colleges will have a crucial role to play in the training needs of those teenagers who are not academically gifted – or those mature students looking to add to their skills. This is borne out by the fact that the average FE college is bigger than most secondary schools and is expected to teach in excess of 2,000 young people aged 16 to 18, train more than 1,000 apprentices and provided courses for 5,000 adults. These are not insignificant numbers.
How ironic, therefore, that this work is being placed in jeopardy by short-sighted policy-making at the very moment that Mr Cameron’s government has identified £12bn of additional savings from welfare budgets – and working-age benefits in particular. As such, Mr Roberts offers a way forward that could nullify the impact of this cut.
The Royal christening: a public and private princess
THIS was a christening like no other – centuries of Royal tradition, as Princess Charlotte was baptised in an elaborate gown passed through history, intertwined with the contemporary and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s desire to allow their young children to have as normal a life as possible.
It was illustrated by the public’s enthusiasm as four generations of the House of Windsor gathered at a sleepy Sandringham church for a private christening rich in public symbolism.
The first time that the Duke and Duchess have been seen in public with both of their two children, it offered a first glimpse of the modern family who represent the monarchy’s future. After the turbulent 1990s, the Royal Family has never been more popular as Charlotte’s great-grandmother prepares to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history. The Queen’s shining example will, in time, become invaluable as the young princess becomes accustomed to a life spent in the limelight.