Tom Richmond: Poor turnout at a debate vital to Yorkshire’s future

The Chancellor claims that every household will be �4,300 worse off if Britain votes for Brexit. (Matt Cardy/PA Wire).
The Chancellor claims that every household will be �4,300 worse off if Britain votes for Brexit. (Matt Cardy/PA Wire).
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WHERE were our MPs? Regrettably, it’s a question that must be asked following this week’s Commons debate on school standards in Yorkshire.

Even though this under-performing region still suffers the ignominy of having the worst exam results in the country, just one-third of Yorkshire’s 50 MPs appeared to be present.

Why? After all, this debate was flagged up in advance and sanctioned by the Commons Backbench Business Committee, a welcome procedural innovation that allows such issues to be aired.

In the 1970s, this region was ranked seventh out of the 10 English regions when it came to academic attainment – hardly a badge of pride. Now it is ranked bottom.

I can think of no issue which is more important to the future of each and every constituency in this region than education – and the need to give children from all walks of life, urban and rural, the best possible start in life.

After all, the so-called Northern Powerhouse will fall at the first hurdle – irrespective of the investment of transport – if pupils don’t leave schools with 21st century qualifications.

It’s just a shame an attendance register was not kept in the Commons– it would have made revealing reading. Just 12 backbenchers delivered substantive speeches – eight Labour, three Tories and one Lib Dem.

I was also struck by the unanimity – notably the need for strong leaders in schools and the assertion by Beverley MP Graham Stuart, a former education select committee chairman, that these need to be developed locally because it will be difficult to attract high-flyers to Yorkshire.

But three other points stood out. The first was by Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox who initiated the debate and revealed how the London Challenge had transformed standards in the capital because the Government made additional funding available. If it’s good enough for London, it should be good enough for Yorkshire.

As she said, schooling must never be a postcode lottery and “no child should be left behind” as she called on Tony Blair’s “education, education, education” soundbite to be replaced by the mantra “teachers, teachers, teachers”. I agree.

There was also a striking intervention by Philip Davies – the Shipley MP is the son of a teacher and he emphasised the importance of parental responsibility.

Yet, in response to former Labour Minister Caroline Flint who said Yorkshire did not have the blue-chip companies to rival London and provide opportunities for youngsters, Mr Davies suggested modifications to the student loan scheme for university graduates.

He could see no reason why it could not be extended to youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can pursue work experience and other opportunities at top firms.

It’s an idea which is worthy of further exploration. However, if Yorkshire had a world-class schools system, young people would not have to leave the country because there would be a sufficient number of global firms on their doorstep.

In this regard, the later speech by Ms Flint was telling because it highlighted the importance of finding solutions at a local level, rather than the Government imposing academies against the will of local communities.

That’s why the low attendance for this debate, held on the day parents learned whether their children will go to their preferred primary school, was so disappointing. If MPs can’t be bothered to spare a couple of hours to debate this profound issue, what will exercise them?

DON’T fall for George Osborne’s scare story that every household will be £4,300 worse off if Britain votes for Brexit as the UK economy shrinks by six per cent.

The Chancellor begins every Budget and Autumn Statement by setting out the growth forecasts of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

If Mr Osborne believed there was any substance to his latest assertion, he should surely have asked the OBR to produce an independent report setting out the position. At least it would have been slightly more credible.

Instead he used cobbled together Treasury documents and then had the brass neck to present these dubious findings as an official report.

My point is this. If the consequences are as dire as Mr Osborne contends, why did he endorse a referendum that threatens to put the economy at such risk? He can’t have it both ways.

Like it or not, the June 23 referendum will come down to an issue of trust – just who do you believe? After a car crash Budget which proved the Chancellor is not morally fit to hold high office, and then this stunt, it’s not Mr Osborne.

And nor is it Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, one of two female Ministers (the other was Energy Secretary Amber Rudd) who accompanied Mr Osborne. Her blind loyalty to the Chancellor, and misguided belief that he will be the next Prime Minister and will reward her with a top job, looks even more delusional.

TALKING of the EU referendum, I’m surprised more has not been made of the photograph of David Cameron being cheered to the rafters by none other than Neil “EuroMillions” Kinnock at the launch of the Leave campaign.

The nauseating sight of Lord Kinnock, whose family have made their wealth on the European gravy train, applauding a Tory prime minister shows the depths to which some will stoop to get the result they want.

TORY grandee Ken Clarke says David Cameron won’t survive 30 seconds if the Remain campaign lose the EU referendum. That’s being generous...