April 17: David Cameron in Leeds, primary school places and the future of Morrisons

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The Tory leader and a positive change of tone

PERHAPS the most striking aspect of David Cameron’s campaign visit to Leeds was the Prime Minister’s tone as he removed his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves. Gone was the negativity that has characterised the election to date as the Conservative leader went out of his way to defend his party’s record, and its deficit reduction plans for the next Parliament, rather than vilify his opponents.

With now less than three weeks go to polling day, and postal voting due to begin imminently, the electorate knows that Mr Cameron has no time for Ed Miliband – and vice-versa. What they want to know is precisely what the main parties intend to do to improve the quality of life for families across Yorkshire when there is a perception that the needs of the North are being marginalised by the demands being made by Scotland.

In this regard, Mr Cameron does have a positive story to tell – and he should not be afraid to do so. This region’s economy is far stronger today in comparison to the uncertainty of 2010 when the Tories and Lib Dems came together in the national interest.

And, while the coalition was slow to respond to the specific challenges facing Yorkshire, Mr Cameron’s government has sought to make up for lost time with its vision for a Northern Powerhouse across the Pennines.

Of course there is still much to do – the devolution deals for Leeds and Sheffield do not compare favourably to Manchester – but the Prime Minister’s willingness to back high-speed rail, despite concerns over the cost, does show a long-term commitment to this region. As such, it is now up to Mr Cameron to emphasise that the Tories are a genuine party of aspiration rather than austerity. For, if he is to be returned to office, he is far more likely to do so if he gives the uncommitted a positive reason to vote Conservative.

Primary lessons: Fears over school places lottery

IN SEEKING to explain why 550 infants have not been allocated a place at one of the five schools selected by their parents, Leeds Council has been quick to absolve itself of blame. It attributes this to 427 families not following guidance to include their nearest school – an omission that is not unique to the West Yorkshire city.

However it does point to the need for greater clarity – perhaps the child’s nearest school should be included as a matter of routine on the application form – as the allocation of places becomes more fragmented, and complicated, by the advent of academies and free schools which do not come under the auspices of the relevant LEA.

As the Local Government Association has made clear, there does need to be an element of forward planning because this issue is too important to be left to chance – population growth means demand for primary school places is not keeping up with supply in certain parts of the country and every politician fighting the General Election is adamant in the belief that every child deserves the best possible start to their life if they’re to fulfil their academic potential and make a positive contribution to society during adulthood.

With no controls on EU migration, there is every likelihood that the situation will become even more acute during the lifetime of the next Parliament – some estimates point to there being a shortage of places in up to 60 per cent of all LEAs by the end of the decade.

As such, the availability of primary places – and the quality of teaching on offer – is every bit as important as the annual GCSE results which are invariably used by politicians to determine education policy.

Back to basics: Morrisons makes its move

EVEN THOUGH the latest shake-up at Bradford-based Morrisons will spell bad news in the short-term for the 720 head office staff who are set to lose their jobs, there is every likelihood that it will be in the long-term interests of the supermarket.

Why? This Yorkshire institution was at the peak of its powers when there was a close bond between Sir Ken Morrison and his loyal customers – this respect was mutual and only became eroded when the retailer created so many tiers of management that it lost sight of the needs of its shoppers.

By going back to basics under new boss David Potts, and recruiting an additional 5,000 shop floor staff to man the tills and providing a level of service on the shop floor which other supermarkets cannot match, Morrisons is signalling that it is back in business following the Dalton Philips era and ready to respond to the omnipresent discount retailers. This bodes well for staff and customers alike.