Comment: A divide that needs closing

HOW ironic that David Cameron finds himself presiding over a stubbornly wide North-South divide, when his intentions were the polar opposite three and a half years ago after he formed his historic coalition with the Lib Dems.

The Tory leader could not have been clearer when he travelled to Shipley in May 2010 to deliver the first major economic speech of his premiership, in which he warned that a financial recovery driven by London and the South East would be “fundamentally unstable and wasteful – because we are not making use of the talent out there in all parts of our United Kingdom”.

A bullish Mr Cameron went on to declare that Yorkshire was a “priority” and that the coming decade would be “the most entrepreneurial and dynamic” in Britain’s history.

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In fairness, that may still happen. The latest data on house sales suggests that the recovery has taken hold, despite Labour’s contrary assertions.

Yet, given this region’s electoral importance to the Conservatives ahead of the 2015 election, party strategists cannot afford to ignore the latest spending imbalances that the Yorkshire Post can reveal today as part of a Big Debate on the North-South divide.

On a range of policies, Yorkshire is missing out on vital funds because the Government’s criteria appears to be skewered so heavily in favour of both the South East and also Scotland, the latter a consequence of next year’s divisive referendum on independence.

This is not to argue in favour of even greater public expenditure – indeed one of the coalition’s strengths of the coalition has been its resilience on spending restraint in the face of Labour’s ‘blank cheque’ approach to policy-making.

It is also accepted that it will take time for this region to reap the benefits of several transport schemes, including HS2 and a revamped trans-Pennine Express rail service, which have the potential to yield major long-term dividends.

However Mr Cameron cannot hide from the fact that policy-making is still too London-centric and that dynamic regions like Yorkshire, starved of infrastructure investment for so long, do require fairer funding if they’re to become less dependent on the public sector for jobs and prosperity.

It is also very regrettable, in lieu of his Shipley speech, that the recovery is being underpinned by the financial services industry – one of the primary sources of a credit crunch which inflicted so much misery on so many – and London’s over-dominance of the national economy.

As the Big Debate sets out the scale of the North-South divide still facing the country, we, once again, welcome the input of readers on how to reconcile these issues – and we hope that the PM takes note by responding with magnanimity and pragmatism.

Teachers must be fully qualified

SOUTH Leeds Academy cannot solely blame its advertisement for an “Unqualified Teacher of Maths” on the omission of the word “trainee” – the online application form for these two posts includes a section entitled ‘Additional Information (required from teachers only)’.

Yet, in a week when the governance of Bradford’s Kings Science Academy was the subject of a Parliamentary debate, the nature of this vacancy raises fresh questions about the quality of teaching in the coalition’s new wave of autonomous schools.

After all, it was Lord Nash – a junior minister – who wrote to the trust behind South Leeds Academy on September 18 to point out Education Secretary Michael Gove’s displeasure on a range of failings, including the fact that the school’s GCSE maths results were still below the national average in spite of some recent improvements.

Given how Lord Nash’s missive explained how only 44 per cent of youngsters had made the anticipated level of progress in maths, and that Ofsted had judged the “quality of teaching” to be “inadequate”, it defies belief that a government committed to raising school standards can sanction the appointment of unqualified staff.

If South Leeds Academy has any sense, it will now seek two fully qualified teachers to inspire and stimulate its pupils.

But Lord Nash and Mr Gove also need to explain why they were prepared to put political expediency before the future of the children concerned.

Bark-controlled washing machine

EVEN though dogs have been long regarded as ‘man’s best friend’, this enduring relationship is being taken to new levels by those specially-trained canine helpers transforming the lives of disabled people.

This is typified by the pioneering work being undertaken by the Support Dogs charity in South Yorkshire, and which enables washing machines to be activated by the sound of an animal’s bark – or its paw being pressed against an electronic pad.

This is not as barking mad as it sounds. If only the gadgetry on all household items could be so straight-forward to use. Never mind dogs, they’re many occasions when such technology is unfathomable to those with sharp intellects. As such, it begs this question: how long before a dog can be trained to do the ironing, and also the washing-up?