IT is indicative of the poor calibre of Britain’s political leaders when they are only now becoming aware of the possible consternation when access restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are lifted on New Year’s Day.
The very same concerns about the impact on schools and NHS services were being expressed 10 years ago when residents from eight Eastern European countries – including Poland – were given freedom of movement rights under EU laws. Little appears to have been learned at Westminster in the past decade.
Yet these pressures will be exacerbated by the Government’s short- sighted decision to abolish the Migration Impacts Fund, one means by which town halls could receive some money from Whitehall to finance unexpected pressures on education, healthcare and housing.
The consequence is budgets becoming even more stretched because funds, already limited by the council tax cap and other means, will have to be diverted away from existing services to support a new wave of EU migrants.
Perhaps this is why David Cameron has been using increasingly provocative language to characterise Britain’s relationship with Brussels; he knows the allocation of extra resources will strengthen Ukip’s chances in next May’s European election.
Yet the invidiousness of the PM’s position was further highlighted when Nick Clegg warned the Lib Dems will veto any fresh attempts to curb immigration, saying forcefully that “sticking a big no-entry sign on the cliffs of Dover may be politically popular, but at a huge economic cost”.
In this regard, the divide between Mr Cameron and his Lib Dem deputy is symptomatic of the flaws in policy. Too much time has been spent on appeasing various political factions rather than leaders coming together to work out how Britain’s best interests can be served. For, while immigration continues to make a great contribution to this country, there do still need to be checks and balances, and this is probably one such occasion.
The voice of sport
DAVID Coleman was, perhaps, the most versatile of a golden generation of commentators whose voices provided the soundtrack to so many lives. He was the “voice of sport”, the ultimate all-rounder who covered football and athletics while hosting institutions like Grandstand, Sportsnight and A Question of Sport and having the foresight to recognise the importance of the football Videprinter as the final whistle approaches.
In many respects, those were the halcyon days of BBC Sport when it had the broadcast rights to virtually every major sporting event and which enabled Coleman to cover 16 summer and winter Olympics as well as six World Cups – phrases like “one-nil” have never been spoken with more authority. Today, such classy commentators would not have the same chance to become household names because the BBC regards sport as an afterthought.
In paying tribute, another point needs to be made. Because Coleman served an apprenticeship as a journalist, he knew that it was facts, rather than opinions, that mattered more than most. It is why his broadcasts from the 1972 Munich Olympics defined his career; his calm, measured coverage had the perfect balance of authority and sensitivity as Palestinian gunmen murdered Israeli athletes. Given the ease with which retired sports competitors move into the commentary box with little experience of reportage, it is difficult to imagine them replicating Coleman’s gravitas in Germany or the poetic words of Peter Jones during the Hillsborough disaster – the ultimate test of any presenter.
And then there is his legacy. When David Hemery won the 400 metres hurdles at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, Coleman exclaimed: “Who cares who’s third?” That person was, in fact, Yorkshireman John Sherwood whose success is credited with inspiring a young Sebastian Coe, watching a flickering TV at school, to become a middle-distance champion before masterminding the 2012 London Olympics. As David Coleman would have said in another famous catchphrase: “Quite remarkable.”
ON the penultimate shopping day before Christmas, parking charges will, once again, be a subject of controversy, even more so after the RAC Foundation claimed that local authorities made a record surplus of £594m.
Motorists will argue that they’re being forced to prop up town hall budgets, as exemplified by the recent decision in Leeds to extend the scope of charges to evenings and Sundays, and that councils actually need to scale back parking fees if they want traditional high streets to survive.
Yet some perspective is required. The biggest surpluses were generated in large cities where the enforcement of restrictions is necessary to avoid a free-for-all that creates more congestion.
That said, there should be an onus on town halls, at a time when spending on transport has been sidetracked, to publish a breakdown of the money generated by charges and fines – and how this sum was spent. If motorists could see clear evidence that their money was being used to improve the roads, they might be in a slightly more forgiving mood.