Fairer funding for all schools

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TWO themes are more familiar than others when it comes to the allocation of government funds – the North-South divide and town versus country. They also explain why the Government is still trying to find a way of providing more funding to those schools in rural counties, like the East Riding and North Yorkshire, that appear to have been short-changed in the past.

One year after George Osborne promised in his Budget to look again at an antiquated funding formula, and the Chancellor is facing vociferous Labour claims that the Conservatives want to divert money from deprived Yorkshire cities with poor records of attainment to the Tory ‘shire’ heartlands.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, alludes to this in today’s newspaper when he warns that he will not allow this to happen. Yet, while Lib Dem activists meeting in York will be reassured by this, it does not answer this question: where will the money come from so pupils attending rural schools receive the same support and opportunities than their peers growing up in larger towns and cities?

It’s why any promise made between now and the next election needs to be treated with caution – the public have a right to expect far greater clarity about the future funding of these commitments.

That said, this is a critical weekend for Mr Clegg’s party after it suffered the embarrassment of seeing its council candidate in Nottingham defeated by the ‘Bus-Pass Elvis’ party on Thursday.

The Lib Dems want to differentiate themselves from the Tories, Vince Cable’s outspoken attacks on the EU referendum and immigration policy are not finding favour with those who do not support the party’s enthusiasm for Europe.

Perhaps the better option is for Mr Clegg to concentrate on the positive contribution that his party has made to the coalition, such as raising the tax threshold for the low-paid to £10,000 and signalling a desire to increase it still further to £12,500 as the economy grows. For, like it or not, Britain’s recovery is only just beginning and still needs to be the number one focus if all schools are to be adequately funded in the future.

The last resort: Scarborough’s £24m sea defence dilemma

THE vulnerability of Scarborough to coastal erosion was illustrated, dramatically, in 1993 when the Holbeck Hall Hotel fell into the North Sea following a landslide. Yet, in the intervening 20 years, man’s struggle with nature has become more challenging along the East Coast.

It is why the Government announced £60m of funding to help regenerate Britain’s coastal resorts or cities, like Hull, that are located within close proximity to the sea – the Tories and Liberal Democrats wanted to show their support for those victims of flooding who did not receive the same level of support that was made available to the Thames Valley recently.

However, as this newspaper argued yesterday, £60m is a drop in the proverbial ocean when one considers the scale of the challenges – both economic and environmental – that continue to confront coastal communities.

Take Scarborough. Its councillors face the daunting prospect next week of considering the ramifications of a report which warns that it will cost £24m to protect the resort’s famous Spa complex, as well as 380 properties, from heavy seas and the increased risk of landslides. Council chief executive Jim Dillon’s assessment is a stark one: “The situation can only deteriorate without intervention in the form of cliff stabilisation.”

Yet, as some experts warn that flood-risk areas like the Somerset Levels might have to be sacrificed because the Government can’t justify the cost of defending a small number of homes, the dilemma in Scarborough is also on a knife-edge. While some will say that the relevant public agencies do not have the resources to protect the at risk area, despite the iconic status of the South Bay, others will contend that the town can’t afford to risk losing a landmark like the Spa.

Encouraging women of substance

TO some, International Women’s Day is a slight misnomer because of the Queen’s enduring popularity – and Margaret Thatcher’s strength of character when she became Britain’s first female prime minister.

In many respects, they are the exception – women are still under-represented in the upper echelons of public life and business. Yet, while many eschew positive discrimination, and rightly so, it should not preclude policy-makers – and society as a whole – from looking to encourage females to make their mark.

Times are changing. Unlike the post-war years, there is now a greater preponderance of working mothers and this trend is likely to continue out of

both financial necessity – and the welcome fact that more women are determined to pursue their own careers.

Yet one final point should be made in conclusion: mothers juggling their

home and work responsibilities know far more about the practicalities of policies like childcare than any government Minister, and it is time that each of the main parties tried to find a more effective way of utilising such expertise. That would be a timely and positive way to mark International Women’s Day.