Reality check for BBC stars

IT IS ironic that the BBC’s annual report names Call The Midwife as one of the Corporation’s success stories in the past year – the family of Jennifer Worth, the East End midwife whose books and writings inspired the Sunday night drama, claim that the once poignant programme no longer resembles the reality of life in the 1950s and that a fourth series should not be broadcast later this year.

In many respects, it is indicative of the BBC’s failure to invest sufficient sums in new programmes because it continues to find new ways to squander public money – whether it be the £100m wasted on a digital media project that has been closed down, over-generous severance payments to under-performing executives and its obsession with highly-paid celebrity entertainers who do so little to enrich the quality and quantity of the Corporation’s output.

Yet, while it would be churlish not to acknowledge the transitional changes that have been introduced by director general Tony Hall as he recognises the need for the BBC to be less profligate, recent coverage of the World Cup – and the decision to pay a team of former players to pontificate from a beachside setting in Rio de Janeiro rather than the Corporation’s purpose-built sports HQ in Salford – suggests far more needs to be done to end the culture of extravagance which has been allowed to prevail for far too long.

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Rather than remaining sceptical of the coalition’s public sector cuts, the BBC should embrace change. If the Home Office can reduce crime rates with fewer police on the beat, there is no reason why the Corporation can’t produce more inspired programmes with fewer resources – it is just a question of spending its funding more responsibly and putting the interests of viewers and listeners before the whims of celebrities or those executives who have mismanaged this institution.

School squeeze

Places crisis demands quick fix

THE daily travel regime of Melissa Stowe would stretch the patience of even the hardiest of commuters.

Leaving the house before many people are even out of bed, she catches the first of no fewer than three buses shortly before 7am – later repeating the entire journey in reverse in order to get back home again.

And all this simply to ensure that her daughter Olivia can get to school.

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An extreme example perhaps, but this ludicrous arrangement is symptomatic of the problems facing parents right across Yorkshire due to a shameful shortage of school places.

Squeezed out of her local primary school, despite it being just a 10-minute walk from her front door, four-year-old Olivia must make a near 10-mile journey each day. It is a damning indictment of the failure of primary education planning. Two thirds of local authorities now predict they will have more pupils than places by the beginning of the 2017 academic year.

A problem started by the failure of population predictions to keep pace with rising birth rates has been compounded by the expansion of the academy and free school programme, which has merely served to divert funding from where it is most needed.

The planning of school places has always been a difficult juggling act, but it is hard not to conclude that in some places the balls have well and truly fallen to the floor.

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Faster and more focused funding for the expansion of schools in the worst affected areas, alongside money to build new ones, is now vital if the educational building blocks of a generation are not to be irrevocably undermined.

Turmoil at Tesco

Farmers pay the price for cuts

FEW tears are likely to be shed over the demise of Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke who has become the most high-profile victim of the squeeze being felt by the “big four” supermarkets following the emergence of discount retailers like Aldi and Lidl.

He has been well-remunerated and Tesco’s well-documented difficulties are another indication that the loyalty of customers can no longer be taken for granted. Far more consumer-savvy than their forebears, they now place value for money at a premium when making spending decisions.

Yet, while competition is welcome and has led to price reductions, spare a thought for Yorkshire’s farmers who are paying a very heavy price as supermarkets – like Tesco – look to squeeze every last penny out of their suppliers.

It is one of those proverbial circles that needs to be squared off by Mr Clarke’s successor Dave Lewis as Tesco looks to recover from the biggest fall in quarterly sales in 40 years.

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