The Onward March of Academies – Will They Make Our Schools Better?

 

H block and A block - Edlington Comprehensive School
Image by aldisley via Flickr

The Telegraph tells us that half of all secondary schools have converted, or are in the process of converting, to Academies.

Lord Hill, the Schools Minister, said: “In academies, head teachers – not politicians or bureaucrats – are in charge of what happens in the school. I am delighted that the majority of secondary schools in England are seizing this independence by becoming an academy.

“With greater freedoms, these state funded schools can truly meet the needs of local parents and pupils.”

Academies are schools that are funded directly from central government, rather than being funded by Local Education Authorities (a.k.a. local councils). To be more accurate, central government takes the money from local education authorities and gives it to the Academies. The Academies get a little more funding than normal State schools, but have to provide for themselves the services that local authorities provide for normal State schools.

Academies are set up with a “sponsor”, who pays a small part of the capital cost for the school. That sponsor might be a large company, a charitable organisation, or even an individual. That sponsor is supposed to take an interest in the running of the school, and has the right to appoint governors to the school governing body.

The head teachers of Academies also have more authority over the curriculum and the running of the school than head teachers of normal State schools do.

The Academy programme was set up by Tony Blair’s government, but was supported from the start by the Conservatives, and is now supported by the Liberal Democrats as well.

That in itself sets alarm bells ringing. Initiatives with cross-party support are often wrong-headed. After all, with no party opposing, the opportunity for effective political challenge to the initiative is limited, and its failings can go unremarked. What is more, such policies that are championed by successive governments often turn out to be the policies of the bureaucracy rather than the policies of elected representative government.

On the other hand, perhaps we should celebrate a political consensus on the way forward to overhaul our education system. And the opposition of teaching unions has more to do with the threat to the collective bargaining power of the unions, than it does with educational standards.

It is pretty clear that the government’s eventual aim is to abolish local education authorities. Once almost all schools have converted, and we are well on the way to that, the LEA’s will serve little useful purpose. The case for their abolition will become compelling.

There is a problem with that though. LEA’s don’t only run schools. That is the main part of their function, but not the only part. They are also responsible for the admissions system, and importantly, have the legal responsibility to provide a school place for all children. There will still be a need for that function.

I suspect, therefore, that we will see LEA’s being replaced by something like local school boards. The big danger is that those boards will be set up as subsidiaries of the Department for Education, rather than of local councils. Once that happens, they will begin to agitate for more powers over schools. They will argue that they need those powers to fulfil their duty to ensure education for all. That agitation will not be in public, where the press and the public can stand up against it. It will be done behind the scenes, in cosy chats with their fellow bureaucrats in Whitehall.

Conservatives appear to think that the end game is a system of free and independent schools, funded by grants from Whitehall based on the number of pupils they attract, and inspected by Ofsted to ensure standards,

The actual end game may well be a National Education Service, organised along exactly the same lines as the National Health Service currently is. Those local school boards would look remarkably like local health authorities do, and the Academies would look remarkably like Hospital Trusts. Our education system could well end up not only failing, but almost completely unaccountable as well, just like the NHS.

There is, of course, another way. Education vouchers have been proposed for years, and universally rubbished by the education experts who have wrecked our school system. In that system, every child gets a voucher to the value of a State education. They can spend it on a school place in a State school, in which case it covers the full cost. Or they can spend it on a private school education – in which case they would have to top up its value to the price of the private school place.

The bureaucrats don’t like that. It would bring real competition into the system and expose their own failings. The stampede of kids out of the State schools would give the lie to the idea that the people are happy with the education system that the bureaucrats have provided.

The other side of that coin is the reintroduction of grammar schools. Critics of the selective education system claim that it brands children who fail the 11-plus as “failures”, and that concentration on the grammar schools means that all the other schools become second rate.

The truth in practice is the reverse. The standards in grammar schools are extremely high – often higher even than those in private schools. Crucially, in areas where grammar schools are still retained, the presence of the grammar schools actually seems to lift the performance of the other schools. You end up with elite grammar schools, and other schools scrambling to prove that they are good enough even for bright pupils to attend.

This is true, for example, in Warwickshire, whereas in neighbouring Northamptonshire, the comprehensive schools are so poor that the local education authority took legal action to try and stop people living near the border sending their kids across to grammar schools in Warwickshire.

The Conservative Party used to believe in grammar schools, until it was hijacked by the Cameroons. In 2005, they went into the general election with a policy of “a grammar school in every town”. Today their policy is to keep the existing law, where it is illegal to open a new grammar school. David Cameron called grammar school supporters “intellectually self-indulgent”. He feels more in common with the bureaucrats who run the education system, than he does with ordinary people who can see that selective education works.

Tory Party leaders might say, “Ah yes, but we got heavily defeated in 2005, and in 2010, with the new policy, we won!”

Actually, in 2005 Michael Howard’s Tories got 31.7% of the vote, and ended up with 198 – 31% – of the seats. A fair result. In 2010, David Cameron managed 36.1% of the vote and got 306 – 47% – of the seats. Their vote was only up a little – their much better result in terms of seats was down to Britain’s rigged electoral system. There is no evidence from that result of any enthusiasm for them from the electorate.

The Tories are busy changing constituency boundaries because the current system, they say, is unfair to them – whereas the truth is that the current system with the current boundaries gave them 71 more seats than their vote share warrants!

But back to schools.

The current Academies policy, supported by the three old parties, could end up with a good system – or it could easily make things worse.

A really serious reform of our school system would include education vouchers and support for new grammar schools. And that just so happens to be the policy of UKIP, and anathema to the Tories.

The Onward March of Nanny State

 

Nick Clegg, Lodge Moor Nursery School, Sheffield
You're Never Too Young to be Checked on by the Bureaucrats - image by Liberal Democrats via Flickr

 

The government is to overhaul the “nappy curriculum”, introduced by Labour in 2008.

The curriculum aims to set out what children should achieve up to age 5, extending the national school curriculum down into nurseries.

When it took office, the new Coalition Government commissioned an “independent” review by Action for Children of this “Early Years Foundation Stage” curriculum. The review said the curriculum was

cumbersome, repetitive and unnecessarily bureaucratic.

So are the Coalition scrapping this aimless piece of bureaucracy, and winding the clock all the way back to 2007? Of course not. They are just tinkering with it.

Today, it will be announced that a revised framework – to be introduced from this September – will dramatically cut the number of targets children are supposed to reach by the age of five, from 69 to just 17.

Just 17 boxes to tick instead of 69! Great. Still, progress. But wait, what’s this?

In a further move, it will lead to the introduction of a progress check for all two-year-olds.

Ministers insist the exact form of checks should be down to nurseries and childminders.

But a draft framework published last year suggested the assessment will test their social interaction, physical movement, self-care, speaking and listening and ability to manage feelings and behaviour. It proposed marking children against certain tasks, including whether they can pull off their socks and shoes independently or “get a tissue when necessary”.

If your two-year-old can’t take off their socks, or blow their nose on a tissue, they will be labelled as having a “problem” by the nice bureaucrats. And no doubt they will be right there to offer “help and support” to resolve the issue.

Ministers are proposing that all parents in England will be given a written summary of their child’s progress in key areas before their third birthday.

Because, of course, in the Government’s sick idea of reality, parents have no idea how their children are doing. Parents never talk to their kids, or interact with them in any way. In those Ministers’ fantasies, the only role for parents is to produce the kids, and hand them over to a childminder or nursery – preferably run by the State.

And after all, no parents look after their own children, do they? Well, Government Ministers have never met anyone who does, so there can’t possibly be anyone, can there?

This would all be laughable if it wasn’t part of a pattern. The discredited Labour Government introduced all sorts of pointless and intrusive bureaucracy. The new Government reviews it all, rearranges it and makes things even worse, instead of simply undoing Labour’s damage.

And this would all be laughable if it wasn’t so sinister – the bureaucrats’ long term strategy is to attempt nothing less than to usurp the role of parents in bringing up children. The modus operandi is to make people feel inadequate by having their children fail meaningless tests and checks, and then smoothly step in as the worried parents have no idea how to resolve the non-existent issue.

Our Coalition government is just Labour by another name.

A Yellow Budget – and I Don’t Mean Liberal Democrat

 

Chancellor George Osborne outside No.11 Downing Street on Budget Day
Image by HM Treasury via Flickr

If You Come Too Close I’ll Hit You With It!

 

Another budget today from George Osborne.

The headline change was that he cut the highest rate of income tax for the very few who earn more than £150,000 from 50% to 45%. They will be cracking the champagne since each one will benefit to the tune of £7,500 per year.

Better off pensioners will, however, be putting away the sherry. Mr Osborne cut the special extra tax allowance that the elderly get, to pay for the top rate cut. Now I can’t really see the justification for that extra tax allowance, but it was incredibly stupid politics to take it away.

Mr Osborne stuck the usual extra tax on fags, for the diminishing proportion that are not smuggled. Before long, smokers won’t be dying of cancer. They’ll be dying of hunger because they can’t afford to buy food any more.

Corporation tax falls a little, which will help successful and profitable companies. Except for banks. They are BAD. No corporation tax cut for them, and an increase in the “bank levy” that they have to pay for … for being such nasty people.

There is a “General Anti-Avoidance Rule” for the UK tax system. Lawyers will be cracking the champagne at that one, because it’s completely unconstitutional. Basically it will prevent “morally repugnant” tax avoidance. That won’t be defined, however, until after the event. Cue capricious fines for anyone found to be doing anything the government decides it doesn’t like once it sees it.

We’re talking about tax avoidance here, remember, not tax evasion. Tax evasion would be, for example, smuggling those fags in from Spain. Tax avoidance means something like … well, like belonging to a pension scheme for example. But only if it’s morally repugnant.

Mr Osborne even found room for a new tax. Games Machine Duty will hit those seaside amusement arcades. The government will be replacing them with new video games though, with a

tax credit for video games, animation and high end TV industries.

Maybe Mr Osborne stays up late playing on his Nintendo.

There was no relief for hard-pressed motorists from the war the government has been waging on them – fuel duty will go up another 3p from August. Mr Osborne also intriduced a

Fair fuel stabiliser [that] will mean that above inflation rises in fuel duty will only return if price of oil falls below £45 a barrel.

In other words, if the price of oil drops, the government will grab the benefit thank you very much, while if it goes up, you get no relief.

Stamp duty land tax is going up for homes over £2 million. Which is pure gesture politics, since there are so few of such homes.

Mr Osborne bowed to the inevitable, and did a partial U-turn on his ridiculous child benefit changes.

Child benefit will only be withdrawn from higher rate taxpayers if someone in the household has an income of more than £50,000. To avoid a “cliff-edge” effect, child benefit will be withdrawn at 1pc for every extra £100 earned over £50,000.

Half a cheer for that, especially the second sentence. You could tell it was a last minute panic measure, as there was no indication how this will be implemented. There will be civil servants today salivating at the prospect of yet another means testing system to add to the three we already have.

There was quite a bit of Gordon Brown-style tinkering:

  • £100 million of support for new university science research facilities
  • Funding for ultra-fast broadband and Wi-Fi in 10 of the UK largest cities
  • Youngsters could get enterprise loans to set up new businesses rather than go to university
  • New “above the line” research and development tax credit to be introduced next year
  • New enterprise areas in Dundee, Irvine and Nigg in Scotland and Deeside in Wales
Yep, Mr Osborne is doing his bit to win the Scottish independence referendum.

And that was it.

Really, be honest now. Can you not imagine Gordon Brown delivering exactly this budget? Well, can’t you?

While Mr Osborne tinkers meaninglessly with our tax system, the government is still spending half our national income, and wasting huge amounts of what it spends. That’s not just unwise. It is a national scandal, and Mr Osborne has flunked tackling it. Again. Coward.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

 

The credit ratings agency Fitch has put the UK on negative outlook (meaning that a downgrade is likely over the next two years).

Said Fitch:

In light of the considerable uncertainty around the economic and fiscal outlook, including the risks posed to economic recovery by ongoing financial tensions in the eurozone and against the backdrop of a still large structural budget deficit and high and rising government debt, the Negative Outlook indicates a slightly greater than 50% chance of a downgrade over a two-year horizon.

In other words, the British government is spending and borrowing too much, and if the eurozone collapses, we are toast.

Ed Balls, who has spent the last couple of years urging the government to spend even more, is worried:

It shows that there’s a growing worry that our economy’s not growing, that unemployment’s rising, that our borrowing’s not coming down as George Osborne had planned.

Mr Balls has called for Mr Osborne to borrow and spend more. His old Brownian nostrums are becoming more ridiculous by the day.

In truth, Mr Osborne and Mr Balls both have the same prescription to get us out of our problems. That is to extract more tax out of us.

Mr Balls thinks that if the government spends even more, it will “stimulate the economy” and the tax receipts will roll in.

Mr Osborne doesn’t agree. He thinks explicit tax rises are needed, and has indeed enacted them, including that VAT rise.

What they both have in common is that they both think the State is sacrosanct. Mr Osborne wants to protect it by whacking the rest of us with higher taxes. Mr Balls wants to protect it – and indeed increase it – by borrowing even more.

Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats – they all believe in the State as a kind of benevolent Big Brother. They don’t see the State as a provider of vital services that should do it at lowest possible cost. Instead they see the State as the solution, as a player, as the planner that will decide how Britain is to prosper.

In short, they are all what used to be called Social Democrats.

No wonder David Cameron is getting on so well with Barack Obama. They are political soul-mates.

So here we are, with the electoral system rigged in favour of the three old parties, who all agree on almost everything. But there is a wind of change coming. Support for parties outside that cosy threesome has been growing for some years now. Even within the old parties, the MPs and especially the activists are increasingly restless. Mr Cameron should enjoy his time basking in the sun, because it won’t last.

We Know Who is the Heir to Blair – But Who is the Heir to Thatcher?

 

Margaret Thatcher at Chequers
Image by BBC Radio 4 via Flickr

Margaret Thatcher – Winner of Three Election Victories

Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph was asking a couple of days ago where are the voters who will turn David Cameron into a winner in 2015. He asks:

Where does he find the votes he needs to increase his share of support from the 38 per cent he enjoys now, or even the 36 per cent he scored in 2010, to the 43 per cent he needs to be sure of governing on his own account? Could it be that whatever Mr Osborne says, the politics are not great but terrible for the Tories, and have been for 20 years?

He concludes that

The centre of gravity [in British politics] remains to the Left of the Conservatives.

This seems a common theme in debates among Conservative Party supporters – a view that their Party has lost support since the 1980s because it is seen as “the nasty party” and too right wing to reflect popular opinion.

And yet, as Mr Brogan himself notes:

one thing the polls do show is that on certain issues most closely associated with unmodernised Tory views, the public are on board – the cap on benefits, the clampdown on immigration, the “No” to Europe.

Conservative Party commentators seem still to be bewitched by that “Cameronite” analysis of British politics, in which the aim for the Conservatives must be to appeal to “the centre ground” and be seen as moderate, caring and decent.

That analysis does not bear examination.

Margaret Thatcher (now Lady Thatcher) transformed Britain. (Even her enemies agree that is true. They just don’t like the changes she brought about.)

She transformed Britain by following policies that are commonly identified as “right wing”. She was keen on lower taxes and on reducing public spending, although in reality she only succeeded in cutting the State as a proportion of the economy, and not in absolute terms. During her time in office, huge swathes of British industry were removed from the public sector and “privatised”. It is astonishing now to think that it was controversial at the time to put BP or Pickfords Removals into private hands.

Her government introduced the NHS internal market (scrapped by Tony Blair) and created OFSTED to start holding State schools to account for their performance.

On foreign policy, she was famously Eurosceptic – at least once experience had taught her the dangers to British national independence of the EU.

She was robust on immigration, talking about indigenous people feeling “swamped” when immigration rates were high.

On issue after issue, she took a robust, populist stance. As a result, she won three general elections, each time receiving more than 40% of the vote and a big overall majority.

Who made up her votes then? Certainly, a part was made up of the Conservative “core vote” – people with whom David Cameron and the Tory High Command feel comfortable. As Mr Cameron is finding, though, that core vote is not enough to win.

Any Tory leader who wants an overall majority must build a coalition. He needs more than that core vote. David Cameron (and it seems Benedict Brogan) believe that those extra votes will be found in the centre. But that is a poor seam of votes to mine, not least because the territory is already occupied by the Liberal Democrats.

Lady Thatcher’s electoral success came from building a coalition, not with the centre, but with that often-overlooked part of the British electorate – what the Telegraph at the time christened “Mondeo man”. People like small builders, electricians and plumbers. Daily Mail readers. People who lived in council houses, and grabbed the opportunity to buy them and thus own a stake in the country that they had previously believed they would never have.

People who work hard, support their families, and are upset at the poor quality of their children’s schools – but can’t afford to send them to private schools.

Hard-working people who are hardest hit by paying taxes. The rich – or indeed, Ed Miliband’s “squeezed middle” – are not hurt as hard by those taxes. They can afford to pay them. Mondeo man – Thatcher’s constituency – can’t afford it. They aren’t hurt by rubbish State schools, because their children go to private schools. Mondeo man – Thatcher’s constituency – is patronised and ignored when he complains about lack of discipline. They aren’t hurt when the NHS lets them down, because BUPA looks after their medical care. Mondeo man – Thatcher’s constituency – has to wait for weeks to find out whether he has cancer.

Those people – what she used to call the “lower middle class” – were Thatcher’s people. She instinctively identified with them. And the Tory Party hierarchy despised her for it. Her opponents in the party – people exactly like David Cameron – thought her a mean-minded little fishwife for it. They eventually pushed her out of the party leadership in no small part because of it. But she it was who won those three elections outright, and it was her people who gave her the votes to do so.

So here, I believe, is the reason for David Cameron’s miserable lack of electoral success. (He won hardly any more votes in 2010 than the Tories got under Michael Howard in 2005.) His analysis of British politics is dead wrong.

David Cameron memorably called himself “the heir to Blair”, and acts as such, thinking that he can win votes in the centre by doing so. In the process, he alienates Mondeo man. In contrast, Margaret Thatcher offered him the chance to buy his council house, and the hope of lower taxes. She offered support for people working hard to support their families and praised them for doing so. She offered them lower taxes and a spirited economy in which getting ahead was respected not spat upon.

I don’t believe British politics has changed all that much. I don’t share Benedict Brogan’s analysis that the country has somehow magically swung to the Left in the last 20 years, and now wants a nanny state to look after it.

David Cameron talks of austerity in terms of how much people are hurt by public spending cuts. But Mondeo man wants the cuts – bring them on! – if they mean the taxman can get off his back a bit.

So where does Mondeo man turn? His response so far has been to turn his back on politics, because no politicians offer anything for him. Except that one party does offer him everything he wants – UKIP. In practically every policy area, UKIP is aligned with his ideas. They have failed to get that message across to him, and right now he believes UKIP only cares about the EU. Sure, he agrees with UKIP about that – but what about his taxes?

Thus if UKIP reach out to him, there is a rich seam of votes to be had. UKIP will not win its first MPs by proclaiming that Britain should leave the EU (though of course it should). They will win them with that much simpler and more fundamental message: LOW TAXES AND SMALL GOVERNMENT.

That section of the electorate to whom Lady Thatcher reached out, and whom she took away from the Labour Party, would like a bit of that, please.

David Cameron is the heir to Blair, and has therefore made the Conservative Party unelectable in its own right.

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader
Image by European Parliament via Flickr

Nigel Farage is the heir to Thatcher. He has been reluctant to claim that mantle so far. He should have the courage to do so. There are millions of votes for his party in reaching out to that disenfranchised group in British politics who carried Lady Thatcher on her way.

Tax-and-Spend Osborne Rules Out Cutting Back the State

George Osborne
Image by altogetherfool via Flickr

The UK has run out of money.

Under this heading the Telegraph reports George Osborne saying:

“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” the Chancellor said. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”

On the face of it, this sounds so responsible. But delve a bit deeper, and it is symptomatic of the malaise afflicting our politics.

“The British Government has run out of money”. Well, how much did the British Government have in the first place? The answer, of course, is “none”. Every penny that the Government spends ultimately comes from taxpayers. Remember them?

“All the money was spent in the good years”. All what money? All the money the Government could extract from taxpayers? All the money the markets would let it borrow?

“The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector”. Like all the money the Government ever spends? Government spending takes money and investment and therefore jobs out of the private sector. All Government spending does that. Taxes are the flip side of Government spending.

This whole quote from Mr Osborne is just so revealing about the frame of mind of the tax-and-spend political class, including Mr Osborne. For him, the only reason to stop spending is because “the money has run out” – in other words, he can’t squeeze any more out of taxpayers or money markets. For him, the objective is to spend to the max. And he is now saying we have reached the max.

So we have. But only a socialist thinks the objective was to get there in the first place.

And here is Mr Osborne talking to Sky News:

“Any tax cut would have to be paid for,” Mr Osborne told Sky News. “In other words there would have to be a tax rise somewhere else or a spending reduction. In other words what we are not going to do in this Budget is borrow more money to either increase spending or cut taxes.”

A spending reduction! Goodness me, just imagine it. Unthinkable. The only way to cut taxes would be to borrow, and Mr Osborne is much too responsible for that.

Lest you should think it is just politicians trapped in this socialist mindset, the Telegraph follows that up in the piece with a reader poll:

What should George Osborne do to provide a tax cut?

  • Tax the rich more to allow the income tax rate to be lifted to £10,000
  • Borrow more and worry about reducing national debt in future years
  • We can’t afford any tax cuts

As many reader comments on the piece point out, there is an alternative missing from here, to cut spending. It just isn’t on the agenda of our political class, or indeed of our media – even the supposedly Right-leaning Telegraph.

Mr Osborne won’t cut taxes, because he is unable or unwilling to cut spending. It’s as simple as that.

If You’re a Liberal Democrat, Bus Lanes take Priority Over Schools

 

Bus Lane Looking Towards Bristol From the Wells Road
Image by samsaundersleeds via Flickr

 

Bristol City Council is proposing a new tax on workplace car parking spaces.

The new tax is designed to raise £27 million towards a new scheme for bus routes into the city. There will be three “bus only” routes built, separate from normal traffic.

Obviously everyone is making a massive fuss – quite rightly – about this new local tax in Bristol. The AA, for example, is pretty angry:

These schemes are pure anti-motoring opportunism by a minority of local authorities desperate for funds keen to exploit 12 year old legislation. Once again drivers and business are easy targets yet it is they that keep local economies going.

Well quite. But in fact it is not only local motorists who are getting mugged to pay for this nutcase scheme from the Bristol Liberal Democrats.

First, the total cost of the scheme is not £27 million, but £194 million. The Telegraph says that the government will pick up most of the bill, with the council finding £15 million “itself”.

Wow. The government is finding £152 million “itself” and Bristol Council is finding £15 million “itself”. Obviously the money grew on trees and the government and the council just picked it.

Well really, of course, we are talking about taxpayers generally, and taxpayers in Bristol, picking up these bills. And what do we get for OUR money? Three new roads in Bristol, that can’t be used by cars and therefore won’t do anything to resolve congestion.

To put all this in perspective, £194 million is enough to build a hundred primary schools, or twenty brand new secondary schools. Or, indeed, to build perhaps 4,000 new council houses to alleviate homelessness in Bristol.

Bristol City Council is run by a minority Liberal Democrat administration, after they lost control of the council last May, losing five seats. The result then was:

Liberal Democrats – 33 seats
Labour – 21 seats
Conservatives – 14 seats
Greens – 2 seats.

Bristol Liberal Democrats lost a further seat in a by-election in September, going from first to third place. What this means is that even with the Greens presumably supporting the bus routes scheme, they will need the support of either Labour or the Tories to get it though.

It looks like they won’t get it.

Local Tories “object most strongly” to the scheme. They want to spend our money on new railways in Bristol instead, they say.

Local Labour say the plans are “potentially toxic to Bristol’s economic health”. A bit like Gordon Brown’s government, I guess.

The future of the scheme will therefore depend on the results of the local elections in May. If the Liberal Democrats, as expected, lose a large number of seats, the scheme is dead.

Regardless of their opposition to this particular scheme, however, the others cannot escape their share of responsibility.

Labour haven’t been averse to smash and grab raids on motorists. The Labour government invented the whole idea of workplace parking levies in the first place. It is laws passed by the last Labour government that are being used by Bristol Liberal Democrats to propose this scheme.

And what about the Tories? The Coalition government promised in 2010 to make it harder for councils to introduce such levies. The Telegraph reported then:

Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, is planning new rules which would make it harder for councils to impose a new stealth tax on motorists and businesses without full consultation.

Obviously he didn’t made it hard enough. Not only are the Transport Department not stopping this scheme, but they are themselves providing £152 million of our money towards it.

In short, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and Labour all share some responsibility for this proposed smash and grab raid on taxpayers. But it is the Bristol Liberal Democrats who will bear the brunt of the anger about it. After all, this immediate scheme is their proposal, even if it is to be financially supported by the Conservative-led government. They will be lucky if they do not emerge from the local elections in May as the smallest of the three parties on Bristol Council.

Right across Britain, in fact, the Liberal Democrats are facing electoral meltdown, with their opinion poll ratings languishing well below 10% (compared with 23% at the general election). The elections in May will be interesting.