Boris Johnson – A Nation Awaits With Baited Breath…
So Boris Johnson has been jettisoned into the Prime Minister’s hot seat and is zigzagging across the country promising to loosen the nation’s purse strings and bring an end to the so-called ‘austerity-era’ slavishly implemented by his two predecessors, David Cameron and Theresa May. Barely a day passes without another investment pledge or tax cut all designed to woo a cynical electorate witheringly tired of all things Brexit and indeed, politics generally.
So far, Johnson’s investment promises have focussed on populist areas of national concern including policing, the national living wage and of course, education. Throughout the largely processionary husking process, Johnson committed to raising education spending to the tune of £5000 for every secondary school pupil and £4000 for every primary school pupil per year costing the treasury a grand total of £4.6 billion pounds. On the face of it, this is fantastic news for the sector still reeling from decades of under-investment from successive governments and in particular, the severest of cuts introduced in 2015.
However, trying to find any meaningful details as to how this additional investment will be funded and when they will be introduced is somewhat tricky. When pushed, Johnson admitted that the new funding will not be introduced until 2022 and will be paid for using surplus funds that UK-plc no longer pays ton the European Union post-Brexit. Given Johnson’s infamous claims that the UK paid £350m a week to the EU during the referendum of 2016, an element of doubt must be added to any of his claims that EU contributions will be reversed to fund the national infrastructure.
And this is the problem with Johnson per se; no matter how well-intended or genuine his desire to energise the nation by embarking on a spending spree, his promises rarely stand-up to scrutiny. An analysis of Johnson’s pledge by Schools Week concluded that his promises amounted to just a 0.1% increase in current spending levels:
Schools Week analysis of provisional national funding formula data for next year found just 33 of 150 local authorities are due to be funded at less than £5,000 per pupil. To increase per-pupil funding to £5,000 for the roughly 773,000 secondary pupils in those areas would cost just £49.9 million – the equivalent to just over 0.1 percent of the £43.5 billion the government will spend on schools in 2019-20.
Lest we forget that Johnson’s new cabinet includes Michael Gove, himself a former Education Secretary regarded by many as the architect of the savage cuts which ‘failed a generation’ of children according to Zoe Brown writing in The Independent, July 2016. The love/hate relationship between Johnson and Gove is fuelled by mutual mistrust, but his presence at the top table instils little confidence in those who remember his willingness to slash education spending in the past.
Ok – let’s try and be optimistic and look on the bright side. In a few months time the UK will be collectively basking in a “golden age” with a booming economy fuelled by new trade deals and unencumbered by tariffs and fees imposed by those nasty Brussels-based bureaucrats. Tax rates will be plummeting, and thousands of fresh-faced new coppers will be patrolling our nation’s streets bringing an end to anti-social behaviour. The nation will be electrified by superfast broadband even in the remotest of areas, all connected by a shiny new fleet of trains running with military precision.
Headteachers will have cancelled their proposed ‘walk-out’ on Friday 27th September and rather than descend on Downing Street as planned, will be sat in their offices gleefully working out how to spend the tsunami of cash promised to transform their classrooms, playing fields and sports halls.
Uhm. The reality will be somewhat different but at least Boris Johnson has pushed education funding to the top of the political agenda; one senses that the nation will not let him forget his initial pledges and will force the Government to honour the promises made now that Johnson holds the purse strings.