Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Dirty

Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Dirty

Article excerpt

Why is local politics so much dirtier than national politics?

Is it because the players are fighting over relatively trivial matters, like Oxbridge dons competing for college posts? As Henry Kissinger said, 'University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.' Or is it because local politicians are less likely to be exposed to the disinfectant of publicity? Well, I intend to remedy that.

Last week, a Conservative councillor in Hounslow drew my attention to an election leaflet distributed by three prospective Labour councillors that contained the following misrepresentation under the headline 'Chiswick School loses out to Free School':

'Chiswick School was on the list for Hounslow's Building Schools for the Future money. The school spent a lot of time and effort on preparing plans for further improvement. That money has now been taken away by the West London Free School in Hammersmith for renovating and refurbishing their buildings.'

This is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin.

It's true that one of the first things Michael Gove did in office was to cancel the BS F (Building Schools for the F uture) programme and, as a result, many schools that were expecting to be rebuilt were disappointed.

But it was cancelled because it was a scandalous waste of money. By 2010, �8.65 billion had been spent on just 310 schools. That's an average of �28 million per refurbishment. That's 20 per cent higher than it costs to rebuild a school in Denmark, 25 per cent higher than in Sweden and 40 per cent higher than in I reland. Had it not been cancelled, the total cost of the programme would have been �55 billion.

To claim that this money was, in effect, put to one side and then spent on free schools is nonsensical.

F or one thing, the total capital budget of the first 24 free schools, of which the West London Free School was one, was �120 million. That's an average of �5 million per school, meaning the present government is able to set up five new schools for less than it cost the last government to refurbish a single existing school.

But the money the Department for E ducation hasn't wasted as a result of cancelling the BSF programme wasn't stored in a bank vault somewhere, as these three prospective councillors seem to think. …

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