WE'VE FAILED OUR KIDS; Top Tory Discusses Plans to Safeguard Children's Futures: WHAT Would a Conservative Government Mean for Young People and Families in Coventry and Warwickshire - from Sure Start Children's Centres for the Under-5s to Universities? Political Reporter LES REID Speaks to David Willetts, the Tory Responsible for Family Policy and Higher Education, Who Says the Young Have Been Let Down
Byline: LES REID
HE'S known as "Two Brains" Willetts for the intellectual capacity behind his considerable forehead. A former minister under John Major and longer-serving opposition frontbencher, David Willetts MP could reemerge from the shadows after the election to take charge of higher education and training.
The universities and skills shadow minister is also a leading Tory thinker on children's policy, and has just published a book called The Pinch, provocatively subtitled "How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give It Back."
His thesis is that the comparatively wealthy baby-boom generation, aged 45 to 65, has let down its children by saddling them with future debt. Teenagers and twenty-somethings are also unable to get on the property ladder and face record youth unemployment.
Baby boomers have been good parents, he says, just not socially responsible to the young.
But with the Conservative pledge to cut the historic national deficit faster and deeper than Labour, cuts in services to young people loom for years ahead, whichever party wins power.
On the under-fives, Mr Willetts dismisses as a "Labour scare story" reports that Tory reform of Sure Start funding would mean children's centres closing for middle income families.
His party has reportedly identified pounds 200 million savings in the Sure Start budget, with community organisations stepping in to run some centres - increasingly a Tory answer to national debt, in theory at least.
Pressed on the issue, Mr Willetts told us: "Sure Start centres will not shut under the Conservatives."
Referring to the use of Sure Start funds for outreach services in communities, he said: "Sure Start is failing its original foundation of helping disadvantaged families who are not accessing this funding. Families better informed are more able to access them." Funding would be "refocused" on restoring "universal" health visitors available to all families, who would identify and get "families most in need into the Sure Start centres," he said. "But we're not going to turn away families from Sure Start if they're more affluent."
Mr Willetts points to the government this month issuing billions of pounds more of debt to be paid back in the year 2034 plus interest, unfairly saddling the young.
But despite his view of a moral obligation to minimise the impact, his party's leader David Cameron said this month that spending cuts in a first year of Conservative rule would only be "limited".
Labour accused him of "wobbling" on his vehement opposition to the government limiting cuts this year to prevent stifling economic recovery and protect jobs.
Mr Willetts said: "We are limited to what we can do when a financial year has started. We need a credible plan, with some reductions in the first year when our room for manoeuvre is limited, and then for several years ahead. …