Leading article: Some cause for optimism amid the pessimism of spending cuts

Share
Related Topics

With less than a week remaining before the Government announces the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review, all the talk is shot through with pessimism.

The pruning of the quangos was but a foretaste of the slashing and burning that is expected to come. So it was refreshing to learn yesterday that some public spending is still planned – even if there is not as much "new" money as it may seem, and that funds are to be released in a laudable cause.

As the Deputy Prime Minister announced with some satisfaction yesterday, £7bn is to be spent over four years to improve the education of England's poorest children. In particular, the Government has given the go-ahead for the introduction of a "pupil premium" – a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge – that will follow children from deprived backgrounds through the school system. There is also to be a "student premium".

There should be no prizes for guessing why this decision was released when it was. Nick Clegg and his fellow Liberal Democrats in the Coalition had, until this point, endured a difficult week – perhaps the most difficult week since they entered government. Lord Browne's recommendation that universities should essentially be free to set their own tuition fees, plus the likelihood of greater flexibility on interest rates for student loans, presented Liberal Democrats with a dilemma.

The whole parliamentary party had signed a pre-election pledge to vote against higher university tuition fees, an undertaking calculated to attract student votes, and here they were presented with the prospect of an open-ended rise they could do nothing about. A few concessions, such as the raised salary threshold for starting repayments, were designed to make the prospect of higher fees more palatable, but still Liberal Democrat MPs find themselves accused of treachery and are likely to be divided when it comes to a vote.

Mr Clegg's announcement yesterday was sandwiched between the bad news for his party on tuition fees and what is likely to be even worse news when the Coalition's programme of spending cuts is revealed next Wednesday. As such, it contained a large element of political face-saving. But two things should be borne in mind. The overtly political aspect should not be allowed to obscure the fact that channelling help to the poorest pupils, from the earliest possible stage, is likely to be a better use of scarce resources than keeping university tuition fees artificially low. The penalties of deprivation start, and are most effectively addressed, very early. The extension of the Liberal Democrats' "pupil premium" to nursery education, and its renaming, in true Coalition fashion, a "fairness premium", make clear its purpose.

The second point is that the Liberal Democrats have not been left to give without receiving. The "pupil premium" was one of their trademark policies. It is now official Coalition policy with, apparently – and this must be monitored – the requisite money behind it. For all those disillusioned by what they see as Nick Clegg's "sell-out" to the Conservatives, here is another small reminder that this government is functioning more or less as a coalition should. The Liberal Democrats are junior partners, but they have made their presence felt. Out of government, it is unlikely they would have been able to achieve even this.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
SEEN graffiti Wonder Woman  

Warner Bros’ bold stance on Wonder Woman opens the door for Hollywood evolution

Matthew James
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us