Challenging the Lib Dem UIFSM lies

Today’s free school meals revelations by Jon Manel on radio 4s World at one (1) should come as no great surprise to anyone who has been following my blogs.

It has always been clear that the £150m infrastructure funding was an afterthought, that the figure was simply guesswork and that this in itself was evidence that the policy simply wasn’t thought through.  I am grateful to Jon for going the extra mile and gathering some hard evidence, I know there will be lots more to come out on this fiasco.

Key to all these revelations is the fact that the initial UIFSM policy was rushed from the very beginning.  Lib dems talk of a policy ‘years in the making’ the reality is, the UIFSM policy we see being enacted, was never suggested by anyone. This was rushed into as part of a deal with the Conservatives with very little forethought. The policy wasn’t even in the school food plan, on which the lib dems seem to hang so much of their justification.

The fact that there was political infighting over the extra funding should come as no great shock, the leaks at the time and my twitter conversations with Dominic Cummings are evidence enough (as an aside it is interesting to note that the initial press report on the extra funding did state the £200m DfE figure, so some level of negotiation has always been evident)

The fact that DfE suggested the funding needed was £200m (still a guess and still low in my opinion) yet only £150 was found seems to typify this policy, supporters seem to assume that it is such a great policy that everyone will be more than happy to throw extra money at it to bail it out, unfortunately some of us looked at the evidence.

The great sadness is that the Leb Dems put it into statute without actually understanding the practicalities, hoping everyone would think it is a great sounding policy and keep quiet about the problems. How wrong they were?

One extract from the leaked letters looks of particular importance; Gove tells Danny Alexander ‘I am sure that you will agree with me that we must not risk forcing schools to subsidise meals by reducing their spending on teaching and learning’ {full version (2)}

That is exactly what will be happening, we see it already, the initial infrastructure spend was both inadequate and appallingly distributed and as a result requires schools to buy expensive equipment from other budgets.  In addition any school who has to pay more than £2.30 per meal, will end up subsidising this policy from their ‘teaching and learning’ budgets.

My suspicion is that the education secretary is supporting the policy out of loyalty to the party. He must understand the consequences for schools, but he also knows that the policy is part of the coalition deal as such the consequences of Gove saying no would be an end to the coalition.  Hence any claims that the policy is a good one supported by Gove, ignores the political reality of that support. It was a quad decision to go ahead with this policy, Gove could say nothing without bringing down the government and he would be committing political suicide if he did.  So unusually Mr Gove is silent on the issue, indeed his lack of comment is in itself telling.

We need to see is the treasury’s response to Goves letter, see any assurances given to him by treasury ministers?

Did Gove really agree to the policy knowing that many schools will have to make cuts to implement it?

Does Gove still agree with the policy given he must now know schools have to make cuts to fund it?

 

I have long maintained that this policy could create a rift in the coalition, I beleive this is the point that will cause real division, even possibly bringing down the government.

the big question to ask any lib dem or conservative is

Is it acceptable that schools are forced to subsidise the  lib dems infant free school meal policy from money given to them to fund teaching and learning?

Politicians will have to either support Gove position or support the policy, it is clear the two are mutually exclusive.

Few if any Conservatives are going to argue for UIFSM especially when it requires transferring schools money away from teaching ?

Lib Dems will no doubt try to bluff it out, they know the policy is underfunded and ill thought through, but can’t admit it without looking inept and incompetent. I suspect the first thing they will  do is pretend there is enough money available and there will be no need for subsidies.  At this point simply highlight that the £2.30 figure is the 2012 mean,  meals in the 2011 trail cost over £2.60 and that recent  Small schools  Task force figures  showed almost every scenario running at a significant ongoing loss.

Now the lib dems will be stuck, can they really argue the policy benefits outweigh the ongoing costs?  Do they have any option but to say schools have to support the policy whatever the consequences?

We are already seeing some nasty mudslinging from the lib dems, how far can they go when the evidence is stacking up against them? Lines in the sand will be drawn, divisions and personal animosity highlighted, with the right pressure this could really kick off between the two camps?

Since writing this, David laws has decided to comment, 

Predictably Mr Laws said: ‘The funding package announced in December was agreed across government and the full amount of estimated revenue cost was transferred to the DfE from the Treasury so that schools would not have to pay for free meals from their teaching budgets”

The issue being the estimated revenue cost are based on a mean and as such recognise that some schools will end up paying more than the £2.30. Some schools WILL have to pay for UIFSM from their budgets.  It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Quick notes on the rest of the interviews, I do hope Graham Stewart and the education select committee call this policy in and look into all aspects from instigation through the implementation to ongoing assessment of its benefits or not.  David Laws lied to the committee last time it was discussed, I don’t think it is unreasonable to argue we need some proper answers to the difficult questions.

Finally, it was a disappointment that Sir Malcom Bruce was the best Lib Dems could muster, as usual he just bumbled on, ignoring the evidence. For the record, I for one am not a disaffected conservative agitator and I would like to point out to Sir Malcom that when the truth about this policy comes out, the mess overseen by his party, its poor justification, its lack of funding and its implications for schools, he will be the one who looks embarrassed.  Where will he be on day one when the foreseeable teething problems end up in children going hungry? Where will he be when schools have to sack people to fund this policy?

From day one the Lib Dems have lied about the policy, it should come as no surprise to anyone when they are found out.  I know there is a lot more to come out on this. Vincit omnia veritas

(1)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yt06h

(2)  http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/09/leaked-emails-clegg-gove-clash-free-school-meals

 

 

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