By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Paul Goodman
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Here is the list of those who went into the No lobby to oppose the Dorries/Field amendment. It included such senior Conservatives as George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Cheryl Gillan, William Hague, Eric Pickles, David Willetts, Sir George Young.
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Danny
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
John Denham, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, tabled an urgent question yesterday evening, following news about off-quota university places. It allowed the Minister, David Willetts to make his position clear (emphasis added):
Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will make a statement on the proposals for students to buy off-quota university places.
The Minister for Universities and Science (Mr David Willetts): Fair access to university is crucial for achieving equality of opportunity, and there is a clear issue of principle here. Access to a university must be based on ability to learn, not on ability to pay. There is absolutely no question of wealthy students being able to buy their way into university.
As the coalition prepares its White Paper on higher education, we are considering possible ways to allow universities to recruit extra students in addition to their student number allocation. Any such arrangement would have to comply with the principle that access to university must be based on ability to learn, not on ability to pay. That is why, in the Secretary of State’s speech to the Higher Education Funding Council on 6 April, he said:
“Another measure for the longer term could be to remove student number controls which inhibit universities’ ability to recruit students who represent no burden to the public purse. For example, I don't believe that universities should be prevented from expanding courses where employers cover students’ costs”.
We are considering two options: first, making it easier for employers to sponsor students at university; and secondly, making it easier for charities to sponsor students at university. Any such scheme would need to comply with the following conditions: the principles of fair access must apply; there would need to be genuine additional places; there would be no reduction in entrance standards; and, of course, rich individuals should not be able to buy their way into university.
Everything this coalition does is guided by our belief in the need to improve social mobility after it stagnated under the Labour party. We will set out our proposals in the White Paper, which will be published shortly.
Some Labour members' subsequent questions were notable for their "class war" rhetoric:
By Jonathan Isaby
One of the fears expressed by the six Tory rebels who voted against the Government on tuition fees last night (full breakdown of who rebelled is here) was that the increase would deter people from poorer backgrounds fro going to university.
It became an issue over which Conservative MPs argued during the debate in the chamber yesterday.
"I speak from my own experiences as a former schoolteacher, which I have mentioned on many occasions, and as the first person in my family to attend university-I know that I am not unique in that among hon. Members. I went to university on a full grant with all my tuition paid, shortly before tuition fees were introduced. I can only think about the impact that the proposed fees would have had on me and my family when I was growing up. Would my parents have encouraged me to attend university, had they thought I would come away with debts of £40,000 or £50,000? I do not think so. Similarly, many of the students whom I taught in deprived schools in Hull wanted to go to university, but when I encouraged them to do so, the response was often, "My dad says that we can't afford to go to university." That was after fees were introduced.
"Since fees were introduced, the evidence has shown that although there has been widening participation, students from some backgrounds are not attending the best universities, as I said to the shadow Secretary of State. They choose where to attend based on money and finances, rather than on what is best for them. They often choose to stay at home."
In reference to similar arguments made by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Surrey East MP Sam Gyimah responded:
"He reminded the House of the debate on tuition fees here in 2004. That Bill passed by five votes. However, he did not say that, during that debate, we heard the same apocalyptic messages that we are hearing in the Chamber today. The issue then was fees increasing from £1,000 to £3,000. No Government Member says with relish that we should increase fees, but it is important to note that six years on from those debates, 45% of people go to university and 200,000 people want to but cannot go. The hon. Gentleman should therefore have told us that, although we were worried at the time, many of those worries proved unfounded."
This argument was developed with more statistics by Grantham and Stamford's Nick Boles:
And after his recent disparaging remarks about small businessmen, the newly-ennobled entrepreneur was the subject of no fewer than four questions from Conservative MPs when ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills came to the Despatch Box yesterday.
First was David Willetts:
If the Minister is so keen on apprenticeships, will he explain to the House why, in the leaked document that I have before me, he proposes cuts to the funding of apprenticeships, and why he is doing so little to help apprentices who are losing their jobs during the recession? Why does he not adopt our policy of a clearing house to help apprentices who lose their jobs to find new employers? If he will not do that, why does he not ask Lord Sugar to take that on? That might be a better use of Lord Sugar’s time than denouncing Britain’s hard-working small businesses, which is all that he seems to do at the moment. Or is it a case of “Lord Sugar, you’re fired”?
The minister, Kevin Brennan, did not bite on the bait, so Henley MP John Howell then had a go:
Picking up the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made, I wonder whether the Minister agrees with her new noble Friend Lord Sugar, the Prime Minister’s enterprise tsar, who said that those small businesses that are trying to seek credit are merely moaners and living in Disneyland?
Another minister, Rosie Winterton, merely replied that it was "not my understanding of what Lord Sugar said".
The baton was then passed to Shadow Business Secretary, Ken Clarke:
At a time when 51 companies are going bust every day in this country, and when, as we said a few moments ago, the credit position for small businesses is very difficult, does the Minister agree with Lord Sugar, the small business tsar, that struggling small business men are moaners and living in Disneyland, which he undoubtedly said. Is it not time for the Department’s senior Minister in the House of Commons to apologise on behalf of the Government for what was said? Otherwise, it will appear that they are indifferent to, and out of tune with, the problems of entrepreneurs up and down the country who are trying to save their businesses and other people’s jobs.
Yet another minister, Pat McFadden did not engage with the reference to Lord Sugar, but rejected the charge that the Government is indifferent to the difficulties faced by small businesses.
The fourth Tory to raise Lord Sugar was backbencher Peter Bone, who got straight to the point:
Would the Minister recommend to the Secretary of State that he sits Lord Sugar down in a room, looks at him mournfully, stabs his finger at him a couple of times and says, “You’re fired”?
Another junior minister, Ian Lucas, said that among the many interesting discussions he has with Lord Mandelson, he "certainly would not give him that advice".
Ministers from the ludicrously named Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills had questions in the House of Commons yesterday.
Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts asked about funding provision for apprenticeships:
"In a parliamentary answer on 20 April, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), assured me that funding will allow every person who has started an apprenticeship to complete it. So why are providers approaching us to warn that funding cuts for next year are so severe that they cannot be confident even of being able to maintain their current apprenticeships, let alone meet the Government’s ambitious targets for more apprenticeships? Will the Secretary of State consider our proposal for a nationwide clearing house for all apprentices who are now in danger of losing their apprenticeships before they are completed?
Mr. Denham: Two issues are involved. On the funding for apprenticeship training, it should not be the case that training providers are unable to pay for or receive funds for the completion of current apprenticeships. On the second issue of those who lose their jobs because their employers are unable to keep them in work as a result of the downturn, we already have a clearing house in construction apprenticeships, which is obviously one of the most pressured areas, and that has managed to place more than 600 apprentices; we have changed the rules so that an apprentice can continue training for up to six months at college even if they do not have an employer, so that their training is not interrupted; we have reached agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions that—this is unusual—apprentices will automatically be able to continue for up to 13 weeks seeking work solely in the line of occupation of their apprenticeship; and we are discussing with the DWP the best way of ensuring that apprentices whose technical training might be interrupted are able to do intensive work in college to complete their training. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing everything that I think is feasibly possible to ensure that we continue to support apprentices who might lose their jobs while they are training.
Mr. Willetts: I heard what the Secretary of State said, but I have to tell him that there are training providers who, having seen the provisional proposals for their funding in 2009-10, are not sure that they will have the funding to continue providing the training for apprentices whom they have already recruited. We will be holding him to account for the assurance that he and the Under-Secretary have given. I warn the Secretary of State in respect of any thought he may have had that further education capital spending was under control. He has a plan for 50 per cent. of students to go to university next year, yet he has cut his plans for university student numbers so that it is absolutely impossible for that figure to be reached. Given the current funding pressures, will he consider suspending the reorganisation of all the quangos, which has been estimated to cost £140 million, and devoting that money instead to ensuring that apprentices and students are supported during this Labour recession?
Mr. Denham: I would remind the hon. Gentleman that on 5 January his party announced that it would be cutting my Department’s budget by £610 million in this financial year, and he has yet to reply to my letter of 15 January to explain where those cuts would fall, so he is not in a position to talk about this Department’s spending.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to follow up with me the points that he has made about training providers. I understand that although it is, of course, necessary to ensure that budgets are adhered to within the Learning and Skills Council on apprenticeships—he will entirely understand that—there should be no question of someone having the funding for an apprenticeship that they have already started withdrawn. I am perfectly happy to follow that issue up."
There is not room to record all the interventions here, but Conservative members were deeply concerned about the funding of institutions in their constituencies. There seems to be a disconnect between what is promised and what is delivered.
Here are some interesting answers from the latest edition of Hansard.
Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary David Willetts asked a question that couldn't be answered:
"Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many EU citizens working in the UK paid sufficient national insurance contributions to earn a potential entitlement to the state pension in each year since 1997. 
National Insurance is effectively income tax - especially as we have no guarantee that we will see the benefit of our contributions when we retire. It is staggering that the Government doesn't know how much it takes from British subjects specifically.
The Department for Innovation, Skills and Universities was up for questions yesterday.
Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts asked about the role of about further education in the recession:
"I want to ask the Secretary of State about something that I hope he will agree is very important in ensuring that people have training and skills in the recession, which is the role of further education colleges. What does he say to a college that had moved out of its old buildings having been promised capital for a rebuild, but will now find itself operating out of temporary classrooms because of his Department’s incompetence in its management of the capital programme? How does that contribute to investing in skills in a recession?
Mr. Denham: As the hon. Gentleman knows very well from my having made a written ministerial statement last Wednesday as promised, we will spend the £2.3 billion that we have been allocated in this spending review period on capital investment in FE colleges. That is in sharp contrast to the position 10 years ago and comes on top of many hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in recent years. His own constituency has benefited from no fewer than 11 different FE capital projects in recent years. He did not say anything about that, surprisingly.
The Learning and Skills Council informed me about 10 days ago that it had given approval in principle to another 79 colleges, with more in the pipeline. It is clear that we cannot fund all those in the next two years, which is why we have done two things. We have asked the LSC to consult the Association of Colleges and others on ways to prioritise those that are in the pipeline, to give colleges some certainty. Secondly, the LSC has agreed to my request that it appoint Sir Andrew Foster to provide a report to me on how this situation could have arisen.
Mr. Willetts: Havant college is actually one of the many colleges affected by the moratorium. We calculate, on the basis of the Secretary of State’s own statement, that 144 will be affected. He said that he had invited Sir Andrew Foster to explain to him what went wrong. Will he confirm the details in the LSC’s minutes, which we have obtained with a freedom of information request, that senior officials from his Department attended every meeting of the LSC when the capital moratorium was discussed, and that it was specifically concluded at the end of the meeting when the moratorium was first imposed that he should immediately be informed? Why is he now saying that he needs a review, given that his Department was kept in touch throughout this unfolding disaster?
Mr. Denham: The position is clear. Ministers were first alerted to a potential problem with the capital programme at the end of November—I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the date. We received the next information just before the December meeting, at which the decision was made not to approve any further colleges in detail. Ministers were not given the picture that I was able to put in the written ministerial statement last week until the week before last—I think, but I will give him the date—as a result of the review that we asked the LSC to conduct. The numbers of colleges that the hon. Gentleman has calculated that were promised approval in detail, and the numbers in the pipeline—that is significant, because not only colleges that have had approval in principle are waiting for funding clearance—did not become available to Ministers with any clarity until that date. We shared the information with the House within the most reasonable timetable possible—after the LSC met last week to consider which colleges could be approved and the shape of the rest of the programme."
Questions were put yesterday to ministers from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts expressed doubt that Labour is delivering on its promise of boosting internships. As so often, the minister - in this case David Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property - played an old trick. He accused an Opposition spokesman of scaremongering when in fact he was doing his job: holding the Government to account.
"The Minister referred to his national internship scheme. Will he confirm that after I spent a Saturday afternoon chasing him round the TV studios, it became clear that there is no Government-funded national internship scheme and that the companies that he has identified as providing internships made it clear that no extra internships were intended on top of the ones already announced? Will he also confirm that the Government made a clear commitment to review the student loan regime, that the review will take place this year and that the review of student finance will look forward to ideas for the future and not simply be historical?
Mr. Lammy: The first thing to say is that we are doing all we can to work with employers, careers services in universities, the National Union of Students and students themselves to ensure that students have the best choice and the best portfolio of things they can do when they graduate in the autumn. That compares very well with what was effectively the youth training scheme—YTS—when the Conservatives were in power; nothing was offered then. [Interruption.] The internship scheme was begun in a conversation that the Secretary of State had before Christmas with Microsoft, Barclays and others. I have continued those conversations—indeed, I was talking to Barnado’s just yesterday. So, there will be an increase in internships later in the year, and that will happen alongside the career development loans and all the other things that will be on offer at the end of the year. As the president of the NUS has said, this is not a time for panic; it is a time for proper information. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind when he is making public statements."
The Government wants to cut funding for all those who study for a second qualification, be it a degree or a lower qualification. Unsurprisingly the Open University, London's Birkbeck College, the FE sector and almost everyone else in education is up in arms.
Over one quarter of OU students will be unfunded and the universities that do most, through part-time courses, distance and modular learning to provide opportunities for mature and disadvantaged learners will be hardest hit.
That's why 85 outraged Labour MPs signed an EDM challenging the Government. The Tories - David Willetts in particular - had the wit to take that EDM unamended and make it their Opposition Day Motion.
David Willetts spoke impressively - appealing to the better judgment of Labour MPs:
"The Government are proposing that students who already have a degree qualification should not receive any support if they return to university. We are talking not about grants or loans, as the regime governing them is already much tougher for returning students, but about the removal of Higher Education Funding Council teaching support for any university that takes on returning students. For the first time, home students on approved courses at English universities will not get even a contribution towards teaching costs. They will be treated as though they were from China. That is an unprecedented shift in the pattern of higher education financing. I believe that such a decision should have been taken only after a serious review of its implications, and that it should have been considered alongside all the other issues connected with the future of university fees that legislation already requires us to look at in 2009."
Sixty of those Labour MPs who had signed the EDM voted against exactly the same words when they became the Tory ODM. They were all happy to play the gesture politics of EDMs but too frit to follow through.
David Willetts thus made the able and decent John Denham - Secretary of State for Higher Education and Skills - look foolish as Labour whips dragooned their colleagues to vote for a measure few really support. Even with all of the pressure, more than fifty Labour MPs abstained.
So, Tuesday was probably David Willetts' finest day in his new role.
Mr Willetts' admirers should also take comfort from the fact that much of Michael Gove's agenda on supply-side diversity in education is drawn from Willetts' analysis when he was the Tories' schools guru. And many of Chris Grayling's welfare-to-work policies were pioneered by David Willetts when he was Work & Pensions spokesman under IDS.
This week showed that David Willetts can be clever, not just brainy.