By Matthew Barrett
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At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.
At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament.
At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?
By Tim Montgomerie
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The Prime Minister set out the need for public sector pensions reform yesterday but many teachers will still strike tomorrow, putting their "right" to an unaffordable pension before the needs of their pupils. If teachers want Britain to return to the strife of the 1970s Michael Gove is more worried about Britain's survival in the global economy of the 21st century. He has just addressed the Royal Society and set out the daunting economic reality that Britain faces:
"The nations of East Asia, large and small, are now in the position the Islamic world was a millennium ago or Europe enjoyed during the Renaissance. Individually, they now increasingly resemble the England of the eighteenth century, the Germany of the nineteenth or the USA in the twentieth. They are growing rapidly industrially and technologically; integrating more and more of their people into the global economy; investing more and more in maths and science; producing the engineers, technicians, scientists and inventors who will shape tomorrow’s world. While Europe is chronically indebted, its currency under strain, its growth anaemic, and Continental universities in relative decline, Asia has a massive trade surplus, holds the fate of the dollar in its hands, enjoys surging growth and is developing schools, technical colleges and universities which are dramatically outpacing our own."
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today publish "Britain's Superfast Broadband Future", an £830 million project to give Britain the best broadband network in Europe by 2015. "Fibre" upgrades, reports The Telegraph, "will allow internet service providers to routinely offer packages with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second".
Interviewed on Radio 4 (and inappropriately introduced by Jim Naughtie) Mr Hunt quoted a Nesta report which believes that "the provision of universal super-fast broadband could directly create 600,000 new jobs, with £18 billion added to GDP."
In a statement Mr Hunt said:
"A superfast network will be the foundation for a new economic dynamism, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and adding billions to our GDP. But it is not just about the economy, around the world there are countless examples of superfast broadband helping to build a fairer and more prosperous society, and to transform the relationship between Government and citizens."
Rather than leaving the investment to the private sector alone, the Coalition is getting involved because of the need to ensure full, fair and geographically equitable access. Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has said that the broadband plan is "probably the single most important thing we can do to ensure the sustainability of our rural communities in the 21st century".
* According to Paul Waugh.11.53am Confirmed:
The result of the ballot on the membership of the 1992 Committee is as follows:-
At least we know 118 MPs are willing to stand up to Cameron. By the way he bounced MPs on this rule change he has injected poison into internal party relations.
Michael Gove has just announced a very sensible way of encouraging more science graduates to enter secondary and primary education:
"We will do as President Obama is doing and create new incentives for new teachers. We will offer every graduate with a first or upper second in maths or a rigorous science subject from a good university the chance to have their student loan paid off in its entirety if they opt to go into teaching.
For every year top science graduates spend in the classroom the state will bear the cost of paying off their loan obligations. If scientists make a long-term commitment to teaching then the entire burden of the loan will be lifted from their shoulders.
I expect that the majority of scientists tempted to take up this offer will want to go into secondary teaching, but the offer isn’t restricted to those who go into secondary schools.We need great minds at every level in every school. We have undervalued primary school teaching in this country for far too long, and underplayed the importance of deep subject knowledge in the primary curriculum. We have paid for that with generation after generation of young people arriving at secondary school significantly behind the level of achievement enjoyed by children in other nations. I want to see that change.
We will pay for the cost of this initiative - which could amount to as much as £40,000 per individual teacher - by abolishing a specific layer of bureaucracy in the Training and Development Agency for Teachers.I think it is right where we can identify savings to prioritise investment in those areas which really drive educational achievement and no priority for investment is more important in my eyes, or yields such dividends for the future, as investment in teachers and teaching."
I hope our initiative will create a new generation of superb science and maths teachers, I anticipate that these teachers will make a long term commitment to the profession, diminishing the churn that characterises the system now. And I believe we will have taken another significant step towards replicating the virtues of, indeed potentially overtaking, the world leaders in education such as Finland and Singapore."
I agree with Michael Gove's established concern that we need more children educated in science and this is one good way of encouraging this.
I do worry, however, about the tendency of frontbenchers to find good ways of spending savings. Given the state of the public finances it might be wise for George Osborne to impose some sort of rule on them. To incentivise a search for efficiencies they should be able to keep, say, one-third of savings across their departments but two-thirds need to go towards repaying Gordon Brown's debts.