Reforms to help children with Special Educational Needs

May 23, 2012

I have been interested in Special Educational Needs (SEN) for over 30 years and have been a school governor at two Special Schools.
The Government has just announced reforms designed to make things simpler for parents, giving them the power to control personal budgets for their children – meaning they can choose the expert support that is right for their child. The plans will require education, health and social care services to plan services together by law – so when their children are assessed, parents will be assured they will get full provision to address their children’s needs.
The main elements are:
• Replacing SEN statements and separate Learning Difficulty Assessments with a single, simpler assessment process and education plan from 2014. Parents with the plans would have the right to a personal budget for their support.
• Local authorities and health services will be required to link up services for disabled children and young people – so they are jointly planned and commissioned.
• Requiring local authorities to publish a local offer showing the support available to disabled children and young people and those with SEN, and their families.
• Introducing mediation for disputes.
• Children would have a new legal right to seek a place at state academies and Free Schools – currently it is limited to maintained mainstream and special schools. Local authorities would have to name the parent’s preferred school so long it was suitable for the child.
I am sure it will be much easier for parents to understand what is available and plan with their child’s interests in mind. This sounds like “joined up government”.
Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children has welcomed the changes and said:
“We are delighted that the government continues to support disabled children and those with special educational needs. Tackling the battleground for families by ensuring joined up local services and clear local information is to be warmly welcomed.”
I wish the reforms success, because SEN has been difficult to navigate and parents deserve a better deal.

Department for Education website has more information.

Improving economic news

May 23, 2012

Last week saw a second monthly fall in unemployment and we had some more good economic news today. Inflation has fallen to three per cent – down by 0.5% and government borrowing fell even more than was thought last year, so that in two years the Coalition has reduced Britain’s deficit by more than a quarter.

Two years ago people were asking whether Britain would join the growing list of countries in crisis. Important institutions questioned whether the UK could deal with the huge debts that were built up in the boom times and then exposed as unsustainable in the bust. We had the worst deficit in the G20 – worse than Greece! That is no longer true. Our record low interest rates are a tangible sign that investors around the world once again believe in Britain. Our deficit is falling, inflation is falling, unemployment is falling and better times lie ahead.

The two most respected international organisations that look at the British economy have made their assessments this week: the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, has come to town to deliver the IMF’s annual report card on the British economy; and this morning the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published its Economic Outlook.

The IMF starts by stating that decisive action to tackle the record budget deficit that this Government inherited is “essential” and that “substantial progress” has been made. When asked this morning what might have happened if this Government had not acted to deal decisively with the deficit, Mme Lagarde’s answer was stark: “I shiver.”

Although there are many complaints from interest groups about cutbacks, the thing people have noticed in their daily lives is higher prices. That’s why this morning’s news that inflation has fallen is especially welcome. We are heading in the right direction.

The IMF notes recent falls in unemployment as a positive sign. Indeed, it notes that there have been “fewer employment losses than in the aftermath of previous major UK recessions”.

The current pace of deficit reduction is “appropriate” and the first line of defence against slower economic growth is further action on monetary policy and credit, not yet more government borrowing. The OECD takes a similar view: “the ambitious Government plan to restore fiscal sustainability remains on track and appropriate”.

The UK is putting finances in order and as I said in my last blog, we need the euro-zone to do the same. The IMF says that setbacks in the euro area are the “key risk to economic prospects and financial stability in the UK”.





The Eurozone Crisis…

May 17, 2012

The Eurozone crisis has shown up the very different economies which operate in certain parts of Europe. For a large country such as Germany, centrally located with a very skilled workforce, plenty of capital and modern efficient industries, the low exchange rate for the Euro gives huge trading advantages, the product of which we are seeing in Germany’s growth. However a moment’s thought shows that if the Deutschemark were still the German currency, its exchange rate would be sky high, making life difficult for German business.

For smaller countries such as Greece, life is not so easy. Normally a currency union succeeds where there are capital transfers from the wealthier parts to more disadvantaged areas, labour mobility follows and a united fiscal policy would exist. Looking at it on a micro scale, within the UK taxes are taken from Herts and spent in less fortunate parts of the country, people move to find jobs and all parts of the union have the same fiscal policy. However this is not true of the Eurozone and these structural issues need to be addressed. It is only when a sensible package is hammered out, that this Eurozone crisis will be resolved.

The Queen’s Speech

May 9, 2012

The Queens Speech
The Government is taking the tough, long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing our economy and building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing.
The Government took action at the Emergency Budget and has subsequently laid out a credible plan to get the record deficit left by Labour under control. The deficit reduction plan is supported by the IMF, the OECD, and the Governor of the Bank of England.
The deficit reduction plan has gained the confidence of the markets and has ensured interest rates on UK government debt have fallen to record lows, and even fell below Germany’s for the first time in years. Today the UK can borrow at 2.0 per cent, while France pays 2.8, Italy 5.4, Spain 5.7, and Greece over 22 per cent.
There are new measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Public Service Pensions Bill – will reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the report prepared by the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission. Not only does this offer guaranteed pensions that are still more generous than those in the private sector, it also saves tens of billions over the coming decades.

• Enterprise, Employment, Regulatory Reform and Repeals Bill – will promote enterprise and fair markets, including provisions on a Green Investment Bank, a new Competition and Markets Authority and reforming employment tribunals.

• Banking Reform Bill – As the Governor of the Bank of England said last week, we need to learn the lessons of what went wrong. We need proper regulation by the Bank of England. And we need banks made to hold enough capital to keep them safe. The Banking Reform Bill will put into law the ring-fencing of retail banking and its separation from investment banking. And it will begin to replace the current flawed system of financial regulation with a framework that promotes responsible and sustainable banking.

To help people who work hard and do the right thing
• Cutting income tax for 24 million people. The Government has increased the personal allowance from £6,475 in 2010 to £9,205 by April 2013. This is a tax cut for 24 million ordinary taxpayers, of up to £546. Two million people on the lowest incomes will be taken out of paying income tax altogether. And for people working full time on the minimum wage, their income tax bill will have been cut in half.

• Freezing council tax. Council tax has been cut in real terms this year, thanks to the second year of the Conservatives council tax freeze helping hardworking families and pensioners. This will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home, on top of last year’s freeze. The compounded saving of both years’ freeze is worth up to £147.

• Revolutionising education. The first ever Free Schools – 24 of them – opened just 16 months after we came to power and there are now over 1,700 Academy schools open in England. The Education Act, which received Royal Assent in November 2011, will help teachers raise standards and gives them new legal powers to root out poor behaviour. This includes a power for schools to search pupils without consent for any dangerous or banned items and the removal of restrictions that prevent schools from issuing detentions to pupils without providing 24 hours notice.

• Cutting fuel duty, saving 10p per litre compared to Labour. Petrol duty is a full 10 pence lower than it would have been without our action in last year’s Budget and the Autumn Statement. Families will save £144 on filling up the average family car by the end of this year.

New measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Families and Children Bill – will improve the lives of children, young people and families, especially those coping with special educational needs. It will reform the assessment, planning and provision for children and young people with special educational needs and those who are disabled, reduce delay in the adoption system, introduce new arrangements for children of parents who apply to court and reform court processes for children in care so cases progress more rapidly. The Bill will also strengthen the role’ of the Children’s Commissioner, enable both mothers and fathers to take flexible parental leave to share early years parenting and make it possible for all employees to balance their work and family commitments.

• Pensions Bill – will reform the state pensions system, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving.

• Energy Bill – will reform the electricity market. This will include powers to establish long-term contracts for low-carbon energy generation and to guarantee generating capacity, as well as other measures which together will deliver affordable electricity for consumers and help meet security of supply and decarbonisation goals.

Ending the something for nothing culture. The Government are already
• Capping Benefits. The Welfare Reform Act caps the total amount a household can receive in benefits to the average of household earnings so no household can receive more than £26,000 a year, the equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 – a step which the Labour Party opposes.

• Controlling Immigration. Under Labour net migration reached more than 2.2 million people – more than twice the population of Birmingham. The Conservatives are getting to grips with Labour’s chaos. We are capping economic migration, cracking down on sham marriages, shutting bogus colleges and reforming Student Visas. Our action will reduce net migration down from the hundreds to the tens of thousands a year, back to the sustainable levels seen under the last Conservative government.

• Biggest ever increase in the Basic State Pension. The Government has introduced the triple lock guarantee which ensures that State Pensions will be up-rated by earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent – whichever is highest. This has brought an end to the paltry rises in the state pension under Labour, which one year amounted to 75 pence. In April this year, the basic state pension rose by £5.30 per week – the biggest cash rise ever.

• Making work pay. Under Labour too many people turned down offers of work because they were better off on benefits. From 2013, the new Universal Credit will simplify a range of benefits into one payment to make it easier for people to see they will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn – making work pay.

New measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Crime and Courts Bill – will establish the National Crime Agency to tackle serious, organised and complex crime and strengthen border security. The Bill will also maintain the capability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to acquire communications data to protect the public within a framework of strict safeguards. Measures will further reform and modernise the courts and tribunal service to increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity.

• Justice and Security Bill – will provide for strengthened oversight of the security and intelligence agencies; to provide for closed material procedures in certain civil proceedings; and to prevent disclosure contrary to the public interest of certain material in judicial proceedings, including material shared with us by our allies.

Reforming our politics. What is proposed
• Fixed-term Parliaments. The Coalition have legislated to introduce fixed-term Parliaments in the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain

• Standing up for Britain in Europe. The European Union Act ensures that for the first time British people will have their say on any proposed transfer of powers from the UK to the EU. If in the future a change to an EU treaty is proposed that moves powers or areas of policy from the UK to the EU, the Government will have to get the British people’s consent in a national referendum before it can be agreed.
The Queens Speech will help Britain to move forward.