Monday News Review

Lib Dems force rethink on NHS reforms

Nick Clegg yesterday made a desperate attempt to prevent a Lib Dem revolt over the Tories’ NHS shake-up. Just hours after Party activists voted against the reforms, the Deputy Prime Minister insisted the Coalition was not trying to privatise the health service. The plans will let market forces run riot in the NHS and senior Lib Dems fear it will inflict more damage on them than the broken tuition fees promise. But, speaking at the spring conference yesterday, Mr Clegg said: “What I need you to know is all of us in Government are listening and that we take those concerns seriously.” Mr Clegg also used his speech in Sheffield to rally his Party after the Barnsley by-election battering. Responding to claims he was too close to the Tories, he joked: “I haven’t been kidnapped by David Cameron, I haven’t changed one bit.” He added: “Yes, we’ve had to toughen up. But we will never lose our soul.” The Deputy PM mocked Mr Cameron for opposing electoral reform. He said the only people in the “No” to the alternative vote camp were the Conservatives, the BNP, John Prescott, Norman Tebbit and David Owen. Mr Clegg was also ridiculed for claiming the Coalition was “not a cuts Government”. Labour MP Tom Watson said: “He’s living in cloud cuckoo land.” – Daily Mirror

Ministers signalled a potential climbdown over the Government’s controversial health reforms last night – after Liberal Democrats delivered Nick Clegg a bloody nose on the issue. Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the reforms, which would put GPs in charge of the £80billion NHS commissioning budget, remained ‘under review’ in the wake of criticism from inside and outside Government. Critics claim the changes will break up the NHS and lead to greater privatisation and less accountability. Lib Dem activists at the party’s spring conference threw out a motion supporting the Government’s health reforms over the weekend and replaced it with a text that was highly critical of the changes. The British Medical Association will also debate a series of critical motions on the reforms at an emergency conference later this week – including one expressing no confidence in Mr Lansley. – Daily Mail

The health secretary suggested he could “amend” his reforms after delegates at the Liberal Democrat spring conference condemned them as “damaging and unjustified”. The Government’s Health Bill proposes handing control of 80 per cent of NHS spending on commissioning to GPs and introduce more private competition, abolishing primary healthcare trusts. Doctors are reportedly preparing to debate a series of motions which are highly critical of the policy at a meeting of the 140,000-member British Medical Association this week. One motion includes an embarrassing vote of no confidence in the health secretary. Activists at the Lib Dem spring conference in Sheffield overwhelmingly passed a motion on Saturday condemning proposals for putting GPs in charge of commissioning services. Speaker after speaker demanded a rethink, with party doyenne Baroness Shirley Williams branding the changes “lousy” and backbencher Andrew George insisting the Lib Dems should not be “the architects of (the NHS’s) demise”. Speaking on BBC 1’s The Politics Show on Sunday, Mr Lansley said that if the Government could “clarify and amend in order to reassure people” then it would do so. Mr Lansley said he recognised the concerns expressed by the Lib Dems in Sheffield, adding that the plans were “always under review”. – Daily Telegraph

1 in 5 school staff could go as education cuts loom large

Schools are preparing to make up to a fifth of their staff redundant in anticipation of huge budget cuts, it has emerged. The number of senior teachers seeking advice on how to dismiss colleagues – and keep their own jobs – has hit a peak last seen in the late 1990s, a headteachers’ association has warned. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which represents 15,000 heads and deputies, said some of its members planned to make 15 or 20 redundancies out of a workforce of about 100. A third of calls to a 24-hour helpline for senior teachers set up by the association are now related to redundancies – a big rise on a year ago, the association said. ASCL has run five courses on how to make redundancies in the last year, and all have been fully subscribed. Schools across the country are waiting to hear their budgets for the financial year starting on 1 April. Cuts to local authority budgets, in some cases falling numbers of pupils, and reductions to central government education grants will mean many schools are worse off. ASCL’s legal consultant, Richard Bird, warned that the government’s flagship new qualification – the English baccalaureate – would compound the problem. The qualification is awarded to pupils who achieve at least a C in their GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a language. – the Guardian

Art and drama teachers and those who teach vocational subjects are first in line to be sacked, as many headteachers are axeing subjects which do not qualify for the Coalition’s highly academic flagship “English Baccalaureate”. As many as a dozen schools a day are calling a 24-hour hotline to ask for advice on redundancy threats brought about by the squeeze on public spending. Richard Bird, the Association of School and College Leaders’ legal specialist, said: “We haven’t had to do this sort of thing since Kenneth Clarke was Chancellor of the Exchequer 15 years ago. Many headteachers have never had to face a redundancy situation.” Some schools have already been forced to issue protective redundancy notices to staff, it emerged at the association’s conference in Manchester at the weekend. In one case, a secondary school is axeing 20 out of 100 staff. The redundancies are split equally between the staff. In a second school, 15 staff face the axe – almost all of them teachers. Brian Lightman, the association’s general secretary, said: “It is an unprecedented time for heads. In many schools, while there have been redundancies in the past, it hasn’t been on this kind of scale.” – the Independent

Aaron Porter seeks to be an MP

The outgoing president of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter is to stand for Labour by-election race as the party’s current MP for Leicester South Sir Peter Soulsby is quitting. Porter spearheaded the November 10, 2010 protests in London against the review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance chaired by Lord Browne which drew 50,000 demonstrators to the streets. During the rallies, described by British media as the biggest social challenge to any British government in decades, protestors occupied the headquarters of the Conservative party in the Milbank tower. Porter almost immediately condemned the violence at Milbank tower, saying it was carried out “by a tiny minority” of the marchers. His comments angered student protestors, leading to demonstrators at an anti-cuts rally in Manchester in January 2011 chanting “you’re a Tory too” against Porter. The fee hikes were part of the British government spending cuts program outlined by the Conservative party to increase university tuitions from a maximum £3,290 to £9,000. Porter said back in February that he is not going to run for another one-year term as NUS president, signaling his departure in June, when his term ends. – Press TV

Aaron Porter, the outgoing president of the National Union of Students, who spearheaded protests against tuition fees rising to £9,000, is preparing to launch a bid to become Labour MP for Leicester South. He is expected to put his name forward to become the party’s candidate in the forthcoming by-election, triggered by Sir Peter Soulsby, who has a 8,800 majority, standing down. Mr Porter studied in Leicester for three years and would make “youth opportunity” central to his campaign. His main rival for selection is Jonathan Ashworth, head of party relations for Labour leader Ed Miliband. Mr Porter announced last month he would not be standing for re-election as NUS leader in April. The deadline for nominations is tomorrow. – the Independent

Will Ed and Nick ever share a platform over AV?

A planned cross-party event involving Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg for the yes to the alternative vote campaign has collapsed as the offices of the two party leaders trade bitter recriminations. The row reveals just how raw relations have become between the two parties, and comes as the polls start to show that the no campaign is gaining momentum, although it is still behind. The yes campaign had planned to stage a rally with Charles Kennedy, the former Lib Dem leader, Miliband, and Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Greens, at a London educational institution on Tuesday. Lib Dem sources say that there were suggestions that Clegg take part, in order to present a united front and to avoid rumours about his absence. They say Labour rejected the idea as they decided late on that Miliband should speak alone. The two party leaders’ offices also discussed the possibility of Clegg speaking, but not while Miliband was on the platform. Labour, they say, rejected this offer too. Labour claims Clegg’s office subsequently ordered Kennedy not to attend. As a result of the spat, the planned event has been cancelled, but discussions are apparently continuing about the possibility of a joint platform before the 5 May referendum. Miliband will instead go ahead with a separate launch of the Labour yes campaign with Neil Kinnock and Peter Hain on Wednesday, at which he will say he “bows to no one in his disgust at what Clegg is doing in propping up a Tory government”. But he will argue that AV is the best chance the progressive majority in Britain has of getting its voices heard. – the Guardian

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