Gordon Brown presented his ‘Building Britain’s Future’ policy document in Parliament yesterday: largely a re-hash of previously aired proposals in areas such as jobs, training and benefits; housing; education; health care; the economy; and energy and innovation. Given that most of the draft policies related to devolved areas of government, they mostly concerned England only. But once again, this was completely ignored by Brown, who did not say the words ‘England’ or ‘English’ a single time in his speech – not once – compared with ten references to ‘Britain’ or ‘British’.
At the end of this post, I will include a transcription of Brown’s speech and will attempt to annotate in square brackets where it relates to England only, to England plus some other parts of the UK, the whole of the UK, or a combination. This is not always straightforward owing to the overlaps between areas such as education and skills [England], on the one hand, and measures to combat unemployment that leverage the benefits system [UK]. However, it is straightforward in many areas such as education, health and housing.
The BBC yesterday seemed suddenly to have woken up to the fact that where the government says ‘Britain’ in these areas, it actually means England only. I noticed this first in the article on the BBC website anticipating the PM’s statement, referred to in my previous post. This was repeated in the article on the same website reporting on the speech after the event: “The policy document unveiled by Mr Brown in the House of Commons is called ‘Building Britain’s future’ although many proposals relate to England only as a result of devolution in areas such as health and education”. Bravo, BBC; you’ve finally got it!
Indeed, this dawning of the devolution truisms appeared to come as a genuine revelation to the BBC copy editors yesterday. After a brief lapse in the news bulletin ahead of the PM programme on Radio Four at 5.00 PM – where the England-only character of much of the legislative programme was not alluded to a single time – the same channel’s six o’clock news triumphantly trumpeted the fact that the measures on housing, say, were ‘for England only’, while the proposals on education were ‘again, for England only’. The same sort of phrasing cropped up in the news report for BBC2’s Newsnight programme later in the evening. While I was pleased that the penny had finally dropped, the phrase and the tone with which it was spoken seemed to suggest that the government was somehow showing favouritism or an undue concentration of attention towards England by showering all of these national debt-funded goodies upon England alone, as if this implied neglect of the other UK nations. Someone needs to explain to them that it’s ‘England only’ because the government’s scope for action – any action – in these areas is limited to England alone; therefore, they can’t announce measures on housing and education for the UK as a whole, even when appearing to do so: it’s not favouritism but deception – saying the UK even when the measures involved only concern England.
Someone also needs to explain to them about the Barnett Formula: any increases in expenditure in England will trigger corresponding increases in the block grants for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, ensuring that the differential of higher per-capita spending in those countries compared with England is maintained. No measures to reform that inequitous system were announced yesterday, I note!
The government’s avoidance of this particular consideration is wrapped up in its evasiveness about whether or not it is planning to cut or increase expenditure overall across the UK. The terms in which the current argument between the government and the opposition on that issue is framed studiously avoid the really contentious questions about favouritism towards some UK nations at the expense of others: will increases in expenditure on health, education and policing in England have to be funded by decreases in areas where the government’s responsibilities are genuinely UK-wide (such as defence, benefits or tax credits) and therefore affect the other UK nations? Or will they be funded by savage cuts to the budget in other areas of England-only expenditure, such as transport and environmental protection? And, as a result, will expenditure in England as a whole be rising or falling, with consequent, politically contentious rises or falls in the devolved nations? Better not to raise such awkward questions and pretend we’re talking about a homogeneous UK and a single UK budget pot.
That’s one of the reasons why Brown’s speech made not one reference to ‘England’, or indeed to any of the other UK nations, yesterday. The other main factor behind the suppression of the ‘E’ word relates to the more general concern about the legitimacy, or lack of it, of the government and Parliament as a government and Parliament for England. Though it would be more accurate and honest to do so, if Brown, Cameron and Co. suddenly started explicitly stating when they were referring to England only, or a combination of England and one or more of the other UK nations (assuming they even know themselves in every instance), then many more people would have the same startling revelation as some of the BBC staff appeared to experience yesterday: ‘how come they’re discussing these things only in relation to England?’ Then they might start asking the consequential questions about the legitimacy of MPs (and PMs) not elected in England debating and legislating in areas that concern England only, and about how public expenditure is apportioned unfairly across the UK.
Anyway, here’s Brown’s speech and my square-bracketed attempt to ‘de-britologise’ it – to unpick which country / -ies Brown is actually talking about when he says ‘Britain’:
Mr Speaker, in the last year we have taken action to prevent a collapse of banks, protect homeowners against recession and maintain vital investments in public services at the time people need them most. Now as we seek to move our economy out of recession we are setting out the steps we are proposing to support growth and jobs in the economy.
In the last two recessions, tens of thousands of young people were written off to become a generation lost to work – a mistake this government will not repeat.
And so today we are announcing new measures – to be paid for from the spending allocations made in the budget and from switches of spending — to meet new priorities that include creating new growth, new jobs and new housing.
Targeted investments to support jobs and strengthen growth are also the surest and fastest way to reduce deficits and debt in every country.
So my first announcement is about new jobs for young people: [UK-wide] starting from January every young person under 25 who has been unemployed for a year will receive a guaranteed job, work experience or training place.
In return, and I believe there will be public support for this, they will also from next spring have the obligation to accept that guaranteed offer.
This is the first time that any government has guaranteed that jobs and training will be available to young people and, crucially, has also made it mandatory for young people that, if there is a job available, to take this work up and have their benefits cut if they do not.
[UK-wide] To underpin this guarantee, as part of the investments we announced in the budget, 1 billion is being set aside for the future jobs fund that will provide 100,000 jobs for young people – with another 50,000 in areas of high unemployment.
From this September we will realise our pledge to all school-leavers that every 16- and 17-year-old [in England only] will receive an offer of a school or college place – or a training place or apprenticeship. And from this September we will also offer 20,000 new full time community service places [in England].
This complements the help for adults who have been unemployed for six months: who will get access to skills training [in England] or a jobs subsidy [UK-wide] – part of around £5 billion we set aside in the budget and pre-budget report for targeted support with jobs and training.
Mr. Speaker, in total, through the action taken so far – and by rejecting the view that government should cut investment in a recession – we are preventing the loss of around 500,000 jobs. And our continued investment in giving immediate help, through Jobcentre Plus [across the UK], to people made unemployed, is already making a difference – with each month around 250,000 people moving off unemployment.
Mr Speaker, new jobs for the future will also come through making the necessary investments in – low carbon energy, digital technology, financial services, bioscience, advanced manufacturing, transport – the building blocks of the competitive economy of the future so we will use the coming Queen’s Speech to ensure the British economy is best placed to take up these opportunities.
First, the new Energy Bill will enable us to support up to four commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration plants for Britain [although none might be built in Scotland if planning permission is withheld]. The bill complements the £1.4 billion of public investment provided in the budget, and up to 4 billion now on offer from the EIB.
In addition – following our reforms to the policy, [English] planning and regulatory regimes – we will see between now and 2020 as we meet our renewable energy targets – around £100 billion invested by the private sector. These investments will make Britain a major global player in the low carbon market, with another 400 thousand green jobs by 2017, taking total British employment in the sector to well over a million [‘Britain’ does mean Britain here].
Secondly, the Digital Economy Bill will help underpin our commitment to enable broadband for all [across the UK] by 2012, working towards a nationwide [i.e. UK-wide] high-speed broadband network by 2016 with additional government investment unlocking new jobs and billions of extra investment from the private sector.
Thirdly, a new [UK] innovation fund will be announced today by the Science Minister. £150 million of public money which will over time lever in up to £1 billion of private sector investment in biotechnology, life sciences, low carbon technologies and advanced manufacturing.
Over the coming weeks, the Transport Secretary will set out plans to advance the electrification of transport [across the UK: railways being reserved] – cutting rail carbon emissions – on newly electrified lines – by around one third.
Lord Davies will lead a new drive to improve the country’s infrastructure and so increase the efficiency with which projects are taken forward, with the establishment of a new body, Infrastructure UK [a quango that will presumably have different areas and degrees of responsibility in different parts of the UK but will probably be strangled at birth, in any case, when the Tories get elected].
Further, an asset sales board will work with the shareholder executive to achieve our £16 billion assets sales target – money that can be redirected to public investment. [Euh? I think this is selling off the government’s stakes in newly nationalised banks, etc.]
Mr Speaker, these investments will strengthen our economy and create new jobs. And we believe investment by government and the private sector will enable the economy to create over the next five years 1.5 million new skilled jobs in Britain.
Mr Speaker, in every part of the country [implies Britain but can affect England only] there is an urgent need for new social housing and for new affordable home ownership.
So the [English] Housing Minister is announcing that in the next two years – from the re-allocation of funds [England-only funds or funds from the UK-wide budget?] – we will more than treble the extra investment in housing [in England]: from the £600 million announced at the budget to a total of £2.1 billion today: financing over the next twenty four months a total of 110,000 affordable homes to rent or buy; and in doing so creating an estimated 45,000 jobs in construction and related industries.
And by building new and additional homes we can now also reform social housing allocation – enabling local authorities [in England] to give more priority to local people whose names have been on waiting lists for far too long.
We will consult on reforms to the council house finance system to allow local authorities [in England] to retain all the proceeds from their own council house sales and council rents. And we want to see a bigger role and responsibility for [English] local authorities to meet housing needs of people in their areas.
Mr Speaker, we will continue to take forward the far reaching [UK-wide] reforms of financial supervision that we have embarked upon – domestically and globally – since the financial crisis hit in mid 2007. For those who argue that this issue is falling off the agenda, let me make it clear – sorting out the irresponsibility and regulatory weaknesses that led to the crisis remains an urgent imperative and one that we will continue to prioritise both at home and abroad.
The [UK-wide] Financial Services and Business Bill, will ensure better consumer protection, including a ban on unsolicited credit card cheques and in addition, the FSA is taking action to ensure there can be no return to the old short-termist approach to executive pay in the banking sector. And to help tackle tax avoidance, the treasury have also published today a new tax code for banks.
Mr Speaker, alongside our strategy for growth and jobs, we will introduce new [mostly England-only] legislation: for education, to address child poverty and a Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill. And in doing so we will create a new set of public service entitlements for parents, patients and citizens – securing for them more personal services tailored to their needs.
For patients in the NHS [in England] this will mean enforceable entitlements to prompt treatment and high standards of care.
- a guarantee that no-one who needs to see a cancer specialist waits more than 2 weeks
- a guarantee of a free health-check up on the NHS for everyone over 40
and a guarantee that no-one waits more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment
And the [English] Health Secretary will bring forward, later this year, proposals to further focus the NHS towards prevention and the earliest intervention; to extend the choices for people to have treatment and care at times that suit them [e.g. via polyclinics, in England only] and whenever possible in their own homes; to reform and improve maternity and early years’ services; and we will shortly consult on far-reaching proposals for how we need to modernise our health and social care systems [in England] so that our country [England] can meet the challenge of an ageing society.
The second set of public service entitlements [for England] will be for all parents – with the guarantee of individually tailored education for their child as part of our far-reaching reform of our [English] schools system. Mr Speaker, I want all our children [English children, Mr Brown] to have opportunities that are available today only to those who can pay for them in private education. It is right that personal tutoring should be extended to all who need it, so there will be a new guarantee for parents [in England] of:
- A personal tutor for every pupil at secondary school and
Catch up tuition, including 1-1, for those who need it;
So that every school is a good school, and so that we meet the national [English] challenge to eliminate underperforming schools by 2011, we will see the best head teachers working in more than one school as we radically expand trusts, academies and federations to increase the supply of good school places throughout the country.
The third set of new public service entitlements is the offer neighbourhood police teams [in England and Wales] can make to all citizens in every community. Already, since April last year, there are 3,600 teams in place – offering to every part of the country policing tailored to the community’s needs.
We will now go further; and guarantee local people [in England and Wales] more power to keep their neighbourhoods safe, including the right
- to hold the police to account at monthly beat meetings,
- to have a say on CCTV and other crime prevention measures
and to vote on how offenders pay back to the community.
Our Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill will give the police [in England and Wales] more time on the beat by changing and reducing the reporting requirements for police officers on stop and search forms [so they can still stop and search at will but won’t have to document it as much; so how will abuses be prevented?]
And new rights to ensure that [English and Welsh] women are better protected against violence – that will take account of recommendations made in response to our violence against women and girls consultation, to be published this autumn. [Long overdue, in my view, given the way devolution has done English women a disservice in this regard.]
Mr Speaker, we will also legislate to ensure protection for children [across the UK] – with a new and strengthened system of statutory age ratings for video games.
Because British citizenship brings responsibilities as well as rights, we will now require newcomers to earn the right to stay, extending the [UK-wide] points based system to probationary citizenship. Very simply, Mr Speaker, the more you contribute to your community the greater your chance of becoming a citizen.
Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary will introduce legislation [UK-wide] to prohibit the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions – bringing into British law the international agreement we led the way on signing last year.
Finally Mr Speaker, Building Britain’s Future must clearly start here – in this parliament – with our commitment to cleaning up politics and establishing a new and strong democratic and constitutional settlement to rebuild trust in politics [how about an English parliament to deal with those England-only matters, then?]. And I can announce today on the House of Lords that we will legislate next session: to complete the process of removing the hereditary principle from the second chamber and to provide for the disqualification of members where there is reason to do so.
And we will set out proposals to complete Lords’ reform by bringing forward a draft bill for a smaller and democratically constituted second chamber. [How about consulting the UK people on this major item of constitutional reform?]
Mr Speaker, there is a real choice for our country [England and Britain]; creating jobs or doing nothing. Driving growth forward or letting then recession take its course. We will not walk away from the British people in difficult times. [But you contemptuously turn your back on the English people, Mr Brown.]
I commend this statement to the House.