This is not at all surprising since it reflects the reality of social advantage and disadvantage in a class divided society such as ours.
The government's programme of publishing school league tables as a supposed means of raising educational standards ignores the effects on children of poor housing, poverty, parental unemployment, poor job prospects, run-down environments, under-funded local authorities and patchy pre-school childcare.
It does not want to address these issues and admit that poverty and public spending cuts affect disadvantaged children's performance in school. If the government did acknowledge this it would have to accept the need to tackle these problems as part of its Programme and that would require more than just words and admonishments.
Instead, the government pretends there is a level playing field and then tries to put the onus for results onto the teachers. As is so often the case -- if there's a problem, blame the workers!
The Labour Party says it would amend the way league tables ate produced to take account of the social and economic differences between five-year-olds starting school and it does have plans to reduce class sizes in the first years of schooling.
But, though this is better it still plays along with the fundamental premise of the Tories' league tables. And it ignores the continuing effects of poverty and deprivation which impact on children's education, not just in infancy but throughout childhood.
League tables are a cheapskate device to win the votes of socially aspiring parents who want to give their children an educational edge over others -- they are like good eating and hotel guides without the little stars. Pecking order league tables serve to encourage these attitudes as the spirit of competition is elevated.
Teachers and head teachers are expected to keep looking over their shoulders at other schools in their area and, according to Tory thinking, they will raise standards by much pulling up of socks in the staff rooms of Britain's schools.
This approach doesn't say much for the army of Ofsted inspectors who have been crawling all over our schools for some time. You'd think that by now the minority of ineffective teachers would have been identified and given appropriate guidance and re-training -- or advised to change jobs.
The truth is that the problems of educational inequality are not just down to teachers, heads or inspectors. Rather it is an inevitable consequence of 18 years of Tory rule during which the gap between rich and poor has grown wider and wider and every area of public provision has been squeezed and cut.
The government, which hopefully is now nearing its last weeks in office, is still pursuing these policies. And league tables are just more of the same since they give an illusion of governmental concern about education without giving an undertaking to spend much money on it.
If the government seriously wanted to raise educational standards it would provide the cash to repair and improve the fabric of the country's many crumbling school buildings. It would reduce class sizes, relieve the pressure of excessive paperwork and out-of-hours meetings on teachers and ensure that every school had sufficient funds for the books, equipment and facilities it needs.
Instead of using the results of school tests to harass the country's already stressed teachers the government could help to identify areas of extreme deprivation so that extra funding could be provided.
But far from that -- under this government the local authorities are once again having to set their annual budgets on the basis of more belt-tightening. This will mean more cuts in public library services, school's educational visits, social services, local authority housing and out-of-school facilities for children.
No doubt Labour councils who seek to raise council tax or borrow more money will be castigated by the Tories and labelled as "left-wing loonies".
Enough is enough -- the Tories have got to go!
Back to index
The trading standards officers claim that hygiene standards in abattoirs are falling rather than improving.
One of the leaked letters was from Peter Comrie, general secretary of the Association of Meat Inspectors to Johnston McNeil, chief executive of the Meat Hygiene Service. In it Mr Comrie said there had been many phone calls from members warning of steadily decreasing hygiene standards "with particular reference to faecal contamination in beef. .
There is no need to tell you that this is a potential timebomb."
A former government vet, Bill Swan, told the BBC's Frontline Scotland programme that some meat inspectors were intimidated when they tried to enforce health regulations.
He said: "Meat inspectors working in isolation in abattoirs have been threatened, they've been threatened with knives .. .cars have been damaged when they have tried to take a firm line on enforcement issues."
Earlier in the week Douglas Hogg had faced serious questioning in the House of Commons over his alleged cover-up of a damning report on hygiene standards.
According to a leaked copy of the report it said that some animal carcasses were being contaminated with faeces and urine which could be a means of allowing the deadly E-coli organism to contaminate meat.
Mr Hogg tried to explain away his department's failure to formally publish the report by saying it was just an internal working document. But MPs were furious that such a serious matter was not even passed to other ministers nor was it given to Professor Hugh Pennington who is investigating the Scottish outbreak of E-coli infection which has killed 21 people.
Professor Pennington said he was very annoyed not to have been shown the report or even told of its existence. He said: "It is very difficult to ask to see something if you don't know it exists."
As the week wore on and the damning evidence began to mount up the government seemed less concerned with covering the agriculture minister's back and more interested in distancing itself from any taint of cover-up. This was probably a wise move since Mr Hogg himself seemed only capable of accusing his critics of merely playing politics.
The Ministry of Agriculture admitted that the Meat Hygiene Service had disciplined 45 meat hygiene employees over the last two years and that four people had been sacked.
These disciplinary actions were mostly brought because of failures to properly remove spinal material and other potential BSE carriers from slaughtered animals.
Tory ministers followed by promising tougher action on abattoirs that fell below standard and the Prime Minister John Major said he would personally investigate Mr Comrie's claims.
No doubt some Tory supporters will now try to deflect blame away from the government by casting Mr Hogg in the role of an incompetent. Whether he is competent or not the government cannot get away from its ultimate responsibility. The Prime Minister appointed his agriculture minister and presumably found no serious fault in his performance.
More importantly, it must not be. lost sight of that the bottom line in this whole business is money. It is for money and extra profit margins that corners are cut and rules ignored. The people who pay the price for these fat profits are those who suffer serious illnesses and even death from eating contaminated products.
Only the previous weekend at the Scottish Labour Party Conference Labour leader Tony Blair called for an independent food standards agency. There can be no doubt that some fundamental change is long overdue.
Back to index
Thousands of seething pit workers were in no mood for compromising talk as they laid siege to Bonn's government sector and a key motorway. Kohl reacted by cancelling talks set for Wednesday.
His officials saw the miners' action as creating "an atmosphere of intimidation". Hundreds of miners broke through a barricaded exclusion area intending to march on the chancellery.
The tightening Euro noose around German workers' necks is bringing out serious and bitter opposition against the government.. Some miners didn't want to leave Bonn, calling for Kohl to resign. While others returned to the coal regions, some stayed and others awaited the arrival of 9,000 Saarland miners making their way to Bonn after a day of rallies in Saar.
Last year IG Metal union mobilised against the attack on workers living standards, jobs and welfare -- now the miners' brewing discontent has turned angry. They've good reason: over 40 years 500,000 coalminers' jobs have been taken away. Miners fear that, of the 90,000 left in 18 pits, they will lose at least half of the workforce and be left with eight mines if state aid is cut.
Monday's action follows Friday's west German-wide shutdown of all mines -- principally in the Ruhr and Saarland -- which set the scene for the seige of Bonn. The govemment of Chancellor Kohl, aided by the Free Democratic Party (FDP) which have been prominently campaigning to reduce top-rate taxes andindustry subsidies, is seeking to more than halve the coal subsidy by 2005.
Currently, total state aid of DM10 billion (£3.6 billion) would plummet to DM5.5 billion (£2 billion) a year from 2005.
Last Thursday the German finance minister vowed to continue tax "reform" despite opposition Social Democrat's (SPD) pulling out of tax talks expected last weekend in protest at intended coalition government industry subsidy cuts. The government are seeking $18(£11.2)billion tax cuts for the rich to make Germany "globally competitive".
Kamp-Lintfort works council head Ludger Ingendahl, said during Friday's action that the FDP's policy is to end the wealth tax for the rich "while we lose our jobs". Kamp-Lintfort, near Duisberg, is a mining town which, if Bonn's plans are implemented, will see half the miners on the dole. The town of 40,000 people will have an unemployment rate of 20 per cent.
Leader of the I G Bergbau miners' trade union Hans Berger said last Friday that in the end there would be as few as 25,000 miners left throughout Germany. But union officials also say 70,000 jobs are at risk in ancillary industries.
The social cost to the community is uppermost in union activists minds with unemployment officially at 4.7 million, rising steadily and representing 12 per cent of the workforce. Young people are not getting training places or jobs. Union leaders can see what to expect from the devastation caused to mining communities by Britain's Tory governments.
As we go to press miners are expecting a positive decision on Thursday from Kohl. If Kohl doesn't move, further unrest -and not only from miners -- is on the cards.
Back to index
Berisha's original ultimatum -- for the rebels to give-in or face the consequences -- came and went as his troops in the south ran away or joined the resistance. Now, with defeat facing him and under immense European Union and American pressure to reach a compromise Berisha has called for national reconciliation and the establishment of a "national unity government" to replace the Democratic Party regime which was forced to resign on 1 March.
The opposition front has welcomed the agreement which calls for fresh and free elections in June. Bashkim Fino, a Socialist leader from the south has been appointed prime minister and the Cabinet posts have been split evenly between the Democrats and the opposition. And in Vlore, the southern port which is the heart of the revolt, the local Committee of Salvation has signed an local cease-fire agreement with the Italy in return for Italian guarrantees of protection.
The rebel advance has been relatively unopposed in the South. Armed rebels, using the tanks and torpedo boats they have seized have setup road blocks to prevent the army from returning to the 12 towns they now control. A co-ordinated defence committee has been set up including former generals and senior officers of Albania's old People's Army who were sacked by Berisha in l992.
Now Berisha's only hope is that the opposition leaders can persuade the rebels in the south to abandon their plans to march on the capital and accept the deal now on the table. The problem is that no-one trusts Berisha or his cronies in the Democratic Party. They rigged last year's elections and many of their leaders, including Berisha himself, are implicated in the pyramid-scams, whose collapse has ruined over half the population.
Back to index
HEALTH Secretary Stephen Dorrell last Wednesday revealed the Tory party's plans to force local authorities to sell off the remainder of their nursing and residential care homes for the elderly.
Other services for the elderly, including home helps will also be compulsorily privatised.
His plans were published in a White Paper that will form an important part of the Tory election manifesto.
But the announcement of his plans coincided with a joint report by the government's own Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate which found that local authority-run residential care provides excellent value for money.
The study found that in the area chosen for the study -- Stockport greater Manchester -- the people are getting a very good deal from their local authority services.
The joint report says: "The review team concludes that, overall, Stockport people are being very well served by the social services, particularly in terms of the quality of services provided for selected users and in assessing and responding to the wider needs of the local population."
This will prove greatly embarrassing to Dorrell as he has spent the last few months trying to prove that local authority care is inordinately expensive.
He wants to introduce a provider/purchaser split as in the NHS. This would introduce an enormous amount of bureaucracy and make the whole thing much less cost effective -- before taking into account that privately run homes will be forced to seek to make a profit -- or go bankrupt.
The White Paper will also propose a review of child care services, with a view to selling them off as well.
The sale of local authority homes would affect almost 76,000 elderly people living in 2547 homes in England and Wales.
The values of the properties and services involved is estimated to be between £l billion and £1.5 billion.
But the Tory agenda is not really about providing more cost effective care so much as preparing the path to do away with care altogether.
Under another Tory government, the funding available to local authorities to "buy" privatised care would dwindle so that only the cheapest care could be provided. That augurs badly for the conditions of pensioners and pensioners-to-be.
Then, surveys will find the conditions disgusting and the provision will be extinguished leaving the elderly to either make their own provision -- if they can afford it -- or depend on their families for accommodation and care.
Those with no families will simply be left out in the cold.
Desperate in the run-up to the general election, the Tories last Monday tried to rescue their sinking popularity with the announcement of a scheme that would allow some people who buy insurance for long-term care to avoid having to sell their homes when they get old to finance their care.
Currently pensioners with assets over £16,000 get no help with the costs of their residential care. If they own a home they must sell it to pay for the care.
Only when the value of their total assets falls below £16,000 do they get some help towards the costs of care from their local authority.
When it falls below £10,000 the government takes over the full costs of their care.
This has meant that thousands of pensioners who had hoped to leave their houses to their children -- confident that their lifelong National Insurance contributions would ensure the state cared for them when they needed it -- have been forced to sell those homes.
The "partnership" insurance plans mean that for every £l insured privately, the government would insure £1.50 of the value of their house.
This means that a prospective pensioner with a £60,000 house would have to pay in £30,000 to a pension scheme to give themselves £45,000 extra protection over the current threshold of £16,000.
Insurance companies will charge higher premiums for women because they are expected to live longer.
The government has estimated the cost to the taxpayer would be about £200 million a year, assuming that one in five eligible people takes up the idea.
That leaves an awful lot of people with no help at all from this proposal.
Shadow health secretary Chris Smith said: "Those who cannot afford to pay premiums -- an estimated 19 out of 20 people -- will still be facing the loss of their homes or a second-rate safety net if they need residential care ".
Back to index