Yesterday, I blogged about Andrew Neil’s film Posh and Posher, which described the hold private schools have on our political culture. Today, by way of an ironic counterpoint, the Independent describes how the Coalition is trying to hound the Chair of the Charities Commission, Dame Suzi Leather, out of her job for enforcing the rules around charitable status for private schools.
This is the latest instalment in a long-running saga in which regulators have been seeking to hold private schools to account for the huge tax benefits they enjoy as charities – effectively they can reclaim the tax paid by parents on their school fees. Taken together with VAT exemption, it means that private schools enjoy massive subsidies from the taxpayer, to the point where the tax breaks per pupil at a top private school will be far more than the expenditure on educating a child at a state secondary.
At a time when education, like the rest of the public sector, is facing massive cuts which will inevitably hit the poorest hardest, the Tories and Liberal Democrats’ defence of this bung for the rich demonstrates the mendacity of the claim that “we’re all in this together”.
But the interesting thing here is the methodology. It’s another demonstration that in the Tory Dem world, public servants – especially those with a high-profile – are regarded as fair game – cheered on, of course, by Britain’s tabloid yellow press.
Here’s another example, this time in local government. Recently Baroness Eaton, chair of the Local Government Association, has hit back at what she describes as attacks by Central Government on Local Government:
Lady Eaton claimed the current financial situation ‘will challenge local authorities more than they have ever been challenged before’ but, she added: ‘I think it doesn’t help when ministers trivialise it by comparing councils with bankers.’
As for the attacks on chief executive pay, Lady Eaton said: ‘Certain politicians are peddling the view that top officers in local government are causing the financial problem.’
She claimed: ‘It’s dishonest to compare the salaries of officers and politicians.’ The comparison was further muddied because ‘they quote gross pay for the chief executives, and net for the prime minister’.
She defended staff over central government attacks over road gritting during the snow, claiming frontline workers did ‘a marvellous job’.
‘It gives staff a real feeling of not being valued, and we have a lot of hard-working individuals in local government.’
Unsurprisingly in this case the bully-in-chief is Local Government secretary Eric Pickles, who once joked that he would keep a revolver in his desk to shoot any Civil Servant who told him something he didn’t want to hear - who has established quite a track record – witness his smearing of the head of the Electoral Commission, reputed to have cost the Government £50,000 in legal fees; his recent need to issue a humiliating policy after joining the EDL bandwagon against councils allegedly replacing Christmas with Winterval, or gloating that many of the thousands of staff sacked by Manchester City Council were doing “non-jobs”.
Far from being a Government embracing a big society in which we’re all in it together, the Coalition seems to rejoice in bullying public servants who aren’t in a position to respond. It’s a tactic learned on the playing fields of public schools, imitated by people like Pickles (no doubt determined to fit in with the Etonians around the cabinet table), and subsidised handsomely by ordinary taxpayers.