Will the real Boris Johnson Mr Speaker, please, stand up?


I am sure Boris Johnson will say in response to questions about the incidence of voter fraud or the need to put judges in their place, as he has done over the cost of a roll of wallpaper, that these are not really issues that matter to the voters. They want us to focus on their priorities, the People’s priorities.

What really matters to them from today’s Queen’s Speech, he will assert, is policy like his headlining skills revolution.

Because the voters love policies that on careful scrutiny turn out to be all fur coat and no knickers? Johnson’s stock in trade, in fact, as savvy London voters of the last decade or so will attest.

The scheme providing loans for adults wanting to retrain, announced to the media this morning seems to be a poorer version of a scheme the Government has just scrapped, Professional and Career Development Loans. It had had its uses, fairly limited in my experience, and had been around for about 30 years.

If the new scheme is only usable in the context of purchasing higher-level education and training at university or college then it is not as flexible as the PCDLs as they might also have been used to purchase courses provided by other public sector providers as well as companies in the private and voluntary and community sectors.

Politicians have an unfortunate habit of defaulting to universities and colleges when there is a wider range of provision from which to choose than just the two sectors and some of it is of better quality.

Still, if you are a semi-mythical Red or Blue Wall voter, who likes the idea of pegging back the judiciary then you are probably not well informed about the patchwork quilt of post 18 training and education that exists beyond where you took your C&G or passed your degree.

If the new scheme, like PCDLs, is administered through private sector banks then they will want good evidence that undertaking the course will improve your earnings potential and ability to repay the loan.

They will not just give you one on the off chance you may repay it. We do need to keep a tight grip on the public finances, eh, Rishi?

Under the old scheme now being wound down, “The government pays the interest while you study and for 1 month after you leave your course. After this time, you start repaying the loan and interest.”

And that included people on benefit, who, if they declined to pay might have a regular amount deducted, under Social Security legislation, at source.

The BBC tells us, breathlessly, that, “Businesses and trainers will be encouraged to target “local needs in sectors including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing”.”

Are businesses to be encouraged to have their employees take out loans for training from which, they, their existing employers will benefit?

However, a bank is not going to give you a loan for a course that does not make you more employable in the context of the labour market at the time you make your application for funding.

See me after the lesson for information on the jobs market in your locale.

I wonder, given potential capacity issues in the Further Education sector (with which I am more familiar than the Higher Education sector, except in the case of Turner v Birmingham Law Society over administrative recruitment in law firms), if this is not a sneaky way of reducing the FE sector’s reliance on central government funding by transferring the funding of course places from the taxpayer to the student?

At the beginning of 2020, Sajid Javid gave an interview to the FT, mostly about Brexit, but he did at one point wax lyrical about tarting up some FE Colleges, Oop North. When asked if that would mean more courses, too. He said no. The Government did not want to commit to long term increases in revenue expenditure.

Soapy Sunak, the conman hidden in plain sight, has taken up the same position. In fact, he has now cast himself in the role of a cheeseparing 19th century Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He wants to balance the books.

Dicken’s Fat Boy from Pickwick Papers only wanted to make your flesh creep.

Will the new loan scheme extend to funding for more tutors, because unless there are regularly spare places going begging on existing courses there will be of necessity a cap on the number of loans?

No course place?

Computer says, no loan.

The last thing the country needs, incidentally, is a scheme that might encourage employers in all sectors of our economy to spend less of their own money on ongoing training for their own staff and new recruits.

A certain Boris Johnson, back in 2013, wrote in Churchillian style that, Mr Speaker, “If we left the EU … we would have to recognise that most of our problems are not caused by “Bwussels”, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills, a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capital and infrastructure.”

Johnson’s skills revolution is not in any way a credible response to those challenges.

You would think someone who might give master classes in sloth and who is addicted to easy gratification would appreciate how many millions in the UK are employed in the leisure and tourism industry?

Missing from Johnson’s wise words of 2013, describing as they do century old or more fundamental flaws in our society and economy, is any reference to matters like judicial review or voter fraud.

Measures on such matters may, quite rightly, not be, in Johnson’s opinion, the People’s priorities, despite being included in today’s Queen’s Speech, in the same way that he felt leaving the EU was not a priority or an answer to any serious problem facing our country in 2013.

Would the real Boris Johnson Mr Speaker, please, stand up?


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