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Bill English - Complacency Shredded

10 June 2005

Complacency Shredded

The low whine heard across Wellington on Tuesday was the sound of shredders chewing up Post Election Briefings (PEB). The PEB is the document Government Departments hand to Ministers summarising the issues in their Department, as the Department sees them. Government Departments make their own assumptions about who is going to win. This year they had picked Labour, so the PEB's were drafted to tell the minister how well he/she had done and draw attention to other very good ideas that missed funding in the last Budget.

So last Friday's poll was a shock. Two months ago Labour led National by 13 points, but suddenly it's even. Committed centre left support has dropped from the low 50's to the mid 40's. So there is no guarantee of Labour Government after the election.

My advice to Education officials is to wind down the Mahareyisms - cohesiveness, collaboration partnership and consultation and write about value for money, less bureaucracy and more choice. Even Labour Ministers will be saying these dreadful right wing words within a month. Ministers have seen the public surveys that show despite billions of extra spending, most voters think education is worse or the same.

These voters translate Mahareyisms as waste and bureaucracy. One poll does not a government make but several polls make a trend against a complacent government. Labour will react to this cold shower of public opinion by picking up the rhetoric of their opponents - a standard third way tactic. Voters expected much better education after 5 years of big spending and they are disappointed. Labour now have to convince voters that the mess was nothing to do with them and they are the best option to sort it out.

Bulk Funded Buses Busted

A parent rang to tell me a school a bit further from home than the closest school turned down her child's enrolment because according to the principal, "next year the government will make a rule that every child has to go to their nearest school". I told her that it's unlikely the government will do that, and she should go back to the school and find out if it has room for her child in which case the child has to be enrolled.

Labour's message to principals and parents is clear - choice is bad and it has to be stamped out. The new rules for bulk funded buses will cut back choice for thousands of families at 250 schools around New Zealand. For the last 10 years schools who chose the bulk funded option for school buses have been able to decide where their buses go. The Government is changing the rules. Now those schools will not be allowed to run a bus past the mid point of the distance to the next school and if they break the rules, the Ministry will take over the run. And the Ministry say the change is consistent with government policy that every school should be as good as every other school. Yeah right. Tell that to the parents. National will put it back the way it was.

Alternative Education Cheated

Alternative Education plays a critical role in rescuing young people from a very bad experience with education. It's expensive compared to mainstream schooling, but cheap compared to what these young people could cost. Labour took $2.5m out of the alternative education budget in 2003 to fund one of the Ministers projects, "Notschool". Rumour has it Steven Heppell, head of Ultralab UK did the hard sell on the Minister while hosting him harbourside during the last America's Cup.

"Notschool" is a scheme for computer-based education for students who would otherwise be in Alternative Education. Ultralab South, a partnership between Ultralab UK and Canterbury Development Corporation picked up the $2.5m contract. Unfortunately this project fell over this year because of a dispute between Ultralab UK and a British university over the ownership of the intellectual property in "Notschool". So what has happened to the $2.5 m? Alternative Education budgets took a big cut to pay for it. They should get it back. Or did the Ministry of Education sign a contract that means Ultralab South gets to keep what has been spent so far? I hope not.


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