Tory MP Claire Perry has given her support to a controversial proposal from a right-wing think tank that would allow private companies to run State school for a profit – an idea backed by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
And the local MP also backs plans for affordable homes on green belt land because, according to Planning Minister Nick Boles, it is “immoral” that young people are being forced out of the housing market by high prices.
Speaking at lightning speed, Mrs Perry forcibly expressed her views last night (Wednesday) on Sky TV’s late night newspaper review in which she clashed with Observer journalist Miranda Sawyer.
The “pay schools” plan, already vetoed by the Lib-Dems as a bid to privatise education, comes from Bright Blue, described as a modernising pressure group in an exclusive report in The Independent.
“There are all sorts of think tanks out there, some are in the middle, some are on the right wing, some of the left,” said Mrs Perry, who has three children attending private schools.
“This is one that is a Conservative leaning think tank and they have got a whole series of new ideas of how do we deliver better results in our public services for loss costs.”
“And I think we all want better results for less cost. This is an interesting idea. I am not ideologically opposed to anything. I just want great results from our schools for our children.”
“I am a governor of two academies in my constituency (Devizes), one of which has a link up with Wellington College, which is a very well known private school, which has taken on an Academy sponsorship role.”
“It’s not done on a financial basis, it’s being done from an improving results basis. There are such enormous opportunities to work together.”
“The other academy (St John’s, Marlborough) is working with some of the primary schools out there. You don’t have to have a procurement department in every school. You can share French teachers for example, there are all sorts of opportunities to work together.”
She equated the policy to the coalition government’s announcement on the privatisation of the probation service, allowing private firms to provide the basic services, and added: “If we want to keep people out of jail I have no ideological problem with letting a company that makes a profit to run it if they do it better and cheaper than a State entity.”
“I just don’t see why there is a problem. We cannot afford to have ideology when we have a huge public spending squeeze and we have to deliver results.”
Miranda Sawyer intervened: “How you can make money out of school if the children who go there don’t pay any money into it, it seems to me the only way you can make a profit is by cutting down on certain things such as a sports division… Children just won’t go there.”
Mrs Perry: “Parents have free choice now whereas, under a Labour government, if you had one empty school place in an area you couldn’t open a new school. Now we’ve allowed free schools to open and schools to become academies.”
“So there is no compulsion to go to a school if it provides a better service, a better result and it costs less money for the taxpayer. Why is that a problem?”
She mentioned the issue she had raised Prime Minister’s questions, pointing out although the UK has the best science and engineering universities in the world, yet there is a deficit of 60,000 per annum in terms of science and engineering graduates.
“Why is it? – it’s because we are not teaching children the right level of skills in the schools,” said Mrs Perry. “Let’s focus on the results and not the ideology. Forgive me, but I just think we can afford the ideology any more.”
Ms Sawyer protested: “I just think it is a very weird way to look at education. Since Thatcher’s years we’ve had to look at education as something that has to be evaluated in terms of money.”
“Obviously when a lot of people are educated or go through that system it has nothing to do with money. It is to do with being educated and the ideas..”
And Mrs Perry interjected: “That’s why it is so depressing about 13 years of a Labour government — a huge amount of spending on schools and a precipitous decline in our global standard.”
The duo then debated a Daily Telegraph report warning that grandparents were threatened with “propping up their kids and grandkids” because of a shortage of affordable housing for them to move into.
“I represent a very big constituency with three towns and 150 villages where there is a huge amount of opposition to new housing,” said Mrs Perry. “It is a big beautiful green part of the world.”
“Every community could grow by a little bit. So there is nothing stopping a village growing two or three houses every year. The point the planning minister (Nick Boles) is trying to make is that if you oppose every development then where are your children and your grandchildren going to live?”
“In my constituency the house price to incomes ratio is now 12 times, one of the highest in the south west. Young people have to live with their parents because they can’t afford anything else.”
“What we are saying is that we have to start thinking in terms of the next generation. May be it is right that grandparents should voluntarily down-size and sell their house and move into houses built on the green belt.”
“The green belt is so controversial but I have to say…what people hate is big developments being plopped down from on high.”
Ms Sawyer said the problem equally was housing where the jobs existed. “You can build the houses you want up in the north east but if there is no work there it doesn’t make a difference.”
And Mrs Perry concluded: “Yes, it is jobs, infrastructure and housing. They all need to be put together. But we have very high house prices, we cannot afford to say No more development.”