School children or MPs: who works the most?

You guessed it – it’s the kids – who work 310 hours more than MPs.

As Michael Gove continues his personal mission to make British schools a little more work-house like and less of a national handicap in the “global race” to nowhere, Margaret Hodge has suggested MPs might take a look at their own work habits. “It feels as if we are hardly working,” she told the Guardian. “Members of the public would be forgiven for thinking that it is MPs who are lazy and that it is parliament that is failing to provide good value for money.”

A little comparison is in order. This year the Commons are expected to sit for fewer than 140 days. During the 2010-2012 Session, the House sat for a total of 2,342 hours and 25 minutes, which comes to 296 days over two years. During the same period, school children spent a total of 2,660 hours in school, a total of 380 days.

That’s 310 hours and 84 days more than MPs.

The Lib Dem transport minister Norman Baker responded defensively to Hodge’s claim. “Some MPs work bloody hard all year round,” he said. Edward Garnier, Conservative MP for Harborough, argued that Hodge's claim select committees have inadequate hours to carry out their business is erroneous. “If she [Hodge] wants her committee to convene, they should be allowed to whenever they like. They do not need the house to be sitting to do so.”

Presumably, when the teachers’ unions make the same argument, the effect will be derided by an Education Secretary who keenly ignores the recommendations for shorter school days, increased flexibility and more support for teachers, which come from our Scandinavian neighbours, opting instead to lionise nations with scantly regulated school systems in East Asia.

The hours quoted above are based on my own comprehensive school's (that is to say, the most common type of school in Britain), which are from 8.20am – 3.20pm every day, 39 weeks a year (minus 5 teacher training days). This does not did not include extracurricular activities, breakfast or after school clubs, homework, revision and the rest.

Some students work bloody hard all year round, after all.

Hard at work - Michael Gove. Photo: Getty.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.