The winners of Labour's new policy are not disadvantaged students Photo: Dan Kitwood
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Labour's fees cut blasted by former access chief and Labour supporter

Martin Harris, former head of the Office of Fair Access and a Labour supporter, attacks the party's fees policy.

Labour's planned £3,000 cut in fees has been condemned by a former head of the Office of Fair Access (Offa). Martin Harris, who served as the body's director from its foundation in 2004 until 2012, told the New Statesman that "not a single extra student will go to university” because of the reduction in fees. 

The policy has already been widely-panned,  but the criticism from Harris, a Labour supporter, will be felt more keenly in party circles.

“You can get a much better return on the money you invest by effective forms of outreach and working very closely with schools than you will ever get by giving individual students who have already decided to go to university a sum of £600 or £900,” Harris says. “You could say whether that calls into question whether reducing the fees will have any more effect than putting them up in the first place.”

“That money could be better spent on encouraging young people,” he says. “I can say it now - I'm no longer a government employee. It would be much better spent on identifying students of potential and of capability in schools where there's not a big record of sending students to selective universities, and giving them all the support that is appropriate in those schools.”

Lowering tuition fees to £6,000 will cost the government over £2 billion a year. While the plans are cost neutral –funded by reducing tax relief on pensions for those earning over £150,000 per year - Harris believes the extra money could have been spent far more effectively on university access.  

“You could do a lot of outreach for that, couldn't you?” Harris said. “If Miliband spends all that money, I hope he gives some of it to the schools."

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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