No free home internet for children in Scotland and Wales

Part of Gordon Brown’s ‘fire sale’ speech today, working to buy support in the Labour party and beyond at its annual conference in Manchester, will offer free home access to the Internet for children in families who cannot afford it.

The scheme will take three years to roll out by 2011 – so don’t hold your breath. It will be worth around £700 to each household, providing equipment as well as internet connections. It will cover 1.4 million children in England but none in Scotland or Wales, where there are many children – as here in Argyll, whose families cannot give them this hugely valuable resource.

The excuse for this selectivity is that the cost of the scheme is said to be supported by efficiency savings in Whitehall so, because it is not additional expenditure, there will be no ‘Barnet formula’ money available to offer the same opportuities to children outside England.

This raises two questions of logic:

  • Why, in a UK Government with a civil service serving the union, should Whitehall efficiency savings be used to benefit only one of the constituent nations? We all pay for Whitehall.
  • Who’s ever heard of Whitehall actually saving anything? Talk, yes but reality – where’s the proof and where are the figures?

The cost of this will inevitably be included in the distribution of the massive £90 billion borrowing the former Prudence Brown is now happy to commit to in attempting to save his leadership. He announces sombrely and without the nuisance of evidence: ‘It is right to borrow at this time’ – and a press cowed by long years of Alastair Campbell doesn’t even ask why.

Economists predict that the British economy will bear the negative impact of such huge borrowing for many years to come.

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