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Evening Standard Comment: Ministers must act now on schools plan | Help for aviation | Don’t dodge aid vote

Evening Standard Comment
·3-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

Ministers must act now on schools plan

Before the pandemic, we thought we knew what education was for: maths, science and reading — the acquisition of knowledge. One year on, society is fully absorbing the central role schools play in our economic and social ecosystem.

For younger children, it is a playground for social interaction and emotional wellbeing. For disadvantaged students, a safe space to learn and get a hot meal. For our key workers, somewhere that enables them to go out and do their jobs.

For these reasons and more, we all want to see schools reopen as soon as practicable.

We acknowledge that the Government feels under siege, having erred in bringing schools back for one day after the Christmas holidays. But prime-ministerial embarrassment is not a good enough reason for inactivity.

Teachers, parents and most of all students need clarity. Not necessarily a date in stone, but a timetable they can work to and plan for. This is doable. We know that schools increase transmission. But they are also well-versed in bubbles, testing and operating in a Covid-secure manner.

The Government should consider all options, including a phased reintroduction of classes. It must ensure that those from socially deprived backgrounds — who are suffering the most from online learning — are admitted first, alongside the youngest learning the basics of reading and writing and older pupils supposed to be sitting their GCSEs and A-levels.

We understand the emotional tug of teacher vaccinations — we want those educating our children to feel safe. But the core issue is whether we can send our young people to mix in schools without sending transmission rates and hospitalisations back up again.

There have been times during this pandemic when the Government has had no option. This is not one of those moments. A sensible pathway exists — the Government must take those decisions now and without delay.

Help for aviation

Few industries — apart from those men you used to see in Trafalgar Square offering “free hugs”— have been worse hit by the pandemic than aviation.

The Government has brought in ever tighter restrictions over the last few months, from mandatory self-isolation, to the abolishment of travel corridors, and yesterday’s announcement of hotel quarantine. Foreign summer holidays too seem hopelessly optimistic.

Losses are piling up. International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, announced a £1.16billion loss in its third quarter of 2020. Crawley, near Gatwick, has seen some of the largest job losses in the country.

Carriers in the US and Europe have received more direct financial support than their UK competitors, and the Government may wish to signal an extension on VAT relief now rather than wait for the Budget.

Yet climate change, not Covid-19, is the most serious long-term threat to the sector. Therefore any extra support for aviation should be linked to stricter environmental targets, which would truly future-proof the industry.

Don’t dodge aid vote

The Government’s decision to cut UK international development spending from its statutory 0.7 per cent of gross national income last year caused huge consternation.

One thing is clear — the Government cannot simply deliberately miss the target. If it believes that a cut is right, it should attempt to win a vote in Parliament on that basis