This year the Queen will mark her diamond jubilee by presenting a gift to the nation of £60 million. The gift, backed by both private donations and the Queen’s own finances, will be a generous addition to the UK’s purse. The Guardian has suggested a few examples of what £60m could pay for:
- 2,254 nurses (on annual median wage of £26,614).
- 3,065 ambulance staff (excluding paramedics) on annual median wage of £19572.
- 2,875 student’s tuition fees for a full three-year degree at maximum-charging institution.
- 51,369 free travel passes based on annual tube pass (London, zones 1-2) costing £1,168 each…..
…is what I would like to write, although unfortunately this is not the case.
In reality, Michael Gove, the education secretary, has taken upon himself to suggest that the nation buy the Queen a £60 million as a celebration of her diamond jubilee, the Guardian reports. Perhaps proving how out-of-touch this government really is, Michael Gove genuinely suggested that taxpayers, themselves feeling the brunt of the bailouts and cuts, should pay out another bailout to buy the Queen a new yacht.
Presumably forgetting that there is a financial crisis and widespread pubic cuts, Gove sent round a confidential letter to fellow ministers proposing the ludicrous idea. In it, he writes:
“My suggestion would be a gift from the nation to her majesty; thinking about David Willetts’s excellent suggestion of a royal yacht, and something tangible to commemorate this momentous occasion.” He adds: “The year ahead provides an enormous opportunity to showcase the very best of Britain.”
The letter evoked surprise from both Labour and Liberal Democrats, with Tom Watson, the Labour party vice-chairman, saying: “When school budgets are being slashed, parents will be wondering how Gove came even to suggest this idea. This is not the time to spend £60m on a yacht”
In his letter, Gove shared his fears that the diamond jubilee could be “overshadowed” by the Olympic Games and stresses how the jubilee should “form an integral part of this great year for our country.”
The education secretary also wrote: “I feel strongly that the diamond jubilee gives us a tremendous opportunity to recognise in a very fitting way the Queen’s highly significant contribution to the life of the nation and the Commonwealth.
“I feel strongly more should be done to achieve a longer lasting legacy. Events such as proms and the party at the palace organised for the diamond jubilee, and street parties, although excellent, are transient. It would be appropriate to do something that will mark the significance of this occasion with fitting ceremony.
Downing Street quickly moved to denounce Gove’s private proposals. David Cameron, perhaps becoming aware of the public backlash to such a suggestion, said: “Clearly there is a difficult economic situation, there are scarce resources, and therefore we don’t think it would be an appropriate use of public money at the present time.”
No 10 tried to claim that no one was talking about the use of public money, pretending that Gove was talking about private donations all along, despite Gove writing: “If there is not sufficient public money, then we should look for generous private donations to give every school a lasting memento of the occasion.”
Nick Clegg denounced the proposals as well, stating: “I suspect more people in the country would think, given there’s very little money around, that this isn’t top of their list of priorities for the use of scarce resources.”
Meanwhile, Michael Gove is running into further trouble with his “gift to the nation”: a copy of the King James bible being sent to every school in the country, with a foreword written exclusively by Mr. Gove himself. Unfortunately, this “gift” is also being bought with public money.
The Daily Mail reports that: “The Prime Minister had reportedly told Michael Gove that while he supported the idea, he should avoid using taxpayers’ money, according to sources.”
Gove didn’t seem to like this much, deciding that taxpayer money was going to be used regardless. He said: ‘The taxpayer is there to underwrite the costs but we are in conversation with a number of individuals and organisations that may share some of the burden,” he said. That sentence in reverse states much the same: “We are in conversation with a number of individuals and organisations that may share some of the burden but the taxpayer is there to underwrite the costs.” – Gove clearly sees the taxpayer’s purse as an infinite pool of free money to “underwrite the costs” of whatever crazy project he comes up with. Never mind that the same public purse could be better spent patching up the school budget cuts (or even preventing those same cuts from being made).
Officials in the education department insisted the bibles would be distributed before Easter even if no sponsor had been found. A senior education department source said enough public cash was available to press ahead and No 10 had merely indicated that “sponsorship was desirable”.
That Gove plans to spend public money on his pet projects while hacking public spending in other areas is indefensible. The Guardian writes that Whitehall sources reported that Gove was told at the highest levels that it would be wrong to spend nearly £400,000 on the project at a time when the government was in negotiations with teaching unions over cuts to their pensions. Clearly Gove’s project is running into trouble, though it is worrying that it appears as if the education department will press ahead regardless.
The project does seem to be a waste of both time and money. As National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson said: “It’s not as if Bibles are in short supply in schools. But if Mr Gove intends to go ahead with this, will he also please ensure that a copy of On the Origin of Species is sent out on Darwin Day?
‘This book is much harder to find in schools and would be in line with his policy of promoting science and evidence-based education. I’m sure that he could write an excellent foreword to this too”
Regardless, it does seem that Michael Gove is acting rather hypocritical. Whilst school budgets are being slashed, education secretary Michael Gove is attempting to spend over £60 million on thousands of unnecessary bible books and a brand-new yacht. Clearly this money could be better spent in alleviating some of the education sector cuts.