jimtoggleJim O’Neill says the UK Government has failed in its duty to the children of the Calais camps, and the Scottish Government has failed to deliver the reform of local government finance it has long promised.


I was shocked last week when Celtic played 13 year old Karamolo Dembele in their Under-20 team against Hearts. No child should be put in that position, as they have neither the physical nor emotional development to handle it. Scottish Rugby has had a rule for some years that no child can “play up” more than one age group, and they should be congratulated for it. Scottish Football should enact a similar rule. The concept that “if they are good enough they are old enough” should no longer apply. As Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie said, “wait and see is no longer appropriate”.

On the subject of our kids, the heartlessness of the current Tory government is seen at its worst in reports that, of 400 eligible children in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, only 72 have been allowed entry into Britain, and even they have experienced unconscionable delays. Not one  child has been allowed entry under the so-called Dubs amendment promoted by Lord Alf Dubs who benefitted from the Kindertransport from Nazi Germany to Britain. So much for the sovereign will of Parliament. It seems that the Home Office have been putting all sorts of barriers in their way, including “losing” the paperwork. This could not happen without the knowledge of ministers. And who was in charge of the Home Office through most of this time? Yes, you’ve guessed it: our new PM Theresa May.

Today the issue is even more urgent. The French have announced that they are going to bulldoze the Jungle. When they “cleared” a part of the camp earlier this year some 129 unaccompanied children went missing. Now all these other children, all of whom have a right under the Dubs amendment or the Dublin Agreement to enter Britain, are at risk. On Monday, Amber Rudd was dragged to the Commons by what was clearly a hostile question from a Conservative back-bencher to explain her actions on this. Indeed, he finished off his supplementary by saying that, if this was not resolved, Theresa May’s warm words of last week would remain just that – warm words. We must continue to highlight in Parliament and elsewhere the shocking record of this Government in abandoning these most vulnerable kids.

I also note in a report that the new submarines to be based at Faslane will be built with French steel. Clearly if these contracts had been offered to the British steel industry many Tata employers would not now be seeking alternative work. Another failed policy from the Tories.

And I was not surprised to see that, despite the warm words in Mrs May’s speech to the Tory conference, big business has triumphed over local opinion in Lancashire, where the first fracking drills have been allowed. While the 50m drills will scar the countryside, reports from America suggest that fracking has created local earthquakes, particularly in Oklahoma, and have poisoned the groundwater. Now comes the test of Sturgeon’s government. While the banning of coal gasification is welcome, I am at a loss to understand why a ban on fracking did not accompany it. Interestingly, the creation of oil from shale was the invention of Glasgow scientist, James “Paraffin” Young, who is buried in Inverkip. The Scottish Government needs now to bury fracking as well.

The decision of the relevant Holyrood committee to allow the increase in the amount paid by the top four bands of Council Tax instead of a more fundamental review of methods of paying for local government was driven through by an unholy alliance of SNP and Tory MSPs. It really only benefits the wealthiest since the top band still starts at £125,000 and those with million-pound and two-million-pound houses will pay no more than those in the lower reaches of the Band.

A fairer approach, if they wanted to keep the Council Tax, would have been to extend the number of bands, with those in the highest value houses in the new highest bracket. The current proposal shows once again the top down instincts of this government, with local councils having had no voice in setting the rates.

I believe, however, that a more fundamental change is required. Originally promoted by the Co-operative Party, Land Value Tax is becoming more mainstream and would resolve the revaluation issues that the Finance Minister is clearly so afraid of. Is this what we have suffered the Council Tax freeze, and so many fine local government staff have lost their jobs, for?