McConnell dresses the window

9th September 2005 at 01:00
The promise of legislative goodies to come over the next two years, outlined by the First Minister on Tuesday, was always bound to be a mixed bag; such is the nature of the beast. There are responses to immediate events, there are long-term measures with a more considered germination, there are political initiatives to upstage opposition parties and there are issues that are simply felt to require a higher profile. A number of issues appear to be a mixture of all these. Some of the justice measures were motivated by the murder of Rory Blackhall and the fatal airgun attack on young Andrew Morton and are in the category of an immediate political response. And the apparent U-turn on business rates is a clear attempt to steal Tory clothes.

None of the educational initiatives is especially new or unexpected, apart from the headline-grabbing one of giving parents a statutory right to initiate school inspections. Like the now probably forgotten power of ministerial intervention in "failing" schools, this legislative leg-up for parents is probably in the category of political window-dressing: something which will play well but is unlikely ever to be used. As was argued this week, any sensible group of parents will try to resolve matters before they reach the inspectorate. The grievances of individual parents are another matter, which is why the promise of a mediation service in all education authorities is an issue of more substance.

The only other unexpected measure is the pledge to put nutritional standards of school meals on a statutory footing, after years in which the Executive insisted only guidance to authorities was necessary. This will have all the pitfalls of any such legislative step: the risk of litigation on whether authorities are meeting their statutory obligations and on what constitutes "nutritional". Jamie Oliver as expert witness, anyone?

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