‘What’, Monty Python famously wondered, ‘have the Romans ever done for us?’ Sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health, as well as peace, were not enough for the long-forgotten Reg, who asked the question in Life of Brian.
There’s a danger in politicians casting themselves as the Romans and the public as Reg, but nonetheless it’s important we all keep our feet on the ground, and that’s why I perform an occasional audit so that when I’m asked ‘What have you ever done for us?’, I at least avoid an awkward pause.
On a national level, the answers are always easier than they are locally: at heart, the answer has been something like ‘Delivered the manifesto people voted for’.
That means a referendum on the EU, cutting taxes while investing more than ever into the NHS and continuing to make the case for even more local provision.
And it also means making sure we are all safe and overseeing the lowest level of unemployment since 1975.
But how does that translate locally? That’s often harder to define.
This last week, however, an excellent couple of examples have emerged: local figures reveal that unemployment in Boston and Skegness is more than a third lower than it was in 2010, and perhaps just as significantly we learnt that the £1.3 billion increase in funding for schools translates into 4% extra for schools in the constituency.
Some will get more than that by quite a long way, and nobody – even those previously preparing for cuts – will get less than a rise of 0.5%.
Those previous plans had seen three-quarters of Boston and Skegness’ schools get increases of varying sizes, but it did ask some, particularly secondary schools, to make further savings.
Our schools have been victims of historic underfunding, exacerbated by government moves from 1997 to pour money into inner-city schools. Rural areas lost out.
In Parliament before the election I spoke against the government, saying that I thought the proposals, which did send some more money to rural schools, could be ‘even better’.
That might not sound much, but the point was clearly made: this Conservative wouldn’t support a Conservative government that didn’t give Lincolnshire’s schools the funding they need and our children deserve.
I was pleased to see that the 2017 Conservative Manifesto included the change in policy I’d asked for.
I can’t claim all the credit for this change in policy by any means – but when people say what has Westminster done for Boston and Skegness, I can add to the additional £12 million secured to help Lincolnshire’s potholes, to a host of local improvements and to hundreds of individual constituents helped a new, vital improvement: £2.3 million is now going in to the schools of Boston and Skegness, with improvements hopefully to be felt for years to come.
It is not a silver bullet for the complex challenges in education.
But it’s genuinely significant, and it shows Lincolnshire, finally, punching above its weight.