Today schools across the country were closed at members of the National Union of Teachers went on strike for the first time in 21 years in protest at Gordon Brown's steady attack on public services. The catalyst was the derisory offer of a three-year package of below-inflation pay rises: essentially a pay cut (and another next year, and the year after that) - just at the time when housing, food, fuel and finance costs are sky-rocketing. I was privileged enough to join the 400-odd so teachers and supporters for a march from Pavilion Gardens to the Old Ship Hotel, where I met some of the inspirational people who are delivering improved results at most city schools but are being essentially kicked in the teeth by the government for doing so.
This Government has presided over a tax and pay structure for the public services that has seen the gap between the richest and the least well-off stretch even more wide than it was under the Tories. It must now ensure that teachers, and indeed all public servants, are given a pay rise of at least 3.8 per cent, the current level of inflation. Of course to do so would cost money, but not doing so calls into question the very future of high quality local public services.
True, thousands of pupils and their families faced disruption. But headteachers, parents and pupils have said they support the action anyway. At the heart of this action is the extent to which we value the work teachers do, and forcing another pay cut on them can only make future recruitment and retention harder, threatening to reverse recent improvements in local schools' performance.