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Opinion: When will there be a general election? Timing could make all the difference for Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government

Everyone knows there will be a general election this year but what we don’t know is when. And, rather oddly, neither does Rishi Sunak.

His difficulty is that the options before him all have their problems and there is no real standout that could be regarded as the best of a pretty ropey bunch.

Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics
Paul Francis gives his view on the latest in politics

Central to when he decides is, of course, the Rwanda issue and the success or failure of a key policy that will indicate he has either got a grip on it or not.

You can see the thinking: images of people smugglers on boats trying to land their catch on to the beach only to be arrested by police and hauled away would be a strong hand. The flipside? In the calmer waters of the English Channel, boats carrying migrants are more likely to increase rather than decrease - unless there is a spectacularly bad spell of weather.

A summer election is likely to prove unpopular - it is the time of the year when people are trying to get away from politics, not closer: politicians canvassing for support on the beaches are likely to be about as popular as a spikey sea urchin lurking on the sea bed.

The other difficulty is that it might be close to the council elections and if the Conservatives are trounced - as expected - the party activists are less likely to respond to another rallying cry to go forth and knock on doors.

The Autumn option has its merits but it also has its hazards: the campaign could be launched off the back of a barn-storming address by the leader but we all know what conferences are like: there would be so much ‘noises off’ and debate about the future direction of the party and who the next leader might be that splits would be hard to contain.

So, a pre-Christmas poll might be the solution. Colder nights, shorter days, traffic that is always worse at this time of the year - a December poll may mean canvassers may not get quite the same response when door-knocking as carol singers…

When will the country go to the polls?
When will the country go to the polls?

•With many Kent schools now part of a group of academy schools - called MATs - how are those who lead these groups held accountable for what goes on in terms of teaching and learning?

The question was posed in a select committee report on Ofsted published last week which was partly triggered by concerns about the impact on head teachers of struggling schools in the wake of the death of primary head Ruth Perry. She killed herself as she waited for the outcome of a critical report on her school.

The report recommended that the inspection regime be changed to give Ofsted the power to inspect not just individual schools that belong to what are known as ‘multi-academy trusts’ but to those who lead and manage those trusts. Given their role, it seems odd to say the least that this does not already happen.

Among MPs who backed this call was Anna Firth, who stood for the Conservatives in Canterbury in 2019 and is now MP for Southend West.

While welcoming a change in tone from the government, she urged ministers to act promptly.

“Given that MATs are now the biggest part of the education system, we need to go beyond ‘actively’ considering? We must accept these recommendations, and the MAT inspection regime should be delivered urgently.”

There are calls for Ofsted to also inspect those who lead and manage multi-academy trusts. Stock image.
There are calls for Ofsted to also inspect those who lead and manage multi-academy trusts. Stock image.

• Kent County Council has faced in recent years difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff. So, it was a surprise to learn that it had set up a company to manage and recruit permanent staff and to plug vacancies where it could. Only not in Kent.

The company has struck a deal to work in partnership with West Dorset council to do the job, acting as a recruitment agency for it.

We asked why it had set up the agency and its role in a local liability partnership given that Kent has its own recruitment issues.

In a statement, it said: “Connect2Dorset is a separate legal entity with a local delivery team that will support Dorset Council with its local recruitment challenges within Dorset and this does not impact KCC or recruitment into the council for contingent agency, contract, or interim staff at all.”

Did this mean KCC staff being moved across to work on the Dorset joint venture or will new staff be recruited?

No, definitely not. The statement was unequivocal: “No staff from KCC are involved in Connect2Dorset. Connect2Dorset employs its own staff locally and it will work with local suppliers in Dorset to source local candidates and recruit to roles in Dorset Council.”

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