Nick Clegg’s speech
Here’s what Nick Clegg will say later today at the formal launch of the manifesto front page:
Today we are setting out five priorities for five years. Five steps on the path to a stronger economy and a fairer society.
A stronger economy means finishing the job of balancing the books, in full and on time, but doing so fairly, with the wealthiest in our society paying their fair share.
Because it is only on the strong foundation of sound finances that we can build a fairer society.
Get that right and everything else can follow.
But a stronger economy also means more than just clearing the deficit. We do not want to simply return to business as usual.
To build the strong, green, innovative economy that Britain needs to flourish in the 21st century we need to invest in upgrading our national infrastructure and producing the clean renewable energy that will power our prosperity in future.
And it also means protecting our environment, because making sure our children and grandchildren are not left paying for the mistakes of the generations before them means protecting the air they breathe as much as the economy they inherit.
A fairer society starts with fairer taxes. We will continue to cut income tax for millions of working people by a further £400 a year by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500.
A fairer society means properly funding our world class public services – investing in them as the economy grows and making sure the NHS has the extra £8bn a year it needs by 2020.
But world class public services are about more than just numbers, they are about people’s lives. That’s why we are determined to end the stigma against mental health and guarantee it is given the same status in the NHS as physical health.
The priority I want to focus on today is education – because nothing is more central to creating both a stronger economy and a fairer society, where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Education has the power to liberate people from the circumstances of their birth.
I want every child in Britain today, no matter what their background, to have the opportunity to be what they want to be.
Because liberals treat people as individuals to be encouraged and enabled to flourish, not like numbers to be ranked and filed.
And we want everyone to be able to flourish, not just the lucky few.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats are the party of education. The liberal mission is, and always has been, to tear down the barriers that stop people from being able to reach their potential.
But the first barriers appear right at the start of a child’s life. If you fall behind in those crucial early years, the chances are you stay behind forever.
We know that, on average, a child who goes to a high quality pre-school will be better at reading or maths by the age of six than a classmate who does not.
We know that, as a teenager, that child’s concentration will be better in class and they will go on to do better in their GCSEs.
And we know they will earn thousands of pounds more throughout their working lives.
If you remove those barriers, if you stop children falling behind, you can change their lives forever.
That’s why education is my top priority and always has been. Nothing motivates me more.
More than 13 years ago, I visited a number of schools in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands and it was on those trips that the idea of the Pupil Premium first came to me.
It was an idea designed to target resources at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools, to stop them from falling behind their classmates.
That idea became Liberal Democrat policy.
That policy became a front page manifesto priority at the last election.
And that priority became the centrepiece of a liberal agenda for education that we have pursued in Government.
Today the Pupil Premium is worth £2.5bn a year. It funds breakfast clubs, homework clubs, one-to-one tuition and much more. It helps schools to reach out to parents who would otherwise be disengaged.
And it is working. The latest figures found that primary school children from the poorest backgrounds achieved their best ever results and that the gap between them and their classmates had narrowed.
And while the challenge is harder in secondary schools, this year we have seen the attainment gap in Maths and English narrow too.
When we joined the coalition in 2010, education was at the top of our agenda and it has stayed there ever since.
While we haven’t always seen eye to eye with our coalition partners, we have been relentless in making sure the life chances of our children have been at the heart of the coalition’s programme.
We made sure the schools budget was protected in real terms every year.
We made sure the Pupil Premium was given the priority and resources it needed to change lives, not just funded by cutting the schools budget elsewhere.
We prioritised extra childcare funding for parents of two, three and four-year-olds, extended the Pupil Premium to support the poorest children before they start school and introduced healthy free lunches for all infants to help them learn.
In Government in the next five years, we will once again put the life chances of our children at the heart of the government’s agenda.
We will protect not only the schools budget in real terms, but funding for early years and colleges too.
We will make sure that every child is taught by a qualified teacher.
We will triple the extra funding that goes to children from the poorest backgrounds in nursery.
And we will give every primary school child a hot, healthy lunch to help them learn.
The last few years have been tough for a lot of people, who have had to work hard and make real sacrifices to get by.
Politicians have had to make difficult choices with less money at our disposal. And there are more difficult choices to come.
That’s why priorities matter.
The Liberal Democrats will prioritise education, just as we have done over the last five years.
Because nothing is more central to what we believe. Nothing is more important to creating a fairer society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential.
Other parties will have their own priorities. And for that reason we know we cannot take the progress we have made in education for granted.
The Conservatives are proposing much deeper cuts than necessary in the next parliament, which means a real terms squeeze on the schools budget and cuts to early years and colleges to the tune of a combined £3bn a year.
In the final year of the next parliament, the Conservatives would cut £38bn more than under our plans.
These cuts would have real consequences for the lives of children, parents and teachers.
It could mean a dramatic squeeze on nursery places; the free childcare entitlement scrapped or scaled back drastically; hundreds of thousands of young people denied a place at college or sixth form every year; and thousands of staff fearing for their jobs.
But our progress will not be assured if Labour wins a majority either.
If you want a world class education system, you need a strong economy.
Labour’s plan means borrowing £70bn more than we will by 2020 and wasting around £4bn more on paying the interest on our debt – money that could be spent on schools and hospitals instead.
You simply can’t invest in strong public services if the money isn’t there.
Political parties are not the same. Priorities matter.
In tough times, Liberal Democrats will prioritise education.
We will prioritise finishing the job of deficit reduction fairly and responsibly.
We will prioritise fairer taxes.
We will prioritise equality for mental health treatment in a world class NHS.
And we will prioritise protecting our environment.
Five priorities for five years.
That is the Liberal Democrat agenda for Government.
That is what we mean when we say we will build a stronger economy and a fairer society.