Coalition Government Cuts to Brent Council: Central Government Grant Reductions

Leaving the Comprehensive Spending Review aside for one moment, in the summer of 2010, the Coalition Government reduced certain grants to Brent Council which has directly impacted upon residents. Most of these cuts attacked the vulnerable in society. Around £6 million was cut from the council budget at this stage in the financial cycle with much being imposed on programmes that were actively in operation or where plans and structures were in place to utilise the Central Government Grants.

Central Government Grant Reductions

  • £57,000 reduction to the Working Neighbourhood Fund Which provides a Language to Work Service to local residents. This was a programme budgeted for 2 years with 12 classes per year. The £57,000 loss is likely to reduce class frequency.
  • £390,000 reduction in Housing and Planning Delivery Grant which has impacted on Town Centre Manager posts and budgets. This will curtail progress on developing Town Centres in Brent.
  • £143,000 reduction in the Free Swimming Grant which gave free provision of swimming to older people and children under 16. This will impact on free swimming provision for children.

In addition nearly £1.9 million was cut from Brent’s Children and Families Grant and a further £3.2 million from our Performance Reward Grant. I will be writing about these two cuts in further detail in the near future.

It would be “immoral” to “burden the next generation with higher debts” – The Liberal Democrats

The Coalition of cabinet millionaires just do not have a clue how difficult their intention to treble fees will make going to University for young people from middle and lower income families.

They have benefitted themselves having free higher education and now they want people to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees. If we’re all in this together, every MP who votes for the fee cap rise should pay £27,000 into the higher education system.

THIS WILL RUIN THE LIFE CHANCES OF A GENERATION!

They are intent on tackling the deficit within one Parliamentary term because they say that the economy should not be built on a foundation of debt. But they think it’s ok for young people to be consigned with debts of up to £50,000 and build their whole lives on a foundation of debt. Where is the logic in that?

When they wanted to sell these extreme cuts, the Conservative and Liberal Democrats would turn moist-eyed and say it was “immoral” to “burden the next generation with higher debts.” So as a solution they have introduced a program that will burden the next generation with much higher debts.

Johan Hari, the Independent

During the years when young people have begun to work, are at the prime age to start up families and enter the housing market for the first time, a chunk of their disposable income will be removed from them at the time when they are in most need of it as they will have to deal with their student debt – thereby affecting their future life choices.

The Lib Dem comeback seems to be that it’s all Gordon Brown and the previous Labour Government’s fault. I disagree strongly – but you can blame Gordon Brown all you want… it doesn’t change the fact that Nick Clegg lied.

Cutting the Aspirations of a Generation – Lib Dem Broken Promises: Tuition Fees

The Lib Dems have backed proposals that will lead to a rise in tuition fees. The £3,290 cap on fees is proposed to be removed meaning that top Universities will be allowed to double charges, cutting off access to top Universities for young people from lower and middle income families. This could increase charges for most universities by nearly £4,000 a year.

Source: Left Food Forward - Nick Clegg before the election, holding up a signed pledge that he will not increase tuition fees

During the election campaign, key Lib Dem figures held up pledges to vote down any proposed rise to tuition fees. A few ministerial cars later and they are actually actively proposing the complete opposite and looking to remove the cap on tuition fees, which will inevitably raise them to unprecedented levels.

Barely begun to pay back my student debt and it is worrisome for a young person in Britain today to think about how we will get out of the vicious circle of debt. I finished University three years ago with a student debt of nearly £15,000 and my current account in overdraft. Now that I am working, I think it is a manageable debt. But the magnitude of debt that the Lib Dems and Tories are going to impose on young people is disheartening. If fees go up for top Universities to over £7,000 a year, taking into account living costs, young people could leave University with debts of up to £50,000; more than what many parents paid for their mortgages! For families where more than one child aspires to go to University, this is a devastating blow.

The Lib Dems and the Tories say that we must move away from an economy built on the foundations of debt. If this is the approach they wish to have for our banking system, why are they consigning young people to a lifetime of debt?

What Sarah Teather has said:

Under [Labour] Government plans, students will soon have to pay £3000 a year to attend university. The Lib Dems predict that students leaving university could find themselves with debts of £20,000. The Liberal Democrats have launched a nationwide petition against these unjust fees. The Lib Dems call on the Government to scrap tuition fees and abandon their plans for top-up fees. Students should not be burdened with huge debts!

Source: Sarah Teather’s website!

“Labour, backed by the Tories, are creating a university system where less well off people will be unable to attend. I believe this is completely wrong. I am proud that the Lib Dems are opposing ‘top up fees’ as well as fighting to abolish tuition fees.”

Source: Sarah Teather – calling for Tuition fees to be AXED altogether

“Fear of debt is a major obstacle for students wanting to take up university places. A Barclays Bank survey has predicted that by 2010 students could face debts of up to £30,000. This is totally unacceptable. These plans are likely to mean that many of our brightest students in Brent would no longer be able to afford a university entrance fees.”

Source: Sarah Teather

But for me, the worst thing about this is that the one group that will be ignored and not consulted on this is young people. People who were 16 or 17 at the time of the May 2010 election may be affected by the changes that the Lib Dems will enact on tuition fees. However, they did not vote for it because they were not allowed to.

I wonder if this solution would be pursued if young people had the right to vote. The solution is to lower the voting age to 16. Another principle the Lib Dems seem to have abandoned.

Lib Dem Broken Promises: Votes at 16

NYRA Berkeley Voting Age Protest
WikiImage

Another sensational U-turn from the Liberal Democrats. According to Left Foot Forward (LINK), the Lib Dems have sensationally voted down a Parliamentary amendment to lower the voting age to 16 for the referendum on the voting system, despite promising to give 16-year-olds the vote in their election manifesto.

It seems as though the Lib Dems are hell bent on savaging the rights and the services available for young people.

Before the election, Labour promised a free vote in Parliament on lowering the voting age to 16. The Lib Dems went further and said that they would lower the voting age. The Tories ignored the issue in their election manifesto.

The forthcoming referendum that is expected on changing the way elections are decided presents the best opportunity to lower the voting age. Why waste public resources by raising the issue again and following through a new and costly constitutional amendment process? Surely it would be easier to make these changes to our voting system from the outset.

Our Brent Central MP Sarah Teather has in the past supported lowering the voting age to 16. Her website says, “the Liberal Democrats are the only major political party to support the Votes at Sixteen campaign” and argued that “it would help demonstrate to young people that their opinions are valued and help reconnect with those who may otherwise may never vote. It still seems ludicrous to me that a person can work, get married and join the army in this country before they are allowed to vote” (Source: LINK).

Now in Government and presented with the opportunity to presented with the opportunity to change things for good, Sarah Teather’s options indicate that young people’s opinions are not valuable to her at all and that the Lib Dems have abandoned their pledge to connect and involve young people in the decisions like raising tuition fees, that will affect them.

Raising children is expensive: The Lib Dem / Tory approach to child benefits fails to acknowledge this

Earlier this year, the Independent highlighted that it costs on average £201,000 to raise a child in Britain today. Parenting has changed, with many taking more responsibility for their children in many cases, up to and beyond 21 years of age. Helping them to progress through education, in some cases University, giving them a foot up onto the housing ladder; it’s all very costly and now an inevitable part of modern day parenting.

Universal child benefit acknowledges and recognises that it is expensive to raise children in Britain today. Scrapping the Building Schools for the Future programme, halting Playbuilder schemes and freezing child benefits are just a few of the ways in which families have been bearing the brunt of the coalition cuts.

We now see Sarah Teather and her Tory pals going further and removing child benefit from some parents. Yes, it may be the case that those on higher incomes may be able to afford raising a child without need for help from benefits. But is it fair that this move now makes some parents with children worse off than wealthy people who do not have children?

The devil is in the detail of this Tory and Lib Dem policy. The benefit removal as proposed would leave households where a only one parent works and earns over £44,000 worse off and would leave parent households with combined incomes of up to £88,000 unaffected, so long as one of them is not earning over £44,000.

That’s the problem with the Government’s proposals as they stand at the moment. It’s always those who are on the fine line, who could do with that extra bit of help, who end up losing out. That is why I am in favour of keeping the universal based approach.

But, although many may agree with the principle of the Con Dem approach, the detail is ill thought out and would be unfair on middle income families. What would be a fairer approach to take is to have higher taxation on all higher income level earners, and not just penalise those who have children. Government should recognise the important role of parenting and acknowledge that bringing up children is expensive. The Lib Dem and Tory approach fails to acknowledge this.

Sarah Teather already begins to politicise the cuts

The political aim from Sarah Teather will be to pass on as much of the blame as possible to local Councils. Governments get politically slaughtered for making cuts to Departments such as Health where local authorities have less control.

In Brent we have been asked to make £94 million cuts to our budget. Our total budget for the last financial year was in the region of £260 million which should give you an idea of the scale of cuts we’re being forced to make. With around 80% of our funds coming from central Government, any rhetoric that these are cuts that Councils are making is deceptive.

Coalition Minister Sarah Teather has already sent out a propaganda leaflet which targets the Labour Council for making these cuts. But if we don’t make cuts, then administrators come in and make these cuts for us. It’s worth noting that the cuts are more directives from the Government as many are because of Central Government money that was set out for certain schemes being slashed.

In the 1980s, the Thatcher Government made cuts that were designed to pass the buck towards local authorities as much as possible. In addition, Tory Councils were hit less by the cuts in comparison to Labour controlled authorities.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and history repeats itself. Labour controlled Councils are being hit disproportionately by the cuts imposed by the Con Dem Coalition Government.

Ken Livingstone sweeps the Labour nomination for the 2012 London Mayoral elections

The City Hall campaign will in effect begin now.

Former Brent East MP, Ken has overwhelmingly won the nomination to be Labour’s Mayoral candidate for the 2012 London elections, securing over double the tally of Oona King’s vote.

A few weeks ago I blogged on why I’m supporting Ken (LINK). Ken will be an excellent candidate to challenge the Tories over cuts to our police service, which will lead to less police on our streets in London, and cuts to Transport including less staffing at night at tube stations, making evening journeys unsafe for commuters.

Ken has already pledged that transport fares under his leadership will be lower than fares under Boris, and will be paid for by the Western extension of the London Congestion Charge.

Commiserations to Oona King who must be credited for fighting an exhausting campaign. Husting after husting, constant press and media attention, events, canvassing members… it can’t be easy. London Labour has benefited from her putting herself forward in the contest as it has allowed us to debate key issues. in addition, Ken has said that he will be taking Oona’s good policies and progressing them forward in his plans for London.

I’m glad that the contest is over as now the Party can unite behind our winning candidate, regardless of who we supported during the campaign, and fight for the Labour cause, standing up to the regressive, unfair and discriminatory measures being imposed on us by the Tories and Lib Dems.

Yes We Ken!

Directly challenging the view that we’re in this financial mess because of Labour

Labour’s fiscal stimulus helped make sure that recession didn’t turn into depression and that stimulus meant that people did not lose savings in their bank accounts, or mortgages didn’t collapse along with the banks, which would’ve led to people losing their homes.

Yes, Labour did borrow to help us recover from the crisis and that is why we now face a large public debt. But there is an alternative to paying back that debt. The Labour alternative presented at the last election was to first focus on recovery and pay back 50% of the debt within the next Parliamentary term (4 to 5 years). The Lib Dem / Tory plan is to pay it all off within the same timeframe and starting the cuts now risks economic recovery as the first year following a recession is always fragile. Even Thatcher didn’t make any cuts following first year following the downturn in the 1980s.

Figures from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies show the difference between the current plans that are due to be implemented by the Coalition Government and the Labour alternative.

(Data Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies, Image Source: Left Foot Forward)

At the last full council meeting, Lib Dem group leader Paul Lorber barked on about blaming Labour for the state of the economy, ignoring the role that banks had to play.

But to say Labour is the reason why we’re in this mess is simply wrong… it’s irresponsible bankers that got us into this mess, and they should play a strong part in bearing the brunt of the costs for the role that they played getting us into this mess. While the Lib Dems and Tories are pushing out the message that Labour is to blame, the bankers responsible for the crisis are getting away with it.

National Union of Teachers ConDemn Sarah Teather’s stance on ‘Free Schools’

Following the Lib Dems’ rebuttal of Sarah Teather’s Education policy yesterday (LINK), the National Union of Teachers has issued a comment on the ePolitix website saying:

“This debate has shown up the conflict between Liberal Democrat and Tory values. The fault line in the coalition government will clearly be on education policies and the importance of a fair education for all.

Academies and Free Schools are Tory policies and stand in direct opposition to previous Liberal Democrat thinking. Before the election we had Sarah Teather, triumphantly saying that the Liberal Democrats provided the only opposition to the academies project; and of the Free Schools programs that it was a shambles;, but where is her opposition now?”

National Union of Teachers

Sarah Teather’s Education proposals Con-Demned by her own Lib Dem Party members

The Liberal Democrats today gave their overwhelming backing to a campaign against the expansion of Sarah Teather’s Education policy on school academies and have called for a boycott of free schools in the strongest public show of concern by rank and file activists over the party’s role in Coalition Government. They called on all Lib Dems to actively “urge people not to take up the option” of creating the “free” schools championed by Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove and Brent Central MP and Education Minister Sarah Teather.

Teather branded it an “illiberal boycott” and according to the BBC, Teather pleaded to delegates “Don’t vote for a boycott, don’t tie councils’ hands.” However, Former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris argued that it was not illiberal for Lib Dems to be allowed to campaign on issues they felt strongly about.”We must be free to fight the Tories at a local level up and down the country,” he said.

While Sarah Teather pleaded with members of her party to vote against the motion, her Department’s policy was ConDemned for treating pupils like tins of beans.

According to the Guardian, Lib Dem Councillor Peter Downes, who moved the motion said, “Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools. When Sainsbury’s provides some new products to lure people away from their competitors, the unsold items in the failing shops can be returned to the wholesaler or sold off in a sale. But not so in schools. Pupils are human beings, not tins of beans.”

What the motion said:

F23. Free Schools and Academies

In relation to ‘free schools’, conference calls on all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option because it risks:

1.       Creating surplus places which is prejudicial to the efficient use of resources in an age of austerity.

2.       Increasing social divisiveness and inequity into a system which is already unfair because of the multiple tiers and types of schools created by successive Conservative and Labour governments and thus abandoning our key goal of a high quality education system for all learners.

3.       Depressing educational outcomes for pupils in general.

4.       Increasing the existing complexity of school admissions and exclusions.

5.       Putting at risk advances made in making appropriate provision for children with special needs.

6.       Putting in jeopardy the programme of improving school buildings.

7.       Wasting precious resources, both human and material, at a time when all efforts should be focused on improving educational outcomes by enabling effective teaching and learning to take place in good local schools accessible to all.

Point 6 is particularly interesting as it indicates that Lib Dem members want to ditch the ‘Free Schools’ policy and revert back to a scheme similar to Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

However, Sarah Teather responded “I will take into account what they say but it is not going to change government policy, because Government policy is formed by Government ministers,” Potentially rendering the whole episode entirely useless in terms of delivering change.

Meanwhile, out on the doorstep, resentment was strife among residents who had voted for Sarah Teather in May 2010. A former Labour supporter who voted for Teather said “I’m quite distraught because what I voted for was totally the opposite to what I got. I didn’t vote for a Tory Government basically and I will definitely be voting Labour next time.”

I imagine many who voted for a Lib Dem MP across the country will be doing the same.