Public Meeting: Introduction To The Cuts

21st, October 2010
Last night saw the official launch meeting of the Royal Holloway Anti-Cuts Alliance at the Royal Holloway University, Egham, Surrey. It was a fantastic meeting with over a hundred and fifty people in attendance.

So many meetings of this kind never go beyond phrasemongary, “Tories are bad, they eat your kids and kill your parents” etc. But every speaker was interesting and engaging. Each speaker brought a wealth of knowledge and loads of facts and figures.

The speakers spoke about the cuts from a variety of perspectives but all made the point that the fight against cuts in education and the rise in fees must be linked to the resistance to the wider public sector cuts.

The meeting heard speakers from Save Our Services in Surrey, UCU, BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts), The Student Union’s Women’s and Equality Officer, a member from the NUS National Executive and Ben Robinson from Youth Fight For Jobs.

Chris Leary from Save Our Services in Surrey gave an informative talk about what the cuts meant for the people in Surrey. Whilst Surrey is an affluent county said Chris, “there were many pockets of poverty”. According to the government’s survey of Boroughs, the Surrey Borough of Elmbridge was the ablest in the country to cope with the cuts. Runneymede, another Surrey borough came seventh. However Spelthorne came seventieth in the table. “There are 30,000 people working for Surrey County Council (SCC), many on low incomes, so not everyone in Surrey conforms to the stockbroker commuting stereotype” said Chris.  

“There was a move by SCC, earlier this year to force all secondary schools into a federation of academies thus divesting itself of all responsibility for secondary education. There was such resistance that the Council was forced to back down, but immediately approached the primary schools with the same proposal. Academies do worse in league tables”, Chris told the packed meeting. “They don’t even generate extra income”.     

Chris spoke of other cuts planned by the Council. “With regards to young people, the SCC has published the target of achieving zero needs for sixteen to eighteen year-olds, which means all young people will be in work or education. However the council is reducing the grant it gives to the private company that runs the Connections careers and counselling service. It is going to close twenty centres, leaving only Camberley and Epsom to service the entire county. We have already witnessed a reduction in social workers and their admin support”, Chris added.

“The council also plans to slash the grant it awards bus companies to provide non-profitable bus services. It has also announced it will scrap all of its education welfare officers”.

“The council is talking of scrapping its present library service and replacing it with mobile libraries that may only visit once every fortnight. SCC also plans to shut down its youth services, closing youth centres, some of which were  only opened two or three years ago”.

“These cuts are just a few of those announced following the Council’s Spending Review and come before the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review announced a couple of days ago”. “The government announced an unprecedented 20% reduction in revenues for local councils which will further devastate communities and local services”. Chris concluded that we need to link education issues with wider service cuts and build a coalition of resistance of students, workers and service users.

Next to speak was Duska Rosenberg, Royal Holloway Professor of Information and Communications Management and UCU member. She told the meeting that “whilst all other countries are investing in education, the UK is slashing budgets and predicted some Universities may close”. “This can only harm the future prosperity of the country”, she told the audience.

Professor Rosenberg spoke about the government’s plan to ring fence STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects whilst cutting funding for the arts and social sciences. As a professor whose discipline bridges the physical and social sciences, she told the meeting how the arts earn money for the economy.

“However it’s not just about economic growth, there’s also an issue of intellectual growth and education for its own sake. We need a government that respects this.

One cannot divide technology from social sciences”, she continued. “One needs to know how technological advances affect society”.

“A recent government think tank reported that the UK needs more graduates to compete in a knowledge economy, so each University needs to be preserved. However, it’s not just about academic staff, there are also thousands of administration and support jobs at stake. They are indispensible to Universities. It’s about all of us”.

A BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts) spokesperson addressed the meeting. He called the cuts disgusting. “According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies these cuts are the greatest since the World War Two”. The cuts, he said “will devastate all communities, but black people will be disproportionately effected. Black people already suffer from greater levels of unemployment. Black people die younger, and more black people go to prison than go to university”.

“Studies have proved that in times of recession racism increases and we can already see this dynamic taking shape in the way that asylum seekers are being scapegoated in the media. 80% of public sector workers are black and for the most part work in lower paid support jobs; these are the very jobs that are being targeted for cuts”.

He concluded that students have a proud tradition of anti-racism and urged all students to emulate the French and fight against the cuts. He finished with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “A society is judged by the way it treats its poor”.

We heard from the Student Union’s Equality and Diversity Officer that women will also be disproportionately affected by the cuts. “According to studies, 60% of students who are lone parents are considering giving up their studies due to the hike in tuition fees. Women already take longer to pay back their student loans.  Domestic violence services are also going to be cut, along with homophobic and HIV services”.

Ben Robinson from Youth Fight For Jobs also spoke from the platform. “The Education Maintenance Grant will be scrapped”, he told us. He said “the government has announced plans to cut a half million public sector jobs, but have not mentioned that it will have a knock on effect of creating another half million unemployed on top of this. Already there are 2.5 million people chasing a half million jobs. One quarter of all young people are unemployed, and for young black people it’s a half”.

“Presently, anyone under 25, cannot get housing benefit for their own home, they are limited to renting a room. The government’s spending review has raised this to 35 years. This means a loss of privacy, space and independence for claimants until they are 35 years old”.

“The government is only making cuts because they can get away with it”, said Ben. “The banks, still largely publically owned, have paid 15 billion pounds in bonuses this year. The richest UK banks are paying the lowest corporation tax in Europe”.

The last speaker to address the meeting was Sean, the NUS National Executive Mature Students officer. He told the meeting that the Browne Report meant that poorer students would receive a second class education because they will not be able to afford the higher fees charged by the leading Universities.

“The government’s emphasis on STEM subjects will mean only the richer Universities charging higher fees will be running Social Science courses. These will be unaffordable to most students, so that in future it will be the students from richer backgrounds taking the lead in politics and the media in later life.

The Tories, he told us “are finishing Thatcher’s job, marketising education and the NHS and attacking housing benefits, which are due to be capped at 30%  below the average cost of accommodation. “The UK’s structural debt stands at £100 billion whilst the richest thousand UK citizens have £80billion of personal wealth.

So, he concluded, “Lets all get to the demo on 10th November and demand No Cuts And No Fees, and take this message to the Coalition Of Resistance conference on 23rd November. And LETS GET FRENCH!!!!”
Statement of the Coalition Of Resistance
Royal Holloway University Anti Cuts Alliance
Save Our Services in Surrey
Join Guildford Against Fees And Cuts on Facebook
Botom-Of-Post - Protest

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