Monthly Archives: July 2012

Anti Academy Demonstration at West Heath Primary School

Last Friday, parents, teachers and supporters held a protest at West Heath Primary School which is threatened with academy status.
For the Birmingham Mail report on the demonstration, click here.

You can read more about why academies should be opposed by clicking here:

communitiesagainstthecuts

This story should be covered in the Birmingham Mail tomorrow (Saturday)

 

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Council Tax Benefit Cuts – the Latest Attack On Low Income Families

Birmingham City Council yesterday said that due to cuts in central government funding for council tax benefit, it would have to find nearly £12m. Their preferred proposal for this would be to make claimants pay 20% of the council tax due on their property except disabled people and families with children under the age of 6. The ConDem coalition have already said that pensioners cannot have their council tax benefit cut.

This means that anyone who is unemployed or in low paid work will have to find £224 / year on an average property from April 2013. This will raise the £12m necessary to cover the shortfall. Unfortunately, the cuts are being implemented (and hidden) as part of a change to council tax benefit, localising the handling of payments. This new system will cost Birmingham City Council an additional £15m to administer, which wipes out any savings made from cutting the amount paid out.

Albert Bore (Labour Group leader), speaking to the Birmingham Mail, said the move to charging everyone council tax regardless of their ability to pay had “shades of the poll tax” about it, and blamed central government for the cuts.

The Government is making this cut through the back door by asking us to deliver it. They could have changed the system themselves but instead have left it up to councils. It is a pretty awful thing to do. They have passed the buck.

There will be a consultation about how the council saves this money, and we should look to see if there are other policy options – such as increasing council tax only at the top end – which could be considered to stop this government taking even more from low earners and benefit claimants.

The cut to council tax benefit will save £480m/year nationally – a drop in the water compared to the £25bn that is avoided in tax every year by rich individuals and large corporations finding and exploiting loopholes in the system. If this government wants to bring in more tax, it would be better to focus on the wealthiest people who can afford to pay it, rather than on the poorest.

This is only the latest attack on our welfare system which supports the unemployed, disabled and low paid as well as pensioners, carers and children. Cuts to housing benefit could see 11,500 families in Birmingham unable to afford their home, whilst reforms to disability benefits find ATOS assessing people as being fit for work, who die of their condition just weeks later. Workfare forces the unemployed to work for free and creates an unpaid pool of labour for companies to exploit, making it even more difficult for families who had been claiming tax credits whilst working 16 hours a week to get the extra 8 hours they now need to qualify.

The move with council tax is reminiscent of the Poll Tax, which said everyone should pay whether they can afford it or not. Campaigning on the street and civil disobedience defeated that measure, and we can defeat this coalition and end their destruction of our welfare system through the same means.
Our next meeting on Monday 10th September has Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against the Cuts talking about this government’s attack on disabled people. Join us for a discussion about this and continued work to protect claimants and low paid workers.

UPDATE: Consultation has now begun on these cuts – click here for details about how you can take part

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Birmingham Labour Council Says No To Gove’s Forced Academies Plan

From the Alliance Against Birmingham Academies:

Birmingham Labour Council says its principle is ‘Not to force schools down any route: Staying with current arrangements will remain an option for all schools.’

This commitment is in a letter sent on 11 July by Brigid Jones, the Cabinet Member for Education, to all schools and teacher unions. It represents a significant change of policy from that of the previous administration. It means that every primary school under threat of forced academisation can now say NO to Gove and tell Briscoe, the DfE hitman, to get off the premises. But Gove won’t give up without a fight, which means that schools – teachers, support staff, parents, governors – in alliance with the Local Authority need to be preparing now to fight back individually and collectively across Birmingham..

It is not just schools in underperforming categories that are under threat

Take Moor Green primary school. Look at its results. Well above the 60% threshold, progress at or above the national median, and Ofsted says doesn’t need ‘significant improvement’. But the school has been told it has to be taken over as an academy. Is any school safe?

2011 SATS L4EM
National average 74%
Threshold 60%
Moor Green 72%

Progress: up by 2 levels from KS1
English
National median 87%
Moor Green 89%
Maths
National median 86%
Moor Green 86%

Ofsted February 2011 Notice to Improve. New head and deputy appointed. Ofsted March 2012 ‘no longer requires significant improvement’.

You can read more about Gove’s plans to force 30 local primaries to become academies, and why parents and teachers should oppose the moves in this post: “No to Forced Academies in Birmingham”

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Policing Privatisation: Mortally Injured But Not Yet Deceased

West Midlands Police Authority met yesterday in the wake of the G4S’s Olympic debacle leading the newspaper headlines and the consequences being debated in Parliament.

Cllr Bob Jones the Labour candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) arrived outside Lloyd House presenting himself to the TV cameras in front of the mass lobby against the privatisation led by UNISON and Unite.

At the beginning of the meeting members of the public repeatedly challenged Bishop Webley, Chair of the Police Authority, over the exclusion of public questions relating to the human rights records of the shortlisted companies for the BPP.

The meeting considered the belated Business Proposal for the Business Partnering for Policing. The advocates for the privatisation focused on the need to update the IT systems of West Midlands Police with private investment.

Cllr Bob Jones claimed the BPP “is already a car crash, let’s not drive a juggernaut into it!” In the debate Jones acknowledged concerns about the bidders and said that if he became PCC he would not accept any companies on the shortlist who were in breach of international law.

Independent member, Zahid Nawaz warned that public perception of the privatisation could not be ignored.

The meeting voted to accept the Business case for the BPP by 8 votes with 7 members abstaining; this included the Labour Group and some independent members. The Labour Group abstained on the basis that the decision should be left to incoming PCC.

News of Surrey Police Authorities decision to suspend its involvement in the BPP arrived by Blackberry, the Surrey meeting took place earlier on Thursday morning. This led to Cllr Jones proposing a motion to defer consideration of the procurement timetable due to confusion about the uncertainty and the implications of Surrey’s decision for the partnership arrangement.

The Police Authority voted by 8 votes to 7 ‘not make any further Gateway decisions’.

In a statement released following the meeting West Midlands Police said:

The West Midlands Police Authority decided to defer any decision of the selection of partners until the election of the Police and Crime Commissioner in November.

“Work will continue on the West Midlands programme so the new PCC (Police and Crime Commissioner) has a range of options when he or she takes office.

A spokesperson from West Midlands against Policing for Profit commented:

This is a victory for tactical manoeuvring not a principled defeat of privatisation. The meeting decided that preparation for the procurement process would continue. Although the Tory and Labour candidates for the PCC have declared themselves opposed to the BPP programme they have not declared themselves opposed to privatisation.

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Report and Photos from Today’s Demo Against Police Privatisation

Unite and Unison members working for West Midlands police held a demonstration today, in advance of lobbying the police authority over the planned privatisation of West Midlands Police, which will see not just the support and administration side of the police put out to tender, but also responsibilities for patrolling streets, investigating crimes and detaining suspects. Companies like G4S, Serco and KBR are in line for taking over front line policing duties.

Update: Surrey Police, who were also planning to privatise parts of their force along with West Mids Police, has decided not to go forward with the plans. We hope that West Mids Police will follow.

Update 2: Following the lobby, West Midlands police have decided to defer the decision until after the November Police Commissioner elections – read more about the lobby and decision by clicking here

At the demonstration, concerns were spoken about the impact privatisation of policing services would have on both civilian staff and on members of the public when they find themselves in need of the police.

Andre Wilkinson from Unite said

We believe the police services everywhere in the country should not be privatised, a lot of public sector services have gone to the private sector but due to reasons of accountability we think it would be inappropriate to privatise the police services.
We’ve seen in the past with services being privatised we’ve seen reductions in the quality of terms and conditions of employment and usually job losses as well.
We believe the police services will be alot worse, a lot of the functions are carried out by civilians and some of those services will be done for profit and the only way they can make profit is to reduce what they are doing.

Jill Harrison from Unison agreed, saying

Any private sector company which comes into giving out public service is fundamentally in there to get profit out of it.
On the staff it will have a real impact on their terms and conditions, I also think that we’ll lose a lot of experience, a lot of the staff we have actually work for the police for the pros of working for the police and giving a service to the West Midlands, unfortunately if the private sector come in, they have not got the training or mentality that public sector staff have got.
Our concerns are that the public will not get the same service they are getting today, any company that comes in, we’ve seen it with G4S in Lincolnshire, they came in and cut staff which is obviously going to have a major impact on the public.

Particular concerns were raised about the main bidders for the contract – G4S and KBR. G4S have been responsible for many deaths in custody, including Jimmy Mubenga. Just today we have found out that the company are so incompetent that they have failed to hire and train enough security staff for the Olympics, despite having had 7 years to plan for the games. KBR, part of Halliburton, helped build Guantanamo Bay, and have been complicit in other human rights abuses. In 2011, it was revealed that Serco used taxi’s to transport prisoners to court after it’s computer systems failed. The huge cost of the taxis was of course picked up by the taxpayer.

You can find out more about the planned privatisation and why we oppose it by clicking here for a briefing on the plans.

More pictures from today:

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Report and Recording from our Meeting about Social Housing

On Monday, we held our meeting with Tom Holness speaking about the case for a new generation of social housing, how this would provide an affordable and – in the medium to long term – profitable investment and why this policy should form part of our alternatives to the cuts. Godfrey Webster then outlined Labour’s plans for Birmingham, and we had a wide ranging discussion about housing in Birmingham, about how many empty properties there are and the difficulties that have been experienced in the past when attempts have been made to bring them back into use, about the potential problems with housing in Birmingham following housing benefit cuts and with anticipation of increasing demand and about how we can push this issue to ensure that decent affordable housing is available for everyone who needs it.

You can listen to the meeting below, or if you prefer to read, Tom has previously posted about social housing and this is more or less what he said at the meeting. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time or skills to transcribe the audio, but if anyone out there does and would like to do it for us, that would be great.

Our next meeting will be held on Monday 10th September (please note, no meeting in August as people are usually away), and Linda Burnip from DPAC will be talking about the cuts to welfare and it’s effects on disabled people.
6:30pm, Unison Offices, 19th Floor McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, B4 7LR.
Unison offices are wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets. Children are welcome but we cannot provide creche facilities. If you have any questions or accessibility needs please email us at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com

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Events Coming Up Next Week

There are 3 events happening next week in Birmingham – on Monday, we have our monthly meeting, with Tom talking about the case for a new generation of social housing. Tuesday is a welfare and workfare conference and on Thursday there is a lobby against the privatisation of the police. If you think you’ll fancy a night out at the end of that, there’s a Spanish miner solidarity gig happening on Friday at the Birmingham Social Centre.

So first up is our meeting – 6:30pm on Monday, at Unison offices, 19th floor, McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, B4 7LR.
Tom will be talking about the case for a new generation of social housing, how it can form part of the alternatives to cuts, prevent the need for cuts to housing benefits directly and what plans there are in Birmingham. This will be followed by a discussion about housing issues, and what we can do in Birmingham. That’ll be for around an hour, and then there will be about 30 minutes of organisational matters relating to anti-cuts activities in Birmingham.

Everyone is welcome to attend the meeting, and the room is wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets. Children are welcome at our meetings but we cannot provide a creche service. If you have any accessibility needs, please contact us: BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com

Then on Tuesday is a one-day conference on welfare issues, organised by Boycott Workfare, but covering more welfare issues than just workfare. Running from 9:30am – 5:30pm at Unite the Union, 211 Broad Street, Birmingham, B15 2AY, the conference is free and you do not need to book – just turn up for the day or whichever sessions you can make. The full timetable is available here.

This conference is particularly important given recent events where a man set himself on fire outside Selly Oak job centre, after desperation set in following problems with benefit payments, and the news that a Birmingham man who suffered from a heart condition died of a heart attack just weeks after being found fit for work by ATOS.

This morning, Holland and Barrett announced that they were pulling out of the Work Experience Scheme, after sustained demonstrations at their premises, led by Solidarity Federation branches around the UK. In their statement, Holland and Barrett said that the protests were the main reason they would be leaving the scheme. They are instead going to be taking people as apprentices – paying just £2.60/hour, far below the living wage in Birmingham of £7.20/hour. A step in the right direction, and to be celebrated as a victory – Holland and Barrett were singled out by Chris Grayling as a shining example of firms taking workfare labour from the taxpayer, so them leaving the scheme is a big blow for this Government. We must watch to make sure they are not still taking part in other workfare schemes like mandatory work activity, and we must be clear that £2.60/hour is not an acceptable wage.
This shows that demonstrations and protests do work, and that we can bring pressure to bear on companies and through them the government.

Police privatisation demonstrationThursday is the lobby of the Police authority against the privatisation of policing services, including investigative roles. We do not want to see the likes of G4S and KBR patrolling our streets. For a briefing about the privatisaion, explaining why it should not take place, click here.
The lobby is at 10am, at West Midlands Police HQ, Lloyd House, Colmore Circus, B4 6NQ in Birmingham City Centre

Then on Friday, a night out in solidarity with Spanish miners who are facing the destruction of their communities in a similar way to how our miners did in the 1980s. As part of the Spanish government’s austerity measures, subsidies for coal production are being removed, and mines are being closed. Production of coal will no doubt shift to cheaper and less safe coal mines in China and Africa, and the miners are being left with no support to build replacement industries.
Music and comedy, with a suggested donation of £3. Birmingham Social Centre, Pershore Rd near Pebble Mill Road. For directions and more detail see this blog.

We hope that you can make it along to one or more of these events next week – we’ll be reporting from all of them if you can’t so make sure to look back here next week to find out what happened.

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