Friday, 5 November 2010

Young People in the Firing Line

The Brent Fightback meeting was well attended yesterday evening. Roxanne Mashari outlined the various ways young people are being hit by cuts in Building Schools for the Future, Future Jobs Fund, Education Maintenance Allowances and the trebling of university fees. The cap on housing benefit could also mean young people's families having to move out of the borough or live in smaller, more crowded accommodation. She point out that just under 25% of the Brent population were under 25 and it was important that their voices be heard. She wanted to make the Youth Parliament of which she is co-chair participative rather than merely consultative.

Cllr Mary Arnold (lead member for children and families) said that the council had to make cuts but would fight for vulnerable children. S he said that only 20% of young people were involved in the youth service and she wanted a better coordinated universal service. Only 4% of Brent youth were NEETS (Not in employment, education or training), which was lower than other London boroughs, but the number would increase with the loss of the EMA and Connexions. She spoke against academies and free schools, which would mean a loss of democratic control and said the authority was arranging a briefing for headteachers and governors on the issue. She said that the housing benefit cap was tantamount to gerrymandering. 

In response to calls for the councillors to work with local trades unions she said that Ann John would be meeting with the NUT.

There was some discussion about whether it was right to focus on youth as receiving a disproportionate number of cuts or whether the real disproportion that should be emphasised was that between the wealthy and the rest of society. Roxanne said that she had been asked to speak about the impact on young people and that was what she had done but she agreed that bankers and the wealthy were escaping from bearing their fair share of the cuts.

In my contribution I suggested that councillors should also meet  with school governors about the impact of cuts in schools. When budgets were reduced governors would be in the front line under pressure to make cuts to balance budgets. He said that cuts already implemented in the council were making some of the services to schools less efficient because of reduced staffing. This then tempts schools to hire private contractors instead and further reduces the economic viability of local government services. 

Concern was expressed about the impact of cuts on children and adults with learning disabilities and the need to include them in the fightback by communicating effectively. The latest news that the College of North West London was to sell off its Kilburn Campus was discussed and the issue of occupation of the site was raised. 

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