Thursday, 14 October 2010

Opinion: Browne, thanks but no thanks

Labour failed a generation of young people and students in this country. They left them with debt, with unemployment, and with a deficit worth £25,000 to each person. But in their final months they did do something to help.

Commissioning the Browne Review in Higher Education Funding reopened the debate on education in this country; it allowed those interested to have their say, and more importantly be listened to. It gave the Coalition Government the chance to reform the education system.

For Liberal Youth, our primary aim is to represent our membership, to do our best for them, and as such we set up a Post-16 Education Working Group, a committee consulting on everything from FE and HE, to adequate apprentice support. The Working Group’s primary evaluations concluded the vast majority of participants support the goal of universal free education paid for by general taxation. Not free at the point of access and pay later. Simply free.

Objectively speaking, the Browne Review has good intentions; increasing student choice, greater investment and widening access to disadvantaged groups, are all honourable aims. The problem is we disagree with how to achieve them.

Expanding the availability of grants and bursary’s, increasing the minimum income threshold and finding a long term funding solution must happen. Nevertheless, if Lord Browne’s recommendations are accepted, we will fail those who need our help the most; increasing tuition fees and interest on loans are regressive steps, the physical and mental consequences of debt are ignored and some people who deserve to go to university will be priced out of the market. Our aim must be universal free education at all levels.

The worst news we’ve heard this morning is perhaps not the content of the Browne Review, after all, it does not have to be accepted, it is that the proposals are to be rushed through. When all organisations were promised six months to consult their memberships, hearing that it is to be fast-tracked is the worst crime. For people who received a free education to restrict our access to one without talking to us is fairly disingenuous.

The Browne Review is devastating to the long-term goal of education based on ability, rather than the ability to pay. The Student Finance Plan, whilst being a thorough and pragmatic solution to university funding during difficult economic times, does not meet the needs of those who will use it. Its aims are laudable, but it is not the solution.

Parliamentarians work for the people, not for themselves. To all parties; I ask on behalf of Liberal Youth, to work for the students of this country, to find a Plan B, and a step towards our aim. Fight for free education, and honour the pledge to vote NO to increased tuition fees in any guise.

Education is worth more than any price tag.

And Lord Browne? Thanks, but no thanks.

Sarah Harding

Policy Officer, Liberal Youth

Chair, Southport Liberal Youth

Article reproduced from the Times online newspaper

Sunday, 3 October 2010

This is what REAL progressive politics looks like...

I, along with Sarah H and a delegation from the Southport Liberal Democrats, attended a mega training day put on by Chris Davies our regional MEP. It was a great day, with lots of training events to keep us all up to dat ewith the latest campaigning techniques and messages.

The highlight for me was listening to Andrew Stunell, MP for Hazel Grove and our Minister in Government for Communities and Local Government. He was also one of our four MP's who negotiated with the Conservatives to give us our Coalition Government agreement.

The word 'revolutionary' is often overused in politics, but I think it can truly be applied to the localism agenda that will form a key feature of this Parliament.

Localism is all about decentralising and detaching the strangling tendrils of central Government. Its about realising that different areas have individual needs and priorities and that Whitehall diktats dont work. One example of this was the Regional Spatial Strategies, housebuilding targets imposed from the centre on to communities. These gave no leeway to local opinion. RSS has now been abolished by the new government.

This is relevant to all of us. It will mean that town, parish and local Councils will all be able to have a say about local budgets and local services.

We need look no further locally than the stalemate over the Childrens Walk in Centre for Southport. Its clearly a service that local people want and need, yet nothing is happening.

There is nothing that will invoke electoral apathy more than this sort of situation. You can understand why people are turned off voting if they think that they have no real say or any real possibility of having one. This is even further entrenched if people also feel disillusioned with their ability to enact any change through their votes. Its not hard to see how people then think, ' well whats the point voting, I cant change anything can I?' Or, 'well, i really like that candidate and that party, but they cant win here, so my vote will just be a wasted one.'

A new and progressive politics has to challenge and eradicate the 'whats the point,' and 'why bother' attitudes that the Labour Government certainly didn't tackle. Localism and political reform in the shape of fairer votes, will truly radicalise the political system as we know it.

Next May's referendum on a fairer voting system will be a great opportunity, not just for the Liberal Democrats, but for all those that don't feel they have a voice.

Its time to shout loudly!