Category Archives: Sheffield

Yes to free education, no to TEF

Tonight I joined members and supporters of the Free University of Sheffield at a rally at Sheffield Hallam University opposing increases in tuition fees and discussing ways to oppose the Teaching Exercise Framework (TEF), the implementation of which is being led by the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Professor Chris Husbands.

As the National Union of Students has said, TEF is being used to justify further rises in England’s already sky-high tuition fees, reflecting further marketisation of our higher education system.

The NUS is calling for a boycott of the National Student Survey that’s going to be a key component of the scheme – and tonight it was agreed that students across Sheffield should be encouraged to sign the pledge to boycott the NSS.

A great start – but important too to spread the word about what’s happening, and also to keep up the fight for free university education, a long-term Green Party policy.

We believe that education is a public good, the cost of which should be met from general progressive taxation, rather than weighing down individuals with a burden of debt that the majority will never be able to repay.

(Here’s some reflections from the Queen Mary University Young Greens on TEF and NSS.)

Trees to save in Dore: Vernon Oak and the Chatsworth Road limes

On Valentine’s Day there was a gathering in Dore, with red hearts, fervent messages of love, and original artworks.

The subject was shared among scores of people: Vernon Oak, a magnificent 150-year-old oak tree, much valued by the community, which could have another 150 years of prime life. That’s if it isn’t cut down by private contractor Amey with the support of Sheffield Council and (because it will certainly take that) South Yorkshire Police.

I joined Green councillor Alison Teal in a visit there, where we heard from locals how the council’s own independent tree panel had recommended it be saved, but the council has ruled that Vernon is to be cut down anyway.

Around the corner in Chatworth Road is a magnificent line of lime trees, which locals reported are packed with bees when in flower. They’re on a wide road, with big pavements on both sides, yet more than half are scheduled for the chainsaw, despite the fact that their impact seems insignificant, and easily covered by “engineering solutions” such as half-width kerbstones to accommodate roots.

This is yet one more part of Sheffield where the services provided by trees to the benefit of human health – cutting air pollution, combatting flooding, providing a healthy environment – are under threat, as the profit of a private company is put before the public good.

It’s a very obvious demonstration of the failure of the model of providing public services through contracts with for-profit providers. What’s happening here is also what’s happening to our NHS, just rather less visibly.

 

Sheffield joins One Billion Rising global protest to demand an end to violence against women

Yesterday I was delighted to join the One Billion Rising gathering in Sheffield, which joined communities around the globe in a joint act of solidarity to protest at violence against women.

The slogan this year was “Rise, Dance, Disrupt”, and dance was what we did in Sheffield, with performers presenting dance with an appropriately internationalist flavour with flair, verve and skill.

Then all (or nearly all),  of the 200 or so participants, joined in the Break the Chain dance, with energy, enthusiasm and varying levels of skill

I did join in – although carefully down the back, since my attempts to keep in rhythm and step are something the world is probably best protected from.

In between, there was serious talk about how our government, many governments, are failing to take the action that’s needed.

The lack of funding for victims of violence was one focus. Rape crisis centres and refuges are left to struggle with crumbs of funding, frantic fundraising and continuing uncertainty, when they should receive stable, long-term core funding for the best, and most financially efficient, services.

Another was the need for good quality, inclusive sex and relationship education in our schools (something Green MP Caroline Lucas has been fighting for with her PSHE bill).

And there was rightful anger at the government’s failure to sign the Istanbul Convention.

 

Have a chat in Walkley

I’ve got three events coming up soon in Walkley.

Two “coffee mornings”, both at Gerry’s Bakery and Coffeehouse, at 299 South Road (S6 3TA).

The first is on Tuesday, February 7, from 11am to 1pm. And the second on Friday, February 24, at the same times.

Feel free to drop in for as long or short a time as you like, have a chat, tell me what your concerns are about local or national (or international) politics, and ask any questions you like.

The other event is a public meeting on Monday, February 13, 7pm at the Zest Centre. Free, but please book if you can for our planning purposes.

Hope to see you at one of these.

Sheffield stands strong and proud against actions of Trump and May

More than 2,000 people packed into Pinstone Street, spilling along Leopold Street and Fargate in a rally organised in little more than 24 hours to protest against the Muslim Ban in the US and Theresa May’s utterly inadequate response to it.

It was one of at least 26 protests around the country tonight, with reports of well over 30,000 people in London.

In my speech I focused on the spread and the size of that reach – from Preston to Plymouth, from Leeds to London.

I said: “Donald Trump, you live in a world that believes in human rights and democracy, that rejects discrimination and racism, and that will not condone your actions.

“That reflects the response of Canada, the response of Germany,the response of France. Yes the best that Theresa May could come up with, as she stood in Turkey, having just sold fighter jets to a regime with an extremely disturbing record on human rights, could say was effectively ‘No comment’.

“The turnout tonight, around the country and around America against the Muslim and refugee ban is a demonstration of the possibility of change, the possibility of building bridges not walls, creating a new society in which we truly are all in it together on this one, fragile planet, looking out for each other, caring for each year.

“Donald Trump is the logical end point – and I do mean end – of the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, a political philosophy of greed and exploitation, of the interests of the 1% ruling those of the 99%.

“It is time for something new, something different, it it time for hope.”

There were many wonderful hand-drawn banners in the crowd last night, and in my speech I drew attention to this one in particular: Where’s your moral compass Mrs May?” A very good question.

And it was clear that this placard spoke very much for the crowd last night, which cheered most loudly at each mention of the phrase “refugees welcome”. Sheffield, the first official City of Sanctuary in Britain, said it, and meant it last night.
Update: I learnt after the rally that Theresa May had been warned by Trump – during that excruciating visit involving handholding that made her look like a small child being taken to the park – that the ban was coming, which makes her response in Turkey even more astonishingly more clearly inept and indefensible.

Bridges not walls: a great response to Trump

Today a great many people have been unable to turn their eyes away from Washington, mourning the undemocratic result of the American election and fearing what a President Trump will bring.

Those are understandable reactions, and we need to acknowledge and respect those feelings. Before the election I was saying that I couldn’t imagine a President Trump in charge of nuclear weapons. Now I don’t have to imagine.

But the answer to this election outcome is not to get depressed, but to get even more determined, and that’s what the people of Sheffield, like many around the Britain and the world have been doing today, with about 500 people gathering at the two events I attended in the city centre on this cold winter’s evening.

bridges not walls banner

What we’re seeing today, I would argue, is the peak, and the end, of the era that began with the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the era in which the interests of the banks and the multinational companies has dominated over those of communities and entire countries, the time during which we’ve hugely intensified the rate at which we’re trashing the planet, while producing miserable, unhealthy societies.

Many in the US voted for Trump because he held out the promise of something different – but as the former bosses of the vampire squid Goldman Sachs and the climate-destroyer Exxon Mobil have taken some of the most senior posts in the Trump administration, the truth is already becoming clear to some who voted for Trump, that he’s just an extreme, vulgarised form of more of the same.

The US vote was a vote for change – and the voters will quickly realise that that’s not what they’ve got – and the desire, the hunger, for change will still be there.

While it is of course worth noting that he didn’t even in the election – in terms of getting the most votes. The corrupt, undemocratic electoral college system clearly has to go. That a problem for the American people, while we can focus on our own corrupt, undemocratic politics, and demand democracy also in the UK,, where we have a government with 100% of the power based on the votes of 24% of eligible voters, and a manifesto now entirely irrelevant.

More, today Green MP Caroline Lucas was presenting before parliament her Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) bill, which would make providing an education for life, including sex and relationship education, required in all government-funded schools. It was widely backed by civil society groups, including the Fawcett Society, the Terence Higgins Trust and St John’s Ambulance. But it didn’t get debated, being filibustered by a group of the usual Tory suspects, who make no pretence at respect for democracy.

As we work on creating a democratic system for the UK, we need to make sure that the misogyny, the racism, the vile level of public discourse is not normalised, which means standing up against it and calling it out – as the lovingly handcrafted signs saying “pussies against Trump” (yes, some lovely cat pictures) in Sheffield did tonight.

It means saying “refugees welcome”, “multinational companies must pay their taxes”, “decent benefits for everyone who needs them”, “climate change is real” and much more.

It means presenting a message of hopeful, positive change, to counter the fear and division of Trump, Farage and their ilk.

For as Green Cllr Magid Magid said tonight, “hope always trumps fear”.

Letter in the Financial Times: Privatisation has failed

Published on January 15

It is disappointing that unnamed Labour “colleagues” of shadow business secretary Clive Lewis should be criticising his statement about the privatisation of public services.

Lewis said “public good, private bad”. That reflects the views of many millions of Britons who have seen public assets handed over to be managed for private profit, an approach built on cutting the quality of services, eating away at the pay and conditions of workers, and shovelling public money into private hands.

Here in Sheffield, we’ve seen huge public protests at the management of our street trees by Amey plc.

Across the country, the privatisation of our NHS, with the importation of the failed American healthcare system with for-profit providers, is causing growing disquiet.

And as Green MP Caroline Lucas was pointing out yesterday, we risk seeing the essential purpose of the Green Investment Bank, to fund the infrastructure we need for an affordable, secure energy future, replaced with asset-stripping.

Public services need to be run for public good, not private profit.

That’s something that is now widely understood.

Bad news: three more peaceful Sheffield tree protectors charged

I was very disappointed to hear the news that three people, who were roused from their beds in the early hours of the morning on a cold November morning in November, who stood in their night clothes to peacefully defend the trees in their street, have after months of uncertainty, been charged for their non-violent action.

The Rustlings Road Amey/council/South Yorkshire Police action achieved notoriety around the world.

The Green Party understands that sometimes nonviolent direct action is necessary when authorities decline to listen to democratic voices. These brave actions have already highlighted an inappropriate official action and led to the council climb down.

The Green Party will continue to offer support to the now five people charged for peacefully defending their communities and our democratic rights.

A protest is planned at 9am on January 26, outside Sheffield Magistrates’ Court. Sheffield Green Party will be there.

Smithy Wood – not the site for a motorway services!

On Sunday I found a very productive – if muddy – way to spend the morning, in the beautiful Smithy Wood.

The idea that this ancient woodland (and the bell pits that are remnants of mining dating back to the 1400s) might be levelled for a motorway services really is ridiculous.

fungi on a tree

A wide range of biodiversity

hawthorn

A very old, twisty hawthorn

tree

The beauties of nature

Happily the Woodland Trust is backing a campaign to save it.

Spending the time plucking plastic drinks bottles out of puddles and extracting them from the middle of brambles really did provide time to focus on the urgent need for replacing these single-use plastics with a bottle deposit scheme – and moving to complete end single-use plastics. (One good thing, I suspect there would have been a lot more carrier bags a couple of years ago – there were very few, and a lot of those were clearly old.)

rubbish bag

One of the many rubbish bags we collected

Oddest thing I picked up – a car muffler. I don’t know what kind of car it was from, but it was very heavy!

Educating Beyond Borders: Students With a Rightful Grievance

In 2010, visa rules for international students changed. Recently I met with a representative of some of the students who’ve been left in a disastrous, unreasonable situation as a result who’ve got together with supporters to form Educating Beyond Borders (EBB). They have effectively been defrauded of very large sums of money, paid in good faith on the expectation they would achieve complete qualifications.

To fully achieve professional qualifications in a number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) and VET (Vocational Education and Training Courses), there’s a requirement for students to work in a supervised way for a period after completing the academic components of a university course. In total it is thought 415 STEM and 222 VET courses are affected.

So for example to become a RIBA-qualified (Royal Institute of British Architects) architect, you have to work in an approved practice for two years before taking a final exam. Only after that can you get your qualification.

Students pay £200,000 or even more for courses, and then do the work (explicitly excluded by law from minimum wage legislation because it is part of their training).

Yet in 2010, for visa purposes, this was reclassified as “employment” for international students. Instead of being able to complete this period under a “Tier 4” student visa, the students have to find a way to get a far more difficult “Tier 2” working visa.

For some it’s impossible, for others it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive. It is going to be the students of relatively less means who find it the most difficult.

Yet many students started their studies before the rules changed – they, and any other student who started their course in good faith, should at a minimum be able to complete their studies and the achieve the qualifications they’ve paid for, under Tier 4.

More, universities should not be offering these courses to new foreign students unless they have government guarantees that they’ll be able to complete the practical part of the course they’re paying huge sums for.

This situation needs to be distinguished from an issue affecting many students that at first glance looks similar, and is often confused with it. That’s the issue of “post-study visas”, the right for which was removed in 2012.

This allowed all non-EU graduates to remain in the UK for two years after their studies to work – a highly valued right that allowed students to them return to their home countries with combined practical and academic experience.

The loss of this been blamed in part for the plummeting numbers of students from the sub-Continent.

It’s an important issue, but a different one from what the EBB is addressing.

More, there’s an even bigger underlying issue here, about which I’m hearing increasing concern – that universities are treating non-EU students as “cash cows”, not properly meeting their needs or reasonable expectation. And there are accounts of universities using the threat of immigration officers to try to extract money from students and bring them into line.

And disturbing suggestions that students are getting a message that they’ll put their status in danger if they take part in political activities while they’re here. Very disturbing when you’d hope one of the “British values” they’d be learning about here is the right to peaceful political activity.