The things I didn’t get a chance to say in today’s debate on austerity

Lord Mayor,  following the dire result of the General election for the Conservative Party, isn’t  it time that the government listens to the electorate and accepts that our citizens have had their fill of austerity?

Overstretched public sector employees feel increasingly taken for granted as they do far more with far less.

Our public services are delivered by teams and workers in crucial roles across central and local government, health and social care, emergency services, criminal justice and education and have equally earned their right to a pay rise that keeps up with the cost of living.

And on a day where the government are pushing their dubious pro-worker credentials, they also tell teachers that the 1% pay cap will remain firmly in place – another real terms pay cut for the eighth consecutive year. An insult to those whose salaries have fallen 15% behind inflation since 2010.

Quite simply Lord Mayor, the Conservative government has wedded itself to a programme of spending cuts and is oblivious to the damage being done to cities like Birmingham, to the services we deliver and to those citizens who depend on those services.

Chancellor Philip Hammond has said in public that the government recognises that its poor performance in the election was partly due to the public being weary of public spending cuts but still austerity continues..

During the decade between 2010/11 and 2019/20, total public sector spending will have fallen by 13%, or almost a sixth, in real terms . And these cuts to local authority budgets, our budgets, are having a profound effect on the services people receive.

As you know Lord Mayor, here in Birmingham, our budget has lost over £600m since 2010 – a figure so immense it is difficult to comprehend.

And make no mistake, we are hurting – our communities are hurting, despite our very best efforts to shelter our poorest people and places from the worst effects. Our poorest communities and our most vulnerable residents – hardest hit and least able to cope without the services we can no longer provide.

Across the UK, youth services and Connexions services have been slashed, with councils closing youth clubs up and down the country. Here in Birmingham we have done our best to protect these services, but make no mistake, our staff are having to do far more with far less.

And our young people Lord Mayor – facing incredibly tough challenges, a generation taken for granted and abandoned by this government.

It is our young people who find themselves on the wrong side of a profound unfairness which has left them worse of than their parents, with worse job security and poorer housing prospects. The 20th century promise that each generation would be better of than the preceding one has been broken and the dissatisfaction of our younger citizens clearly seen with record numbers of young people turning out to vote in the general election. No more will they be taken for granted, no longer will their voices be unheard.

And today, the Prime Minister is relaunching herself, appealing to the Labour party for ideas to improve the country and pledging to tackle inequality and injustice… yes really.

I believe that Jeremy has sent her something to help her out.

Lord Mayor. it would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious!

Surely the British public left her under no illusion in terms of what they wanted and clearly the electorate in Birmingham spoke loudly and clearly at the ballot boxes.

You see, politics is about choices, and there is always a choice and always an alternative.

The choice for the government is clear – a fairer and more just society will only be achieved when it is accepted that austerity has failed the many.

Birmingham needs a fair funding settlement that allows local government services to be adequately resourced, that allows all our residents, and particularly our poorest and most vulnerable, access to the vital services they need, and that allows our workers to be fairly rewarded for the contribution they all make.

If you believe in equality, fairness and justice then vote for an end to austerity and fair funding for Birmingham.

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Baverstock Academy shoes fracas!

This is not the first time young people have been sent home from schools because they do not meet the required uniform policy in some way and I am sure it will not be the last but is it the right course of action to take?

Although a school uniform policy can be beneficial to schools pupils and parents this is only when it is correctly implemented. If it is not, and where changes are made part way through a year then there is the risk of marginalising and disadvantaging both young people and their parents.

The cost of school uniform, particularly for senior school years, is already high with the majority of items having to be purchased from specialist shops. Bringing in a change to the current policy, even with a six week notice period, can cause financial hardship to parents, especially where they have more than one child in that school. If you are going to change uniform policy then this needs to be done sensibly and with due regard to parents and young people.

[1]DSCF guidance stated:

Consideration surely should be given to the timeframe for introducing a new uniform policy or amending an existing one. Factors should include the length of time before the pupil leaves the school and a transitional period for phasing out the old uniform and introducing the new one should be considered.

Where a pupil is not adhering to school uniform policy, a school should be considerate and discreetly try to establish why not. There may be good reasons why a pupil is not attending school in the correct uniform. For example, their uniform may have been lost, stolen or damaged. Sending the pupil home or excluding them may not be appropriate in every case. If a pupil is not wearing the correct uniform because their parents are in financial difficulties, a school should be sensitive to the needs of the pupil. A school should give parents time to purchase the required items and/or consider whether a school or local authority clothing grant can be supplied. A pupil should not be made to feel uncomfortable, nor discriminated against, because their parents are unable to provide them with the required items of school uniform.

In 2010 Michael Gove, the then Secretary for Education for the Tories renamed the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to the Department of Education and with this change he sanctioned [2]new guidelines:

Pupil non –compliance

Teachers can discipline pupils for breaching the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. This should be carried out in accordance with the school’s Published behaviour policy.

A head teacher, or a person authorised by the head teacher, may ask a pupil to go home briefly to remedy a breach of the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. When making this decision schools need to consider the child’s age and vulnerability, the ease and time it will take, and the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence. However, if the pupil continues to breach uniform rules in such a way as to be sent home to avoid school, or takes longer than is strictly necessary to effect the change, the pupil’s absence may be counted as an unauthorised absence. In either case the pupil’s parents must be notified and the absence should be recorded. If a school is considering excluding a pupil in response to breaches of uniform policy then this must be in line with the legal requirements for exclusion.

Sending young people home, or rather barring young people from the classroom and putting them in ‘holding pens’ (as reportedly happened at Baverstock) until they are collected by their parents is a ridiculous over reaction that undermines any level of rapport and respect between head teacher and pupil and potentially damages the relationship between home and school.

I really do hope that school governors examine this action and revisit their school policy to question if the prescribed treatment of young people is really conducive to ensuring the very best education that they can possibly provide for our young people in Birmingham and perhaps energies should rather be put into the development of a policy and practice around school uniform that removes stigmatisation and contributes to the wider target of the eradication of child poverty and disadvantage.

[1] DCSF – bit.ly/1OuRdvw

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/269113/school_uniform_guidance_2013.pdf

PSPO’s – an extra weapon in police armoury or another way of stigmatising young people?

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Birmingham City Council is the first council in the region to use a public space protection order (PSPO) in a crackdown on anti-social behaviour in Sheldon, Shard End, Gospel Farm in Acocks Green, and Bankside near Springfield.

The order bans:

  • the riding a motorcycle or quad bike “antisocially”
  • Groups of three or more people from ‘engaging in activities which are likely to cause nuisance, annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress’ including vandalism, littering and threats of violence.
  • Alcohol, graffiti and the taking of intoxicating substances
  • The wearing of face coverings in an attempt to conceal identity including scarves, balaclavas and masks

Whilst I agree with some of the banned activities that do create real problems for the residents in our communities like the inconsiderate riding of motorcycles and quads, alcohol, graffiti and drug taking which are real problems across many of our Wards, I have real concerns with some of the other activities banned, and that could have serious consequences for some young people.

Each PSPO creates new criminal offence, which can be punished by an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, or a fine upon conviction of up to £1000 and these offences can be determined by a police officer, a PCSO or by an officer of the Council.

How you ‘determine’ anti social activity is subjective and these PSPO’S could result in young people being criminalised merely for standing in a group or wearing a scarf that covers their face. I wear a scarf that covers my mouth and nose in this cold weather; will I be the subject of a PSPO?

The creation of these unnecessary new offences such as ‘causing an annoyance’ is unlikely to increase young people’s respect for the criminal law or public authority. Such behaviour might merit a telling off, not a fine and potential criminal record. Young people will be stigmatised, stereotyped and labelled.

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe and whilst on the one hand we are working hard to champion the rights of young people it seems that on the other we are creating more and more rules and laws to control and even criminalise our young people. Drawing young people into the criminal justice system will have long lasting and negative affects and as a council, we must look at other options and other ways of tackling ‘problem’ behaviour.