Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

A very warm welcome to my first round-up of 2014. I hope everyone reading this had a peaceful festive period.

With the European Elections in May, this will be a year when Britain’s relationship with Europe goes under the microscope. The hysteria that was allowed to build before the predicted ‘influx’ of Romanian and Bulgarian workers after January 1st – and the thumping anti-climax when their arrival proved more a trickle than a tide – illustrates what a politicised issue Europe has become.

Rather than obsessing about migration we should look at the other challenges Britain and the EU face in 2014. The year began with a desperately sad Prince’s Trust report on youth unemployment. Their annual Youth Index showed that 40% of unemployed 16-25 year-olds now experience mental illness. It said 25% of those who were long-term unemployed tookor had taken anti-depressants – compared to 11% of those with jobs – and that nearly one in ten young people feel they have nothing to live for.

The figures led professionals to deem the problem a public health crisis. With around half of the 900,000 jobless young people in Britain long-term unemployed – and problems like self-harm and drug-use prevalent – The Royal Society for Public Health’s Shirley Cramer said it was “essential” that the issue moved up the agenda.

It is little wonder young people in Britain feel hopeless. As well as failing to address issues like low wages, unpaid internships and the cost of living, the Tory government have abolished EMA, trebled tuition fees and sought to remove benefits for under-25s. As David Cameron’s conference speech showed, their approach is to scapegoat rather than support youngsters.

Youth unemployment is not the result of idleness, but of too few opportunities. It is an area where we need more not less collaboration with Europe.

2013 saw the European Parliament vote through recommendations that member states prioritise the issue. And the European Commission’s Youth Guarantee Scheme called on domestic governments to provide jobs or further training for all young people within four months of leaving school. These measures are helping to create a Europe-wide consensus on youth unemployment, which looks to support member states and share good practice. They illustrate the value of cooperating with our neighbours rather than demonising them. Instead of being sidetracked by diversionary myths about EU migrants, we should focus on the real issues, and work with the rest of Europe to prevent a lost generation.

On a more positive note, it was good to see Japan this week announce a 2020 target of over 30% representation for women on boards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out the requirements on Thursday, calling women the country’s “most underused resource”. At present women hold just 1.6% of executive positions, and Japan ranks dismally compared to other developed countries. Some claim the economic boost created by having more women at the top could be as much as 15%.

Japan should be congratulated for setting such bold targets. Despite currently sitting a long way behind the UK for the number of women on boards, they are clearly intent on drawing level. Abe is no bleeding heart liberal, but he recognises the business case for diversity. Rather than being content with Lord Davies’ 30% target for 2020, the UK should be as ambitious for itself as Japan obviously is, and endorse Viviane Reding’s 40% target. I hope that by this time next year we will have done so.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Last week an article in the Guardian claimed we are witnessing a voluntary sector glass ceiling; this is despite the Sex and Power report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that suggested that 48% of chief executives are female. An encouraging figure, you may think, bringing us ever closer to parity in one sector (the voluntary sector) , at least. So it was a little disappointing to learn that only 43% of charity leaders (including chief executives, and where there is no paid leadership role’s) are female, according to a report by the Clore Social Leadership Programme.

OK so it could be worse, but recognition of the lack of parity was encouraging, but only because it means it has more chance of being addressed. Authoring an article for the Guardian was Rowena Lewis who stated in the piece: ‘Frankly, I don’t think 43% is anywhere near good enough for a sector in which 68% of employees are female.’ Her report: ‘Close to Parity a Study into Female Leadership in the Voluntary Sector’ is available to download from the Clore Social Leadership Programme’s website.

You can read her article for the Guardian here.

The Telegraph reported last week that fewer places will be made available this year to prospective university students. Some 10,000 temporary places– offered in previous years to cope with a sudden surge in applications – would not be made available in 2012.

A further 5,000 places that are normally allocated to universities that over-recruit are also being cut.

Last week the Mirrors editorial claimed in a powerful, albeit short piece, that David Cameron is writing his own political obituary. ‘David Cameron’s squirming to avoid responsibility was pitiful and his blindly ploughing on, pretending it’s all someone else fault, will blight more lives on top of those already ruined by voodoo economics,’ the piece stated. I couldn’t have put it better myself. You can read the comment piece in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Today’s Sunday Mirror revealed Labour Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman is hoping to change the party’s rules so that the party’s leader must always be a woman.

The new rule would mean a big change to the party’s constitution and would undoubtedly ruffle feathers. The paper quoted a labour back bencher as saying ‘we should be electing the best two people – regardless of their sex.’
I’ve not heard any rumours on this so am not sure how much of it is true but I’ll keep readers informed as I hear more.
Another claim in today’s Mirror is reported by Vincent Moss who claimed Nick Clegg ‘boasted he had forced David Cameron to ditch plans to bring more private firms into the NHS.’ The Lib Dem leader’s allies are claiming the victory for the deputy PM. I’m sure this will divide the coalition further and it will humiliate the health secretary.
To claim this is Clegg’s victory is an interesting move to say the least…the words ‘clutching at straws’ springs to mind. You can read the full story here.
Unsurprisingly ministers have underestimated the number of universities which will charge the maximum £9000 in fees and as a result the spiralling numbers may be cut to cover the cost of loans. Ministers will have to fund the huge bill in student loans a committee of MPs has warned.

As has always been the concern with the new system of fees it will mean, as feared, university will become the preserve of the wealthiest, and some of the poorest who are lucky enough to get scholarships. Everyone in the middle…we just don’t know what will happen to them, but it continues to be a great concern.

You can read the full story here.

Increased Tuition Fees mean Increased Losses for the Student Loans Company

Labour Party

The conservative led coalition government’s plans to raise tuition fees could see much higher losses due to EU students failing to repay loans.

The current system issues loans for tuition fees and living costs.  There is additional help for those from poorer backgrounds.  These loans are then recouped automatically when the person who received them begins to earn over fifteen thousand pounds a year.  The coalition’s plans don’t substantively change the system, they simply increase the tuition fees and raise the threshold above which you start repaying the loans.

These loans are also available to any EU student who comes to study in the UK.  This is no bad thing and I think we can be very proud of the number of people who want to come to the UK to study at our numerous world class universities.  In terms of foreign students we lead in the EU by quite some margin. 

The problem comes after these EU students are done with their studies.  The current situation is such that if they decide to leave the country and work somewhere else, the UK government has absolutely no means whatsoever of compelling them to repay their loans.  They are committing a crime, but there are no means of prosecuting them, or the means are so expensive and complicated that the money recouped would be dwarfed by the cost of recouping it.

This has been happening for a while, at a fairly low level it must be said, but now that the fees have been tripled, so to will the losses from this kind of behaviour.  This isn’t mere speculation either.  I have been hearing from certain quarters that this is becoming a growing concern and losses could in fact be far greater than anyone is expecting.

More disturbingly than that, I have heard rumours that people within higher education, such as vice chancellors, are promoting their universities to EU students by explicitly stating that they will not be compelled to repay the loans.  Obviously it doesn’t matter to the university if they repay or not, they get the money no matter what.

Even without this guidance, it wouldn’t take a genius to work this out.  EU students can come to the UK and walk away with a thirty thousand pound education completely free, whilst British students will be forced to pay back this substantial amount of money whilst also contributing through taxes.  We must sort this issue out as soon as possible.  I have written to the commission (see question below) to see if they can see any potential ways of ensuring that loans are paid back by EU citizens.  I also urge the coalition government to look at this problem: your increase in tuition fees could raise considerably less money than you hoped if you don’t ensure that EU students are made to repay their loans. 

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I can’t, in all honesty, say  that I was shocked to read the revelation in Saturday’s Guardian that the Lib Dems had drawn up plans to drop their flagship student pledge before the general election.

The revelation came in a new book about the coalition negotiations by the former Tory whip, Rob Wilson.

The secret document written by Danny Alexander revealed they would have to forego their pledge to abolish the fees within six years.

This is what Alexander wrote on 16 March:

‘On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.

Despite this Nick Clegg recorded a YouTube video for the NUS in which he stuck by his abolition pledge. In the video, on the 13 April, he said: ‘We will resist, vote against, campaign against any lifting of that cap.’

Although circumstances change and economic or social climates can mean that policies have to adapt, but what angers me about this revelation is that the party never intended to follow the policy it was flaunting.

It used this argument to secure the student vote, to entice those who were unsure by convincing them that they would support growing concern over tuition fees. But this article shows how so many voters were mislead by the party they voted for.

You can read the full article here.

In other news I read that designer shoe maker, Tamara Mellon, (among others) was appointed a global trade envoy for Britain, by David Cameron. Mellon and the other ‘ambassadors’ will be expected to promote and represent the country overseas by participating in foreign visits, meet foreign ministers and deliver speeches.

The other ambassadors are: handbag designer Anya Hindmarch and JCB boss Sir Anthony Bamford, a Tory donor who has contributed almost £1m in recent years, reported the Daily Mail.

Although the appointed ambassadors will not be paid for their work, I am still uncomfortable that the Prime Minister is relying on close allies such as Bamford and Hindmarch, the latter of which the Daily Mail claims is a close friend of the Prime Minister’s wife, to work on the international stage and represent Britain and British trade and industry.

Finally I couldn’t do a round up without mentioning the release of Aung San Suu Ki, the Burmease pro democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize winner. Suu Ki is a modern day symbol of peaceful resistance. She is a remarkable woman who has shown dignity and bravery in equal measure.

Despite being under house arrest for much of the last 20 years she refused, when interviewed by the BBC World Affairs editor, John Simpson, to show any bitterness towards the regime which had kept her captive for so long. Instead she simply said that she had been treated well.

 Her resolve, dignity and strength of character struck a chord, as did the reaction of her supporters, who were risking their own lives just by being so vocal in their joy at her release.

It reminded me how lucky we are to have much freedom which we should never take for granted.

You can read a profile of the peaceful protestor in the Telegraph here.

The Cut the Student Protests forgot

Labour Party

Yesterday we saw violent protests against the Coalition’s enormous increase in tuition fees.  Who, I ask you, will be able to afford £9000 a year in fees alone?  Of course, the very rich – how silly of me.  The 26 millionaires in the Coalition Cabinet probably spend that before breakfast at least once a week.

Meanwhile it’s not quite like that on planet Earth.  Young people are concerned they will either miss out on university or be saddled with so much debt their lives will be irrevocably tarnished. While I would never condone violence, I do understand that the students’ have very serious concerns.

I have recently come across another example of the Coalition’s unthinking devastation in education.

Since the start of the last century, young Britons have been travelling abroad to undertake teaching in a foreign school as part of the British Council Assistantship scheme. With radically improved language skills, a taste of foreign culture, and the chance to try teaching all on offer, it is not hard to see why thousands seek a place on the programme each year.

Next year, however, recruitment will not go ahead; the scheme has fallen victim to the Coalition’s ‘stringency’ measures. It seems that the teaching programme, which has manifest cultural and economic benefits, has been deemed unworthy of the £750,000 required to run it.

To me, this decision seems bizarre, an example of unthinking and myopic cost-cutting, and another display of disregard for the young. Facilitating increased mobility and cross-cultural exchange is demonstrably cost-efficient, improving job prospects by enabling young people to look beyond both language barriers and national borders when searching for training and has job opportunities. 

Happily, the EU has recognised the huge gains to be made from such a strategy and has taken steps to encourage enhanced student and trainee mobility through the new ‘Youth on the Move’ initiative. I just hope that the outcry from past beneficiaries and future hopefuls will be enough to push the UK Government towards the same realisation.