Meeting Joe and Liam I was very impressed by the commitment and dedication they have shown over the past year in volunteering right here in East Sefton.
Many students, including Joe, Liam and their friends have told me about their plans for the future and how they hope to go on to study at university. One common concern for them and for their families is the prospect of starting work saddled with £40,000 or more of student debt following the increase in student fees which was voted through parliament last week.
This is a point which I raised in the debate on Thursday and one which concerns thousands of families across the country. University funding has been cut by 80% by the government and that is why tuition fees will treble next year. I hope that as a country we do not regret the decision taken by the government and that it doesn't prevent young people from Sefton from going to university.
Time will tell, but I fear that many simply will not go to university as a result of this decision.
The education select committee interviewed Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education. We asked him about the impact of the spending review and also about the government’s white paper on education. One of the topics we raised was the educational maintenance allowance.
Hugh Baird College in Sefton asked me to remind Mr Gove that EMA is a key part of family income and that when the government stops the EMA next year, many students will just stop going to college. We also found out that those receiving EMA do 7% better in their exams than those who don’t, partly because they have to turn up at college to receive their money. EMA is £30 a week, but it looks like it does make a difference to many students from poorer backgrounds.
Mr Gove agreed to have another look at EMA.
The select committee also asked Mr Gove about his plans for Sure Start.
I will be visiting Hudson Children’s Centre in Maghull and Valewood Children’s Centre in Crosby in the new year. I will also be visiting the other children's centres and other primary schools. The government has cut the Early Intervention Grant which pays for children’s centres and a number of children’s centres are very worried that they will not be able to continue.
I know from first hand what a difference children's centres make to children and to families. My son attended a children’s centre nursery and our family saw at first hand what a difference it made to him and to his friends. His friend's parents told me how different it had been for their older brothers and sisters who had no children's centres to go to.
This morning I reminded Mr Gove that the support for young children and for children at risk is absolutely vital. He appeared to listen and to take note. I hope that we do not see services to the most vulnerable children threatened by these cuts.
At the time of writing it still looks like Sefton will lose £58.5 million over the next three years, with cuts to all services. Many people are going to lose their jobs and many more are going to lose services which they rely. Whether it’s leisure, libraries, road repairs or care of the elderly, all are going to suffer.
At such a difficult time, it is essential that all parties work closely together to try to mitigate the effects of such cuts. I believe the cuts are being made too fast and too soon. But the reality is that I and my Labour colleagues have a duty to the community in Sefton to work with the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties even though the parties disagree on the scale of the cuts and on the cause (the global financial crisis as opposed to the previous government).
We all have a duty to look after those people who most need our help. I hope that councillors and council officers in Sefton will listen to service users, carers and staff like those people from New Directions who came to see me about the cuts to care services for the elderly and disabled. I also hope that the council will work with the trade unions who have good ideas on how to protect services and jobs even within the unprecedented and overwhelming size of the cuts being forced on the council by central government.