‘Grave Concern’ Over Goldsmiths Cuts

Cllr Alan Hall has joined thousands of academics, artists and local residents to express ‘grave concern’ at the plans for 52 staff redundancies and a restructuring at Goldsmiths University sited in New Cross within the London Borough of Lewisham.

The letter explains that Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Cllr Alan Hall has been a long standing supporter of closer links with the prestigious higher education college and local residents. He said: “Goldsmiths is a part of Deptford’s and Lewisham’s history – it is an integral part of our rich diversity.”

Hit the headlines in The Observer

The publication of the letter hit headlines in The Observer recently. The national newspaper noted that new university job cuts fuel rising outrage on campuses claiming that Goldsmiths targets humanities faculties in round of redundancies.

The trade union – UCU – has started to ballot for industrial action over pay, pensions and conditions in the higher education sector nationally. This is looks like a winter discontent.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.

“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

The Goldsmiths Letter in full.

We are academics, researchers and artists who have in various ways collaborated with members of the Goldsmiths community over the years or have been members of staff or students ourselves – or are simply acquainted with the College’s stellar reputation.

Goldsmiths, University of London, is internationally renowned for its progressive and critical education, its commitment to social justice and for hosting some of the most respected and creative scholars in the world. Its researchers, writers, musicians, performers, artists and media producers are world-leading; its alumni go on to outstanding achievements, in all areas.

Goldsmiths serves the needs of some of the most diverse communities in the UK, with a high proportion of its students coming from ethnic minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Currently, many of these students and their families live in boroughs hardest-hit by the Covid-19 crisis.

We are writing to express our utmost concern at the plans for radical restructuring, which threaten not only the jobs of staff members at a time of grave economic crisis, but also the very identity of Goldsmiths as we know it.

We were dismayed to read about the jobs already lost last year through voluntary severance, and are appalled now by the 52 redundancies recently announced for professional and academic staff.

We are distressed to discover that the detailed and crucial expertise of administrative staff central to departments is being disregarded and will be lost, through a misguided centralisation and drastic reduction of the number of posts.

We understand that academic redundancies are confined to the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History in this first round, but that there will be more. If they go ahead, these cuts will irremediably damage research capacity, academic practices and cultures, the student experience, as well as the viability of important and world-renowned departments, home to leading, and often unique, research hubs such as the Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies, the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, the Decadence Research Centre, the Centre for Comparative Literature, the Centre for the Study of the Balkans, the Centre of the Body, and the Centre for Queer History.

We are shocked to hear that the redundancies are being managed by external consultants with no disciplinary expertise, and who do not understand the immediate, middle- and long-term consequences of their decisions.

We hear with consternation that academics with high specialisation are under threat of redundancy even when their area of expertise is being retained – as though Black British and Caribbean Literature, Queer and Black British History, or Critical Theory were mere adornments on a portfolio rather than fields built upon rigorous training and deeply rooted scholarship. Presumably, their posts will be filled by cheaper, precarious staff; or staff with different expertise, asked to take on their (“redundant”) colleagues’ work. But a discipline is nothing without expertise; a degree is not a brand. Yet it appears that Goldsmiths’ management sees its core mission as no different from fast fashion, as a business built on precarity and the misguided flexibilization of a labour force rendered unable to develop long-term commitment to their discipline; in this, Senior Management show utter disregard for the integrity of the education they want to sell.

We are outraged that the Warden, Frances Corner, OBE, and Senior Management appear determined to pursue this damaging course of action instead of, with the same determination, proactively fundraising and lobbying the government for assistance as peer institutions have done – while also making a powerful case against the present ruinous and bankrupt system of funding for Higher Education, and in favour of the recognition of the immense contribution of the humanities and the arts to society and to the economy.

We call upon Frances Corner, upon Council, and upon Senior Management to halt the decimation of the departments of English & Creative Writing and of History, the redundancies within professional services and the current restructuring plans, and to find, in collaboration with their staff, more sustainable and more effective solutions that will protect not only the livelihood of their dedicated and loyal employees, but also the reputation of the institution.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

London Borough of Lewisham

Lewisham’s Amenity Societies’ Collective Concerns Over Planning Changes

On 16th September 2020, Lewisham Council’s Mayor & Cabinet agreed to a six month extension of temporary changes to the planning procedures for public participation in town planning. In the report it says: “By June 2020 a backlog of around 40 planning applications requiring determination by committee had built up. The Government has brought in legislation to enable decision making to take place through virtual committee meetings and the Council has put in place measures to hold virtual planning committee meetings and has been holding these since June.” Planning committee decisions are described as “resource intensive”.

The virtual planning committees instigated due to Covid-19 were found to be “particularly resource intensive” as they meant additional officers to be present and fully briefed on every scheme as back up in case technical difficulties occurred.

The extension of the temporary changes had been examined at a meeting of the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee and approved on 3rd September. A number of amenity societies and individuals had commented critically. These were reported to the Mayor and Cabinet meeting in an addendum.

However, the day before the Mayor and Cabinet meeting a letter to the Mayor of Lewisham by Lewisham’s amenity societies collectively was sent. This says: “We feel the need to take the unprecedented step of writing to you with a collective voice” and details their concerns. The full letter is below:

Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2020

To: damien.egan@lewisham.gov.uk – Mayor
Cc: cllr_paul.bell@lewisham.gov.uk – Cabinet Member for Housing & Planning

Dear Mr Egan

At the start of this year you asked many of us, as representatives of Lewisham’s amenity and civic societies, to support your letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government asking for additional protection for heritage buildings. At the same time, in the article you wrote for Local Gov News, you stated that “it is vital that we preserve these heritage assets so that they can be enjoyed by current and future generations”.

Against such a backdrop, we are disappointed that we feel the need to take the unprecedented step of writing to you with a collective voice.

Lewisham’s voluntary amenity societies represent the views of many hundreds, possibly thousands of people who share a concern about our heritage and environment. The planning consultation process encourages good design as well as preservation.

But our role in the planning process has become increasingly marginalised and the latest move to further extend the scheme of delegation for planning decisions, and other changes relating to the statement of community involvement, represents a new low.

Untold damage to our environment and heritage can occur in six months and in these unprecedented times, scrutiny is needed more than ever. Council officers often lack the intimate local knowledge that amenity societies can offer; this is a time when the council should rely on and value our input more than ever before, not freeze us out.

Monthly meetings of the amenity society panel, chaired by a councillor and attended by a planning officer were suspended by the council several years ago, supposedly on a temporary basis, and have never been replaced as promised.

In the past three months with ‘temporary’ changes to the powers of delegation the situation has become untenable. Our members now each have to write individual objection letters to reach the threshold needed to stop contentious cases from being approved under delegated powers; cases which previously stood a chance of being considered by elected members, with objectors given the opportunity to speak against them in committee.

Unfortunately a common experience since the changes were introduced is that timely validation of applications has become erratic, while responses from planning officers are often cursory, communications unreliable and decisions random and illogical.

We accept that budget cuts have played a part, as have additional constraints on time and resources caused by Covid. But democratic accountability has been further weakened by this latest action, coupled with the lack of any online replacement for councillor surgeries where objections could be discussed.

As the council’s respect for our input has diminished, our volunteers feel that they are forced to fight against Lewisham planners, rather than working collaboratively for the good of the borough and its residents.

These changes place enormous power and responsibility in the hands of planning committee chairs. Great power requires accountability, yet the chairs’ decisions on which applications go before a planning committee take place behind closed doors and the minutes of the chairs’ case reviews with case officers go unpublished.

The proposal to extend the procedures for a further six months exacerbates and prolongs this unacceptable and undemocratic situation, and suggests that it is seen as a potentially longer term administrative change rather than a temporary emergency measure.

Many of us made detailed representations ahead of the recent strategic planning committee meeting, raising legitimate questions about how the council intends to ensure accountability, transparency and impartiality in cases that receive amenity society objections but are delegated to officers. These matters remain unanswered and unaddressed.

Apart from the challenge of supporting Lewisham’s role as Borough of Culture 2021, we believe the council and amenity societies should have common cause in addressing the major changes to the planning system proposed by the government, which could impact our borough significantly.

We request an urgent meeting with you to discuss the situation and we urge you to think again before supporting this extension.

Yours sincerely

Helena Russell & Mark Shackleton

Co-chairs, Deptford Society

Clare Cowen

Chair, The Brockley Society

Paul Watts

Chair, The Blackheath Society

Malcolm Bacchus

Chair, The Telegraph Hill Society

Julia Rowntree

Chair, Brookmill Road Conservation Area

Sarah McMichael

Chair, Lee Forum

Dr Ralph White

Chair, Lee Manor Society

Kate Richardson

Chair, Culverley Green Residents’ Association

Emily Finch

Chair, Hatcham Conservation Society

Robert Smith

Chair, Ladywell Society

Annabel McLaren

Chair, Sydenham Society

Stop the switch off and Save Over 75s Free TV

Cllr Alan Hall has joined campaigners, trade unionists and pensioners’ activists and written to the Government and BBC to ask them to stop the switch off for the over 75s. The covid lockdown isn’t over and many older people are shielding. How can this cruel decision be taken now?

Read the letter:

Age UK are campaigning to stop the switch off

Dear Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and Director General Tony Hall,

I’m writing to urge you to sit down and work together urgently to save free TV Licences for over 75s.

The Labour Government introduced the free tv licence for the over-75s when Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer produced a ‘budget that unites the whole country’ and ‘offers stability and security for all.’

Fifteen years later, the Chancellor, George Osborne cut £650m from the BBC’s budget, transferred the responsibility for the over-75s licence fee directly to the BBC as he met Rupert Murdoch before the announcement in June 2015.

This sleight of hand was to fund £12bn of benefit cuts mainly from the Department of Work and Pensions – the DWP funded the over-75s free TV licence.

I was bitterly disappointed by the announcement that the BBC are going to proceed with their plans to take away free TV licences from most people over 75. This is a kick in the teeth for older people during a terrible year.

Last year I alongside 634,333 other Age UK supporters signed a petition to keep TV free for all over 75s. I never received a reply from Government.

I am really worried about older people on low incomes who will find it hard to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence so will have to give up some other essentials, or try to survive without TV at all. I am particularly concerned about older people battling loneliness and isolation, people who aren’t online and for whom the television provides a lifeline to the outside world, information, entertainment and companionship.

I implore you to work together and find a solution to save millions of older people from this decision which will cause enormous anxiety distress and for hundreds of thousands, real hardship.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Alan Hall

Cllr Alan Hall and Unite Community Greenwich Lewisham & Bexley outside the BBC with pensioners protesting