News in brief – October 2009

Electricity price rip-off – More pay rises for the rich – £106 million wasted on consultants – Bosses spell out attacks on third level education – Scrap Invest NI By Owen McCracken, Socialist Party NIE’s decision to cut electricity bills by a mere 5% from October will mean little to those currently living in fuel poverty in Northern Ireland. After electricity prices rocketed by 52% between July 2008 and January 2009, NIE has now reduced bills by a mere 15.8% over a period when wholesale fuels costs have fallen by 40%. This situation is a direct result of privatisation. As householders are being ripped off this company is exploiting its monopoly position to make huge profits. The only way to provide affordable energy is to bring NIE back into public ownership and run it democratically in the interests of ordinary working people.

Electricity price rip-off

More pay rises for the rich
As working class people are forced to struggle with the effects of the worst economic crisis in living memory, The Guardian newspaper’s annual survey of executive pay has revealed boardroom pay at Britain’s top FTSE 100 corporations has shot up more than 9% in the past 12 months. £170 million was shared by the10 most highly paid executives alone with almost a quarter of chief executives surveyed receiving packages above £5 million. Having been bailed out with massive amounts of public money by their political backers it is now business as usual for the corporate elite. The real burden of the recession is being placed on ordinary workers who are forced to contend with rising job losses, wage cuts and continuing attacks on working conditions.

£106 million wasted on consultants
New figures reveal that in the past 5 years the NI Assembly has spent £106 million of tax-payers money on consultancy fees to private firms. The worst culprit was the Department of Regional Development (DRD), who spent £32 million in 3 years between 2004 and 2007, mostly for “specialist advice” on how water charges should be introduced. This highlights the way Stormont departments often rely upon private consultancy firms for support when they intend to privatise public assets or implement other anti-working class measures. When consultation is genuinely required it should be kept within the public sector to secure jobs and end this massive waste of public funds.

Bosses spell out attacks on third level education

By Kevin Henry, 13 October 2009

The bosses’ union Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) recent Further Education Taskforce proposals should act as a strong warning to students, parents and education workers on the direction in which vice chancellors and big business wish to drag our education system. The proposals include raising student fees to £5,000 a year, fewer grants being made available, higher loan interest rates and the government dropping its “target” of having 50% of young people in education – meaning in reality more restrictions on university places.

The proposals rely heavily on the evidence from vice-chancellors including one retired vice-chancellor, who is reported to have described domestic students as “nothing but a drain” and they are “the charity end of the business.” The report also states that “heavy cuts” would negatively affect Britain’s competitiveness. The reality is massive cuts are already being introduced in many universities. such as the proposal to cut crèche facilities at University of Ulster, and the cutting of 104 jobs in Queens University Belfast.

The timid response by the leadership of the National Union of Students is not enough. Their strategy of lobbying political parties which all support tuition fees is completely ineffective. These same parties listen more to the likes of the CBI than to students. Instead they should seriously mobilise students and link up with the trade union movement to fight for the scrapping of tuition fees and campaign for a fully funded education system that is run in the interest of the public rather than the big business and profit.

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