Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/651/10800
Hands off the Forest of Dean!
On 10 December, over 300 people attended a public meeting held at the Miners Welfare Hall, Cinderford, to show their anger and disgust at proposed closures of libraries throughout the Forest of Dean. They were also angry about the bill which Tory MP Mark Harper is attempting to put through parliament advocating the sell-off of huge swathes of the forest.
Lee Hyett, Gloucestershire Socialist Party
Harper declined the invitation to attend the meeting. It was probably a wise move, as the first item on the agenda was the decimation of the local library service. Tory chairman of Gloucestershire county council Mark Hawthorne got a roasting.
The Forest of Dean is not a rich country area - it has areas of social deprivation. Half of college students receive Education Maintenance Allowance.
Hawthorne explained that the county council has just enough money left to provide social care for vulnerable adults and children. The implication that wanting to keep our libraries open would be selfishly stripping funding from the most vulnerable was insulting enough. But it was compounded by Hawthorne going on to state that community groups could buy these libraries and run them using volunteers, as part of Cameron's Big Society.
John Ewers from the Socialist Party asked Hawthorne if he could guarantee that the workers from closed public libraries would retain their jobs in these new 'community-funded' libraries. Hawthorne replied that all workers in the libraries earmarked for closure would lose their jobs.
A youth worker said volunteering was insecure and haphazard. What the council are calling for is not volunteering but conscription. Hawthorne was slow-handclapped as he left the stage, and his projector screen fell on top of him as he rose from his seat!
Item two on the agenda was one that arouses even more public ire in the Forest of Dean - the proposed sell-off of forest land.
Labour peer Baroness Jan Royall is fighting Harper's proposals in the House of Lords, and whilst her speech received a standing ovation, she did mention in passing that she is not opposed to the principle of social enterprise. Nor will she fight to protect other forests from privatisation.
If a by-election could be forced on the basis that local people are in clear opposition to Harper's plans, and if the anti-sell off campaign could stand an independent, anti-cuts and anti-privatisation candidate, the mood in the Miners Welfare Hall indicated that such a candidate would have huge support.
The people of the Forest of Dean are prepared to fight cuts to public services, and to defend a forest which has resisted all attempts to place it in the hands of privateers. This forest is NOT for sale!
- The Hands Off Our Forest Campaign is organising a demo on 3 January. See www.handsoffourforest.org.
In The Socialist 15 December 2010:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students