Guest post: How I saved my local nursery

Posted on Sat 29th Oct 2011, 1:40pm
This is a guest post by Lucy Reese, mother of Angus (6), Stanley (2) and Max (6 months)

A few years ago, like all good New Labour voters, I was obviously all for public services, but other than the bins and the NHS had very little need for them. Then I had kids. And everything changed. I’d always worked and was determined to do so after I had kids. My job as a TV producer paid quite well, but even so forking out nearly £400 a week in childcare – for a fairly bog standard private nursery – was pretty eye-watering. It was much more than my mortgage. By the time my lovely son was two and a half I knew I couldn’t carry on working the hours I did without going completely bat-shit mental. A ghastly programme about The Spice Girls was the tipping point. I had no work life balance and had to change the way I worked.

Fortunately, by this time my son had moved to a brilliant council run nursery called Caversham Children’s Centre, in Kentish Town, North London. I loved everything about it and it was affordable – the fees were about half what we’d been paying before. It gave me the breathing space to work out how I could change direction. I found I could do some TV stuff from home and also began to pick up work in F.E colleges, which I loved. I had another baby, started a PGCE and got more hours in the college. Throughout all these changes the nursery was a constant – our second boy went there too.

Since both my husband and I are self employed – he makes websites – we can’t afford to turn down work just because it doesn’t fit in with school holidays. I got work teaching summer schools so we started using the brilliant holiday play schemes run out of Camden Square Playcentre. It may sound cheesy, but these services are like extended family for millions of people like us. We can’t plead abject poverty, but to keep working, we need good quality affordable childcare. We want to spend some time with our kids and provide them with emotional security – we just couldn’t do this and pay private sector childcare fees.

Fast forward to the 2010 election. THEY got in and I remember saying to my husband that I reckoned the nursery and the playcentre would be for the chop. People like Cameron have never needed public services and think only lazy scroungers use them. By the end of 2010, it was announced that the playcentre would close in 2012 – then we found out in January of this year that the nursery would be closing in August.

When I got the letter about the nursery closing I burst into tears. Pregnant and hormonal, I just couldn’t handle the news. But I refused to go down without a fight. Fortunately all the other parents felt the same and to cut a long story short we worked together and although the nursery did close in August, it has recently reopened as the Caversham Community Nursery after we convinced the council to transfer management to a local community association.

The campaign was draining and involved dozens of meetings, hassling local councillors, standing in the street outside the Co-op and making a series of deputations to Camden Council. I gave birth in the middle of the campaign – baby Max has been to more council meetings than you could care to mention, both in and out of the womb.

So why did the campaign work? First off, we decided to work with our local Labour councillors, rather than harangue them for closing the nursery. We also pooled our skills. One of our group was a management consultant and produced an amazing business plan. Another mother is a PA and a brilliant organizer – with access to free printing facilties for leaflets! I used my contacts in local politics and media and gave the campaign focus with a Facebook group. The group’s leader, another TV producer, created amazingly convincing documents and sat up till the early hours refining our deputations to the council. It was bloody hard work but it paid off and though the process was at times frustrating, it was also incredibly empowering and shows what can be done if you work collectively. It made me understand the importance of local government and the experience has made me keen to stand as a local councillor – something that previously would have had about as much appeal as drinking a bucket of cold sick.

I’m now back on the campaign trail again and have started an action group to save Camden Square Playcentre – yes, it is just down the road from the Amy shrine. This is a truly amazing place that provides holiday play schemes, after school clubs, breakfast clubs and under 5s drop ins. Black kids play with white kids, posh kids play with poor kids and disabled kids play with able bodied kids. The brilliant staff are trained in everything from child protection to child psychology – the idea that they could be replaced by some “Big Society” volunteers is frankly insulting. The playcentre keeps single parents off benefits and keeps stay at home mums with toddlers sane. It gives boisterous six year old boys somewhere to let off steam after school and kids in wheelchairs the chance to make friends with kids from mainstream schools. If this sounds like utopian bullshit, sorry, but it’s the kind of service that actually makes the world a better place.

We’ve had our first meeting and are hopeful that there is a chance that we can do what we did with the nursery and get a voluntary sector provider to take over the running of the service.

Please sign our petition - - we still need all the help we can get. Thank you for reading.

Lucy is giving a talk at 2pm on Saturday 29th October at Occupy Finsbury Square. You can email her at

Introducing UK Uncut Legal Action

Posted on Fri 28th Oct 2011, 10:46am
This is a guest blog post from UK Uncut Legal Action. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook and check out their website

When activists start talking about court cases, evidence, expert witnesses and meetings with lawyers, it generally means that either they or their friends will be going through a tough and stressful time. Too often it is those people willing to stick their necks out to fight injustice that are dragged through the courts. But not always. Criminal damage to us doesn’t always mean supergluing yourself to Topshop, we believe it is criminal for public servants to act unlawfully, especially when these acts reflect a greed and self-interest that damage us all.

UK Uncut Legal Action is a new, spin-off project, separate to- but inspired by- UK Uncut and their fight for an alternative to the cuts. UK Uncut have shown that the cuts are a political choice, not an economic necessity and that this choice is driven by the interests of big business, the finance sector and wealthy individuals, not caring for people.

Today, UK Uncut Legal Action has announced that it is threatening a legal challenge in the High Court over HMRC’s ‘sweetheart’ tax deal with the investment bank giant, Goldman Sachs. The crux of the matter appears to be that back in the 1990s, Goldman Sachs didn’t want people to know just how much money their bankers were being paid, and they allegedly didn’t fancy paying all of their National Insurance contributions. Reportedly, they set up a new company in the British Virgin Islands, and bought into a scheme called Employment Beneficiary Trusts. It wasn’t until 2005, after much legal wrangling, the courts declared that these Trusts were tax avoiding schemes, and it was time to pay back £30 million that they’d saved through using these schemes.

But Goldman Sachs didn’t feel like paying back the £30 million and fought tooth and nail in the courts against reimbursing the public purse. Time ticked on, and it wasn’t until 2010 that a judge threw out the claim from the Bank that their true employer was in the British Virgin Islands. Goldman Sachs’s debt to society now stood at the £30 million, plus £10 million in interest.

Goldman Sachs baulked at paying back what they owed, and so in late 2010, it’s been said in the press that they did what any self-respecting wannabe tax dodger does; they wined and dined Dave Harnett, HMRC’s top tax man. By the end of the brandy and cigars, it was all sorted. Goldman Sachs would pay back the original £30 mil and Dave would forget about the £10 million interest. Who needs it? You can’t buy many books, nurses or school meals with it anyway.

As the secret ‘sweetheart’ deal came to light, it all got a bit embarrassing in the press and in parliament. Dave Hartnett suggested to a Select Committee that it was a junior official’s error because of a misinterpretation of the law. According to the Guardian this month, HMRC sources privately confirm that £10m of taxpayers’ money was thrown away because of a “technical mistake” by an unidentified official, junior to Hartnett, who misinterpreted the law.

As anyone who has had any dealings with HMRC will know, there are procedures, policies and forms of many, many pages that must be filled in, in the right order and by the right date. We can’t buy Dave Hartnett a couple of cocktails and he’ll look the other way when it comes to our tax returns or National Insurance contributions.

This is at the heart of our legal action. We are saying that if was a genuine mistake, then it can be rectified and the money paid back. And being the reasonable people that we are, we have given them a couple of weeks to do so. If not though, we will see them in court, as we believe that this handshake agreement is unlawful because, reportedly, Dave didn’t follow HMRC’s own procedures. So if it’s not quashed, Dave’s dodgy deal could land him in the dock.

A year of #ukuncut

Posted on Thu 27th Oct 2011, 7:59pm
This blog is available in German, French and Spanish thanks to the good people at Tlaxcala

On October 27th 2010, just one week after George Osborne announced the deepest cuts to public services since the 1920s, 70 people ran along Oxford Street, entered Vodafone’s flagship store and sat down. Vodafone had dodged £6 billion of tax, so we shut down their flagship store. UK Uncut had been born.

We started as an idea and a hashtag; they both went viral. Just three days later, on October 30th, and thirty Vodafone stores had been closed around the country. One week later the ‘Big Society Revenue and Customs’ was launched – if the government weren’t going to make tax avoiders pay, we were. Philip Green’s tax avoiding empire was added to our list of targets and in London we shut down his biggest store. In Bury St Edmunds Alex and his Mum lay down in a Vodafone doorway, forcing it to close. That day 23 different towns and cities came out in protest. Two weeks later, on ‘Pay-Day’, there were 55 protests on high streets up and down the country. In Brighton activists dressed as Santa glued themselves inside BHS, London’s flag-ship Topshop store hosted an activist ‘sport-day’ with egg and spoon races, football and star jumps. In Liverpool a fifteen year-old girl organised an action and shut down a Topshop, before running home to revise for her GCSE the next morning. On January 30th we mobilised again, adding Boots and Tesco to our list of tax dodging targets, on the day before tax return deadline, up to 30 protests took place around the country. In the space of a couple of months, we had become a national movement.

February saw the start of the second stage of our campaign. We turned our attention to the banks. And ‘Uncut’ went global. On February 26th UK Uncut and the newly formed US Uncutbailed-in’ to the bailed-out banks. Over 100 actions took place, from London and Dundee to New York and Honolulu. In the UK, we set up crèches, laundries, school class rooms, libraries, homeless shelters, drama club, walk-in clinics, youth centre, job centres, and leisure centres in banks across the country. We had a simple message: it’s their crisis, they should pay for it.

Things didn’t slow down in March. On the 26th we joined the 500,000 other people marching through central London, demanding an alternative to cuts and austerity. UK Uncut groups from all over the country came together to transform Oxford Street, banks and shops were occupied and turned into libraries and theatres, we had Shakespeare at BHS with Sam and Anthony West, and an open air comedy gig with Josie Long and Mark Thomas performing. Hundreds of us then moved together to occupy the iconic Fortnum and Masons; iconic not just as the Queen’s grocery, but as a tax dodger. Hundreds of people took a stand against the government cuts and corporate tax avoidance. 145 of us were arrested and charged at a protest described by the senior police officer on the scene as ‘sensible and non-violent’. 30 of our number are still on trial. In the press and in Parliament we took one hell of a beating. But from difficult times, amazing new things emerged. The support and solidarity we have received has been inspiring, from groups and individuals, NGOs and trade unions, from Mums Uncut and Art Uncut.

And in May we bounced back! Once again we occupied banks across the country to perform an ‘Emergency Operation’ to save our NHS from government cuts. Activists dressed in scrubs and armed with fake blood and bandages set up ‘operating theatres’ inside branches of the four major banks. Uncut continued to go global, with Portugal and Canada Uncut holding their first actions. In April US Uncut staged hundreds of occupations of tax-dodging corporations from Hawaii to New Hampshire across a four-day period.

In June we supported the workers striking for the alternative, the Big Society Breakfast took solidarity-tea to the picket lines to show that ‘we are all in it together’. 700,000 were on strike that day; millions more are due out in November.

And on October 9th we took part in the biggest single act of mass civil disobedience in this country for years. Over two thousand people came to the heart of London from all over the country to occupy Westminster Bridge in a last stand for the NHS. We were entertained in the autumn sunshine by our clown doctors, and joined together with healthcare workers, patients, trade unionists and concerned citizens. We came to block the bridge and block the bill. We left empowered and inspired by the people willing to stand up for what’s right. The end of that action saw the first general assembly which would become Occupy London, still camped bravely outside St Paul’s.

What a year it has been. Every person who has been a part of UK Uncut should feel proud of what they have done, and empowered to do more. In one year we have come so far. From a hashtag and an idea, we have become a national and international network of people taking action.

UK Uncut is made up of the people who take part in actions. We are you. We are mums and pensioners, trade unionists and students, private sector employees and the unemployed, the disabled and school children. We are ordinary people standing up (or sitting-in) for what we believe, and for the change we want to see.

Occasionally people ask us what we’ve achieved and what we hope to achieve as UK Uncut. When they do, think of the inspiring, creative direct actions we’ve taken together, of the networks of friends and activists we’ve forged, and the debate we’ve lit about the genuine alternatives to these unnecessary cuts. We have had thousands of inches of coverage for our concerns in the national press, we got tax avoidance onto prime time television, we have helped shape the debate and pushed tax avoidance way up the political agenda. The Queen's lawyers said we had it right, HMRC ran training sessions on us and PR experts discussed how to deal with being targeted by UK Uncut. Bundles of public figures have come out in support of us, whilst Boris Johnson and Theresa May resorted to smears.

Think also of the hard won political victories which will, slowly but surely, bring about real political change. We have had MPs standing up for us in Parliament, signing early day motions and attempting to introduce tax reform. Our campaigning prompted the National Audit Office and the Treasury Select Committee to investigate dodgy tax dealings, investigations which now see Dave Hartnett up against the ropes and are forcing Revenue and Customs to re-think how they deal with corporate tax avoiders.

We still have a long way to go, a lot we can learn, and we will keep going together.

See you on the high streets!
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