Hard up Scottish students set to lose cash lifeline

by Annabel Cooper

Scottish universities are close to running out of special funds that help bail out students in financial difficulty.

The ‘Hardship Loan’ or ‘Discretionary Fund’ is a life-line for hard up students but with borrowing on the downturn and part time work harder to come by, demand from students is up and funds are beginning to run dry.

Each university is allocated funds from a Government pot and then the emergency loans are allocated at the discretion of the institution. About £16 million was distributed in this way in 2008-9 – an 8 per cent increase on 2007-8. But already this year, universities in real difficulty have gone back to the Scottish Government with demands totalling £882,500 to cope with urgent student appeals for help.

Claire Baker, Labour’s higher education spokeswoman, said funds could be reallocated from universities’ underspending, but that, across Scotland, hardship funds were being “stretched beyond breaking point”.

She said:

“The government has responded to university concerns, but demand for hardship funds is still outstripping supply. It is a worrying trend, and none of the universities is expecting it to stop any time soon.

Napier University in Edinburgh is symptomatic of the Scottish trend. Applications from desperate students are up 28 per cent compared with last year, and it predicts it will run out of money before the next discretionary funds are handed out.

Napier staff are advising students to try renegotiating debts, as they cannot help all those going to them for aid. Professor Joan Stringer, the principal, said:

Students“It is becoming increasingly apparent that many of those fortunate enough to have a part-time job are having their hours or shifts significantly cut and many others are struggling to find any part-time work.

“We are also finding many students’ parents are no longer able to provide the level of help previously afforded, due to, for example, loss of their own employment, less work available to the self-employed and loss of income from savings.

“In order to most efficiently manae the remaining discretionary funds, applicants are being advised, where possible, to negotiate suitable repayment plans for any outstanding bills, particularly utility bills, and to rearrange any existing debt or loan repayments.”

“We do not expect we will have sufficient funds to support applicants to the level that many of them will need, and it is very unlikely we will have sufficient funds left to support students during the summer vacation period.”

Just two weeks ago newly elected Rector for neighbouring Edinburgh University, Iain McWhirter, made student finance the heart of his election campaign, insiting upon a £7k basic income for students. Gurjit Singh, the president of NUS Scotland, is also demanding an overhaul of the “unfair” student support system and guaranteed annual income for every student through loans and grants.

“Student financial hardship has reached a critical level,” he said. “Students are not being able to find part-time work as well, or access commercial debt. If our students had the right level of support in the first place, they would not have to apply to hardship funds.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We recognise that the current student support system was inadequately funded by previous administrations. That is why we have provided £38 million to introduce grants for 20,000 part-time students and why we are consulting on proposals to improve the student system more generally.”

Victory for Leith as Forth Ports scraps rebrand

by Annabel Cooper

leith-harbour-and-newhaven-community-council-lg

It’s celebration time for the Save Leith campaign as Forth Ports announced they would scrap plans to name part of their Leith docks development ‘Edinburgh Harbour’. The area of Leith earmarked for a cruise terminal will instead be called ‘The Harbour, Leith Docks’. The announcement came after a final round of talks between the property developer and Edinburgh Council yesterday. Forth Ports had originally resisted any change to the branding of their multi million pound development but turned full circle last night amid strong opposition from Leith residents.

Chares Hammond, chief executive of Forth Ports, said:

“We have listened very carefully to the views expressed in the last couple of weeks and working closely with the City Council, we have taken these on board in arriving at the final decision to name this part of the overall development The Harbour, Leith Docks.”

Forth Ports had insisted that including Edinburgh in the name was vital to ensure the commercial success of the re-development which will include an international cruise terminal, restaurants, bars and hotels.  But local residents stood firm in their demands to retain their identity.

Save Leith campaigner and local politician Ian McGill was delighted by the turn around. He said:

“This is great news and exactly the result we wanted! It looks like Leith lives to fight another day!”
Council Leader Jenny Dawe chaired the talks with Forth Ports. She said:
“Retaining ‘Leith’ in the name of the development  is very welcome.  Charles Hammond  and I had a very constructive meeting at which I presented the case for ‘Leith.’  Forth Ports has listened to the arguments, listened to the community and has made the right choice.”

Councillor Rob Munn, Deputy Lord Provost and Leith Councillor, was also present. He said:

“I am proud to have represented the Leith community’s strong feeling and to have helped protect an important part of Leith’s heritage.  Leith has a proud and prominent history as the major port of Edinburgh.  I am delighted that Forth Ports has listened to local residents and has ensured that the good name of Leith will be at the forefront of the economic success and prosperity that the Forth Ports development will deliver.”

Forth Ports’ plans span a 144 hectare site at Leith Docks and include nine ‘urban villages’ providing new homes, outdoor spaces and leisure facilities for residents and visitors.  The new international cruise terminal makes up two of the planned ‘villages’ and forms the focal point of the development.

Save Leith Campaign close to victory

It’s the final showdown between the Save Leith Campaign and Forth Ports today as the property developer waited for a conclusive decision on planning permission from City Chambers. Edinburgh Council and Forth Ports met for the last time this morning to discuss the property developer’s planned multi-million pound development at Leith Docks. Plans to brand an area of the development as Edinburgh Harbour have come up against strong local opposition and protestors are hoping this latest round of talks will result in a compromise on the name.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said last week: “I think there is a way compromise can be reached on the Leith name being incorporated. Forth Ports had made their position clear but perhaps they weren’t aware of the strength of local feeling on the matter.

Last week folk singer Allan Johnson became the latest Leith resident to add his weight to the campaign by penning the battle song ‘Siege of Leith’. He is one of thousands of residents who have pledged their opposition to the proposed renaming of the historic docks and has performed the song for local and national news. He said: “I think it is the greatest of insults to the people of Leith and their traditions to suddenly come along and rename Leith docks for no other reason than a corporate one.

Last Wednesday the Save Leith campaigners delivered a 4000-strong petition collected in local shops and bars to the council. Councillor Gordon Munro, who received the petition, was confident the protest would make a difference to Forth Ports plans. He said: “Forth Ports will find this very difficult to ignore. The level of support for the campaign is fantastic and I will make sure the message is delivered loud and clear to the council leader so she can pass this on to Forth Ports.

The campaign also continues to receive strong support online, as almost 1700 users have joined the “Save Leith Petition Group 2009.” Messages and support have come from far and wide and online campaign co-ordinator Iain McGill has promised that the campaigners are confident the decison will go in their favour. He said: “We are all very much looking forward to the decision from the Council but Forth Ports can rest assured if the decision goes against us, we won’t just give up. Our level of support just keeps growing and growing. And with interest from national newspapers and television news we are hoping to get even more support.

Forth Ports and Edinburgh Council will make an announcement on the decision later today.

‘Save Leith’ protestors take their campaign to the Council

The ‘Save Leith’ campaign moved up a gear today as protestors took over 4000 signed petitions to the council. The campaigners and their signatories object to plans by property developer Forth Ports to brand a new multi-million pound Leith development as Edinburgh Harbour.

With the backing of MSP Malcolm Chisholm, the Leithers delivered the signatures to Councillor Gordon Munro in time for a fresh set of talks between senior councillors and Forth Ports on Monday. The property giant had initially ignored pleas to change their plans but will meet council leader Jenny Dawe and Chief Executive Tom Atchison again in the wake of fresh protests.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said earlier in the week:

‘We are meeting with a representative of Forth Ports again on Monday. I think there is a way a compromise can be reached on the Leith name being incorporated. They have made their position clear but perhaps they weren’t aware of the strength of local feeling on the matter.’

That strength of feeling was apparent at City Chambers today and echoed by Councillor Gordon Munro. He said:

‘Leith has a unique identity that all Leithers are proud of and it seems silly to ignore that  in this new development. The level of support for the campaign is fantastic and I will make sure the message is delivered loud and clear to the council leader so that she can pass this on to Forth Ports.’

The campaign has also received a strong support online. Over 700 facebook users have joined the ‘Save Leith Petition 2009’ group and their names were presented to the council alongside the petition. Online campaign co-ordinator Iain McGill said:

‘I am delighted by the level of online support but also by the attention the campaign is now getting. We have cross-party support from councillors and MSPs and now coverage from national press and television. Forth Ports will have to listen.’

But Forth Ports has said there was a misunderstanding regarding the naming of the development and that Leith Docks would remain as the umbrella name for the overall project. Charles Hammond, group chief executive, said:

‘The name Edinburgh Harbour was chosen for this area of Leith Docks, which will include a cruise ship terminal, as it highlights the fact that Leith is the gateway into Scotland’s capital.’

Forth Ports has yet to be granted planning permission for developing the area around Ocean Terminal. The first two of nine “urban villages” will include 1870 new homes.

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