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Statement from NUS President to students’ unions

Thursday 06-11-2014 - 11:06

I am following up on the statement that I along with the other NUS UK full time elected officers made on Tuesday setting out our organisational view on the free education demonstration of Wednesday 19 November. Read the original statement here.


At a meeting on 16 September, the NUS NEC agreed a motion to formally endorse the free education demonstration set for 19 November and to advise the demonstration organisers on necessary safety measures to put in place.
 
In light of our commitment to give advice to the demonstration organisers about necessary safety measures, we first met them on 25 September, at which point an offer was made to commission and pay for an external risk assessment along with further support to ensure safety. We provided initial risk assessment questions to the organisers on 26 September and made it clear we required answers within a week in order to proceed with this.
 
Following a protracted process, by this Monday (5 weeks later) we were still unable to obtain necessary or sufficient information for this external risk assessment to be completed. 
 
Not being able to complete this risk assessment because of a lack of sufficient information is not a question of bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake, but points to real gaps in crucial safety arrangements.
 

As of this Monday:

  • The organisers had not named a chief steward or a list of stewards, despite last week telling us they intended to recruit “around 200 stewards” and to train them a week before the demonstration (i.e. next week).
  • The organisers’ plan for the rally remained unclear – they told us they weren't sure if they would be using a temporary structure (which we understand would require a license), or a stone plinth which is in the new rally area.
  • No plans for the sound or PA system were made clear for the rally, or indication of any relevant permissions obtained.
  • The organisers were yet to confirm their arrangements with St John’s Ambulance or an alternative for the provision of first aid/medical support.
  • The lost child policy provided to us by the organisers was not adequate to protect young people at the demonstration, and did not even include such basic measures  as informing the police immediately of any missing child (rather than after a proposed 30 minutes, by which time a child could be miles away) and suggesting information about missing children should be broadcast over radios, which runs contrary to good practice. 
  • There was no public liability insurance in place - this is not a legal requirement but something which NUS would see as reasonable, and which we feel it is important that students’ unions and student are aware of when making their decisions.

 
Meanwhile, further significant concerns have been raised by and discussed with NUS UK Liberation officers about accessibility, safe space and the ability for Liberation groups to be involved.
 
As NUS UK officers we have therefore made it clear in our statement that:

  • The plans that are in place do not give us confidence that the demonstration will be accessible to all students – in particular disabled students.
  • It is clear that the concerns of the NUS UK Liberation officers about accessibility, safe space and the ability for Liberation groups to be involved have not been met.
  • We have commissioned and paid for, the best risk assessment possible based on incomplete information that we were given by organisers, and it is clear that there are inadequate measures in place to mitigate against significant risks in line with our advice posing an unacceptable level of risk.
  • We do not believe there is sufficient time between now and the demonstration for these risks to be mitigated.

It is in light of these concerns and with only two weeks until the planned demonstration, we have indicated that this is the minimum period of time that we could allow for students’ unions to review the situation for themselves and to make informed decisions about whether to participate.
 
Of course it is ultimately for unions to decide whether or not to take part in this demonstration, in line with their own duty of care to members. 

Nevertheless, it is important to set out NUS UK’s organisational position very clearly, as determined and articulated by our elected political leadership. As NUS UK full-time officers, we have taken the view that the demonstration presents an unacceptable level of risk, is not accessible and does not meet the minimum expectations our members would expect for an action that carries NUS support.
 
If you have further questions or require any further information about the risk control measures in place for the Wednesday 19 November demonstration, or the accessibility and liability arrangements, we suggest you take them up directly with the demonstration’s organisers.
 
As the NUS UK full time officers have made clear, NUS has policy to support free education, and we will continue to lobby and campaign for this, but we are clear that no action that we take should be put above the ability for all our members to be safe.

Toni Pearce.

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