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Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Being a mere man I drive around with my eyes closed (I prefer to think I am grappling with global issues), but when Jan is with me she constantly points out how much litter there is by the side of the road. Have a look for yourself today. Whether along the Parkway, the A38 or the A379 our verges are full of rubbish. Given that this area is a centre for tourism, this is an appalling state of affairs. Given what we all pay in council tax, it is also unacceptable for locals.
As council budgets get increasingly under pressure we cannot expect them to pour more money into this problem and clean up our roads (or pick up the grass once they have cut it, another pet hate). Yet it seems to me that there is a solution.
Our prisons are bursting at the seams. Re-offending rates in the UK are some of the highest in Europe but for people serving less than six months they go through the roof. Recent surveys suggest that this is because first time offenders serving just a few months receive a sufficient taste of criminality to be hardened by it, but there is inadequate time for the authorities to rehabilitate them. So these young men (usually) come out better criminals. Short custodial sentences may be more trouble than they are worth.
There are two options: lock people away for longer so that there is a chance to get them back on the straight and narrow, or to take a fresh look at robust non-custodial sentences.
I have not gone soft in my old age, but for certain non-violent crimes we may have to beef up our community service programmes. Too often these are badly organised and may not seem like punishment, with little come back if offenders do not show up. This is unacceptable. But if we could marshal our forces better, offenders could be set to work on tasks that do not seem to get done anymore: like picking up roadside litter and council-cut grass. It would surely constitute a proper punishment to have to don a bright yellow tabard and turn up on time to work for eight hours picking up rubbish in a gang of fellow convicts, day after day. It may even instil much needed discipline into the lives of the wrongdoer and they would not be competing with people trying to make an honest living.

posted by Gary @ 09:34  



Thursday, 18 February 2010

The shots of the stunning walkway surrounded by crystal clear blue water on which Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep sang "the winner takes it all" in Mamma Mia will have given tourism in Greece a real boost. It must seem a long time ago to them now as their public finances spiral out of control.
What lessons can we learn from their plight?
First, if we don't get our own debt under control we will end up in the same position. Once the international credit rating agencies downgrade your credit status, you are on a long a long road to financial disaster, with interest rates going up and an inability to fund your deficit. Sovereign debt (a country going bust) is not impossible. So we must take decisive action now if we are to avoid the horrendous scenario that is unravelling in Athens.
Second, for all the talk of solidarity, in the end the EU is still a collection of nation states. Even the euro zone countries have not put their hands in their pockets to bale Greece out, nor are they likely to do so. Greece has been unwilling to take the tough decisions that other countries have taken. You can still retire at 60 in Greece and get a full pension. Why would tax payers who have to work till nearly 70 in other countries want to support them if our Hellenic friends won't bite the bullet? In the end politicians are elected and can be removed by their own electorates and this is the reassuring reality of democracy beyond which governments find it hard to stray. 
Third, it is easy to be generous with other people's money during times of plenty. Times of hardship drag you back to first principles. Governments cannot forever spend what they have not got. The public sector workers who marched through Greek cities last week had a point: they did not cause the crisis and should not alone have to pay for it. But in the end, we all caused this crisis by signing up to a decade of borrowing and spending too much. Whether it is fair or not, we all now have to accept the consequences of rebalancing our public finances.
As we approach the election, it is important that all parties are honest with the electorate. Whoever wins, there will be cuts. The Greeks have woken up too late to their nightmare. We have been warned.

posted by Gary @ 09:05  



Friday, 12 February 2010

It will soon be time to write to Devon County Council objecting to the proposed Energy from Waste plant (commonly known as an incinerator) at New England Quarry just off the A38. The planning application has been submitted and the council is about to go out to consultation on it.
There are several reasons for opposing this.
First of all, the proposed 300 extra lorry movements a day through the village of Lee Mill is unacceptable to local residents and those of us who represent them. Viridor promised to find a solution to this problem, but have failed to do so.
Second, the incinerator will be a major blot on the landscape and visible from far and wide. The eastern approach to Plymouth which already boasts the Langage Power station would start to resemble the outskirts of Birmingham, not the ancient rolling hills of south Devon.
Third, there is a possible impact on the quality of our air. Living between the moor and the sea, local residents should expect air of the highest quality. Emissions from an incinerator, especially when combined with output from the power station can hardly improve that.
Fourth, there is the likely impact of this proposal on the river Yealm which runs alongside the site, and other environmental considerations.
We have recently formed a cross-party taskforce which I chair, engaging local expertise and parish councils to examine the proposals and seek to make representations. We will be in touch shortly recommending the arguments that might be made to stop this planning application.
Some will argue that we do not need an incinerator anywhere in Devon. I find these arguments increasingly attractive, but am still prepared to give the local councils the benefit of the doubt at this stage. There is probably a limit of about 60% on what we can recycle. In Plymouth we are nowhere near that, although the South Hams at over 50% is more promising. What do we do with the residue of waste now that Chelson Meadow is full and landfill so expensive?
But a rural location is not the place for it. The whole point of EFW is that the heat that is produced from it can be used for other purposes. The heat generated from New England Quarry might be helpful for keeping the badgers warm during the winter, but it is surely too far from civilisation to be of real benefit.
We will be in touch!

posted by Gary @ 09:14  



Saturday, 6 February 2010

Like the car, the internet is a wonderful invention. But also like the car which kills 3500 people a year on our roads, the internet and mobile phone technology, have the capacity to damage us.
I have been in discussions recently with clever people at the University of Plymouth who have been conducting studies on the pitfalls of how some young people are using these modern technologies.
Have you ever heard of sexting? This is where a teenager takes a lurid picture of her self with the camera on her mobile phone and sends it by text to the boy friend. A strange thing to do, we might think, but 40% of young people recently surveyed know somebody who has done it. The real problem arises when the young couple separate and the bloke decides it is a good idea to send the explicit picture to all of his mates or post it on face book. A brave new world.
How many of you know that many game consoles have access to the internet? This means that your child or grandchild can be up in their bedroom ostensibly playing an action game on the DSi Nintendo but in fact surfing the World Wide Web and enjoying all of its delights without any supervision.
This must be one of the first times in history where a technology has been better understood and mastered by minors rather than adults. But herein lays the rub. They may be more skilled at using these modern miracles – but they are still children and prone to make the same errors of judgements that young people have always made. Here is a three pronged survival kit for adults:
1.    Parents and grandparents have to better understand – not how the stuff works, that is impossible – but what it is capable of doing. We cannot leave this all to the schools.
2.    We need to talk and listen to our children constantly about how they are using these systems and discussing how they can do so safely.
3.    We need to encourage them to think before they click. An image once sent online can never be deleted – it may come back to haunt you later on.
We cannot un-invent this technology, nor should we ban our offspring from using it as we have not banned the car. But we should set limits, maintain a dialogue and remember they are still children. What do you think?

posted by Gary @ 13:25