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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, 30 September 2010

The school term starts in September, the financial year in April, but the political year always starts in October. We get back (properly) after the long recess and the party conference season and it is then eyes down, chocks away until the following summer with a steady diet of bills and government activity. Never more so than this October with massive decisions just around the corner, both nationally and locally.
Nationally, the coming month will usher in the Comprehensive Spending Review statement which will shape where the cuts in public spending are actually coming from not just for the next 12 months, but for the next 3 years. Believe it or not, your government is still having to borrow £450 million - new borrowings - every day! We cannot go on. The Parliamentary schedule is only just getting into its stride with a sack load of new legislation to come (some of which I support, some not).  The Labour Party has a new leader and soon a new shadow cabinet will be in place. These crew changes always bring new energy to our Westminster proceedings. So the run up to Christmas will be both gruelling and exciting, not to mention critical to our nation's fortunes.
Locally, the new season will contain many challenges, none greater than the expected October announcement of the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review. Our regional economy is heavily reliant on defence spending, and this long awaited statement is unlikely to bring us any good news. We know that the Army, Air Force and Navy have been locked in a royal battle all summer as to which if these services will bear the brunt of the pain, and informed speculation suggest that the Army has prevailed. Although the future of the dockyard is secure, we do not know what this will mean for the Naval Base. Fewer ships to base-port can only hasten the day a government announces the closure of one of its south coast bases. Whether that will be this time, or whether  Devonport or Portsmouth will ultimately prevail, is unknown. This autumn will be largely devoted to efforts to squeeze the best possible result out of government for our region, whatever the outcome of this review.
Other big decisions lurk below the surface, such as the preferred location of the controversial local incinerator.
I calculate that there are 86 days until Christmas. It promises to be anything but dull.

posted by Gary @ 09:45  



Thursday, 23 September 2010

Next May why don't you stand for the council? Yes, you. In Plymouth and the South Hams there will be elections for seats throughout this constituency. All parties will start to select candidates in those seats where there are vacancies from October onwards. No party has a long queue of quality candidates pressing to take on these responsibilities. Why not get stuck in and offer yourself?
I am perfectly serious.  You don't yet need to know much about politics, or even currently be a member of a party, you just need energy and ability and a desire to serve your community. When David Cameron called for people from a non-political background to become MPs two years or so ago, hundreds responded. Some of them are now MPs, one of them in the next door seat! She is a breath of fresh air. The same applies at local council level – we are on the lookout for fresh talent.
The new government is very serious about devolving more power to councils. The job of a councillor is already very worthwhile, and with added responsibility this job satisfaction will only increase.  I realise that some people are put off by the party political nature of some of the debates, but most of the discussions and decisions are not like that, they are just about good people trying hard to do the best for their community. In the same way as Prime Minister's Question Time does not accurately reflect the sober and solution seeking nature of most of our debates at Westminster.
I realise you may not have time.   Employers are obliged by law to make some time available, but there is no hiding the fact that early retired people seem to be in the optimum position to serve as councillors – plenty of experience, but still bags of energy.
If you are interested how should you proceed? Contact the party that best fits in with your outlook on life – remembering that there is no such thing as a perfect party.  Express an interest in standing for your local council for your ward and find out if there are any vacancies. You may have to work your passage, but that can be fun and a useful learning curve. You might be pleasantly surprised how quickly it could all happen.
Above all don't leave it to all the others – they will only make a mess of it. If I can help, contact me.

posted by Gary @ 09:17  



Friday, 17 September 2010

Every child should join the Air Training Corps, or the Sea and Army equivalents. I opened the new (and wonderful) ATC hut (mansion) in Plymstock on Friday night and was most impressed. The young people on display were interesting, polite, disciplined and obviously loving every second of it. They told me about some of their adventures on camps and glider flights and yomping across Dartmoor. They acquired vital skills like first aid and tested their wits on a realistic flight simulator. They were all having fun, but they were learning order and commitment. Character was being formed before my very eyes.  Listening to parents during the evening, they could not speak highly enough of the beneficial impact on their young people. I loved the simple pledges I heard new recruits give: to love their country and Queen, be good citizens, obey their officers – it was very heartening. I take my hat off to the adults who give so much time to make this work.
Of course, the scouts, girl guides, boy's brigades and other uniformed organisations are similar. They incorporate a sense of teamwork and discipline, adventure and fun, yet in a way that teaches precious character skills at the same time. Some people may think that these values are old-fashioned. Nothing could be further from the truth. In an age where many young people download their values from the Internet, it is a timely reminder that the modern way is an aberration, hopefully a temporary one, not some great new Nirvana.
Which is why I started by saying every child should join. It wouldn't work of course because actually wanting to be there and part of this group is partly why it is so successful. To have an influx of those who would rather be elsewhere would ruin it for everyone.
We have always had an underclass in this country. We still do. But we also have a cohort of impressive young people in whose hands our future is safe.
The tragedy is that more children do not participate in these models of excellence, partly because of the lack of adults being prepared to lead. We are all busy, but is there a higher priority than investing in the next generation in a positive way, especially when they are under threat from so many competing, and often harmful, attractions?
I know that these organisations would love to hear from new adults who can give some time.

posted by Gary @ 10:42  



Thursday, 9 September 2010

This week I took part in a BBC inspired panel session discussing the forthcoming spending cuts – a handful of you may have watched it. It was useful and enjoyable but what struck me most was just how polarised our society still is, depending on where you are standing. For some people the private sector is still a wholly negative thing. For others the public sector is always inefficient and overmanned. This conflict is unhelpful.
Off camera at the end, one panel member accosted the most successful business man present saying: if business people paid all their taxes we would not have to have so many cuts.  "My company paid £70 million in tax last year – is that enough for you?"came the reply.
The accuser was a kindly person who has worked in the public sector all of his life, never employed anyone, never created wealth, now living on a public sector pension.  The businessman (who I thought was the star of the show) was a person who left school with nothing and now runs one of the biggest businesses in the West Country and employs thousands of people. He has created wealth. His company profits generate the taxes that pay his accuser's pension. Yet the divide was a yawning chasm.
It is time we moved on from this sterile debate. Governments do not create wealth. They spend money that other people create. People who start businesses which employ others are the ones who generate the taxes that employ every single person employed in the public sector, who in turn pay their taxes of course. If there was no private sector the government would not have a penny piece. Every single pound we pay on benefits comes ultimately from funds generated by the private sector.
Equally, we need the public sector to help organise our affairs and help us create a fair and coherent society, including caring for the most vulnerable. We need both. If we are to survive the next tough few years we have to pull together.
Whether or not we head back into recession depends on many things. True, the extent of public sector spending cuts is part of that picture. But whether the US economy grows or contracts is even more important. Whether the euro-zone economies recover or fade is absolutely crucial. I agree with the comment during the panel that our economy is on a knife edge and could go either way.

posted by Gary @ 08:43  



Thursday, 2 September 2010

Next Monday at Westminster we will be debating a bill that will introduce a referendum next year on a change to the voting  system. I am not going to support it.
The new system, it adopted, will change the way we vote. Instead of placing a cross against one name and the person with the most votes being elected in each seat (first past the post) voters will be asked to express a preference and mark each candidate with a 1,2 or 3 etc (Alternative Voting System).  If once the first votes are counted no candidate has over 50% the last candidate's second preferences are allocated to the remaining candidates and so on until one reaches 50%. A small change you might think, but it will have important consequences. One of them is that we might never have a single party government again.
For those of you still awake, I would like to set out my reasons for opposing this bill. First, in 18 years of doing this job not one of you has ever suggested to me that you wish to see this change made. Not one. Since the election, once this bill became a feature of the Coalition Agreement, I have had 9 e-mails about it, 7 urging me to support it, 2 against. There are 70,000 of you. This is not a priority.
Second, the referendum will cost between £80 and £100 million, at a time when we are slashing public spending.  Free swimming for pensioners and under fives costs £48 million a year. I would rather we continued that than proceeded with this unwanted referendum.
Third it was not in my party's manifesto, nor mine. If it had been I would have consdiered myself honour bound to vote for it. I realise that it is part of the Coalition Agreement, much of which is excellent – but I do not consider myself bound by every detail.
Finally I have always been in favour of first past the post. In AV people who support the smaller parties effectively get a second vote, whereas those who support the two most popular candidates in each seat effectively do not. How fair is that?
Our coalition partners are keen on this because it is reckoned to give them another 25 seats. I think the current coaltion is doing well in difficult circumstances but I do not want to saddle Britain with always having a coaltion government, like Italy.

posted by Gary @ 12:24