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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, 16 December 2010

As predicted, our politics is dominated by the outworking of the big picture decision to get our public finances under control once more: to reduce the £155 billion of new money we have to borrow every year just to pay our bills. The reductions in spending are now being cascaded from the Treasury down to every government department, local council and publicly funded agency and we are beginning to see the consequences.
It is possible for people like me to support the big picture (yes, we must cut the deficit and avoid national bankruptcy) but argue the toss on every consequential decision (but you can't do that!) to save money at local level. We could cheer the big picture in the Commons but fight the direct results of that strategy on the ground at every twist and turn. I have no wish to indulge in such hypocritical politicking.
We can all begin to see the detail and of course we don't like it: police station front offices closing, tuition fees going up, coast guard reductions, health budgets under pressure, development agency axed, quangoes decimated. I don't like it either.  But where did we think the reductions were going to come from? It will almost always be something that we don't want to hear. £155 billion a year is a lot to find.
And there is some good news. Most councils have been able to see these reductions coming and have cut their cloth accordingly. I am now hopeful that we will not see many compulsory redundancies from our region's local authorities. Most of the slack can be taken up by "natural wastage" as people retire and their posts remain unfilled. This is not good news for the coming generation, not sustainable for more than two years perhaps, but at least means we do not suffer mass redundancies that could blast a hole in our economic recovery.
The truth is we have to tough this out. We must not lose sight of the big picture. If we take the tough decisions now, despite the pain and the protests, we can start to release the brake on public spending again in the future. If we do not eradicate this deficit by 2015 however, then we will find ourselves in a far worse state, as they are in Ireland and Greece.
This government will not be nice. It will be ruthless in pursuing the big picture: our economic salvation.

posted by Gary @ 09:19  



Thursday, 9 December 2010

When I went to King's College London in the 1970's about 10% of the young people went to university. These days, the number is about 45%. The last government had a target of 50% which the Coalition has scrapped. This dramatic increase in our student population mean that it is no longer possible to run the old grant system, i.e. for the tax payer to pay for it all. Tuition fees and a student loan system were introduced by the last government several years ago.
The argument is a simple one. Why should the majority of the population who do not go to university pay their taxes to enable a minority to get a degree so they can get a better paying job? Of course a doctor, lawyer or engineer will pay more in taxes on their higher incomes and their work is of national significance, but still they are the primary beneficiaries of their degree. Should a manual worker who leaves school at 16 help fund it?
In order to reduce the amount of tax payer's money currently being paid to the higher education sector, we propose to increase the tuition fees to £6000, or in exceptional circumstances £9000. This will ensure we still have world beating universities. But it is worth remembering:
1)    No student has to pay up front, the fees are paid by a government backed loan
2)    No student has to start to repay the loan for the fees until they earn £21000 a year
3)    Students from the poorest backgrounds will get additional help.
Even after the proposed changes we still have just about the most generous support system anywhere in the world.
It does mean that graduates leave with debts of £20,000+ which is far from ideal. But I know from my own two now adult children that they do not consider this a capital debt so much as a monthly payment which is deducted first from their salaries.
We should certainly not discourage bright kids from modest backgrounds from going to university. I believe that these new proposals will not do that. But if they encourage every young person to seriously consider whether higher education is right for them, and making an informed decision, that is no bad thing. At the moment perhaps too many are going to college to study obscure subjects that may not help them enter the world of employment as rapidly as they might wish.

posted by Gary @ 14:51  



Thursday, 2 December 2010

Hands up all those who know what the Big Society is. This is the big idea launched by David Cameron at the start of the general election campaign all those months ago. At the time, we wondered what he was on about. Now the skeleton of an idea has started to gain flesh and walk amongst us.
I chaired a meeting at Westminster last week in which this concept was discussed. The main speaker was Lord Wei who is tasked with turning a sketchy idea into policies which transforms our communities. There will be two pieces of legislation in the next 12 months which will attempt to do precisely that: the Localism Bill and the Public Services Bill. Our fog is about to be lifted.
The basic idea is that government is too big and the citizen too small, that too many decision are top down and not bottom up, and that this imbalance needs to be redressed. The government wants to empower communities to take more responsibility for their own lives upon themselves. This idea was first brainstormed in the bowels of the party long before the crushing deficit problems we fully understood, but fits in well with the new realities. As government retracts, as of necessity, communities will be given the opportunity to advance. There will be inducements in the two bills mentioned above to make all of this work.   Charities and community groups will all be empowered to step forward to help provide their local areas with the activities and services that local people decide they need. It is radical but the government is determined to make it work. There will be fresh resources available.
In our area we are well served by many voluntary groups which already put on events that are the life blood of the neighbourhood. The Big Society agenda should seek to build on that, not undermine it. Of course there are some things that only the state can do, but perhaps the line is currently not drawn in the right place. In the last fifty years we acquired the mindset: we have a problem, the government/council must fix it. Why? Why can't we, the local community, fix it?
One local group that needs no lessons from me about the big society is the Plympton Community Council which is holding its Christmas Fair on Saturday 4th December at 10 am at Harewood House, Plympton. Proceeds to charity. All are welcome.

posted by Gary @ 08:51