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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, 26 May 2011

On Saturday I popped in on the celebrations of a constituent who had reached the ripe old age of 100. I expected to find her semi-comatose in a wheelchair. Not a bit of it. She was as sprightly as a 70 year old, walking around greeting her guests, engaging in conversation on many subjects, enjoying her special day.

It is still a remarkable milestone to live to be 100, but experts have recently told us that over 50% of babies now being born will be centurions. When the current system of old age pensions was introduced after the Second World War, average life expectancy was 65 for a man and 70 for a woman. (Why do woman live longer?) That is why retirement ages of 60-65 were then reasonable. Now life expectancy is an impressive 78 and 82, which means that the pension budget has to fund 12 years extra per person on average.

The Pensions Bill about to come to the House of Commons will increase the retirement age for women between now and 2017 to 65. Between 2017 and 2020 this will rise to 66 for both men and women.

This looming crisis should have been tackled years ago, because the demographic trends have been apparent for many years. No government likes to pick fights with its own electorate, so these obviously unpopular decisions were shelved by the previous government. Now that our coffers are bare, we no longer have that luxury.

I broadly support this reform because we have no real choice. But one aspect of this concerns me. I am starting to get post from female constituents born around 1953 for whom the changes mean a loss of not one year's pension income, but in many cases, two. Given that retirement for them is just around the corner, this is a very harsh proposal. When the bill comes to the Commons I intend to be among those seeking to persuade the government to soften this blow. I will have to declare an interest, because Jan is included in this category!

The message has to go out loud and clear to younger citizens that because we are all living longer, we will have to work longer before we get into our pension entitlements. All western countries are facing the same challenge. But the changes must give people enough time to plan to manage their finances for their hopefully long retirement. Anything else would be unfair.

posted by Gary @ 17:49  



Thursday, 19 May 2011

When a loved one is ill, we all want the same thing: access to free, professional care that will make them better. We often say that nothing is as important as our health but we only really mean it when illness or accident strikes. It is then that we all need the best possible National Health Service.  Over the years my family have come to rely on the local NHS like most of my 70,000 constituents.
Since 1948 demand for health services has risen by 4% per annum in the UK, and of course with people living ever longer this annual demand is still increasing. The challenge for government is to design a framework for the delivery of this care that is the most effective possible and that can cope with anticipated future demands.  Nothing in our country has stood still in the past 60 years, so why should the much-loved NHS. The argument is not about whether it needs to change, but how best to change it. I get letters and e-mails each month where treatment has gone wrong, but I also get plenty of correspondence praising the excellent service that we get locally.
I broadly support the changes included in the Health and Social Care Bill. This provides for all hospitals to become foundation hospitals, a reform started by the last government. This gives more authority to the people on the ground rather than Whitehall. The Bill increases competition in the NHS. There is already competition and this has the effect of giving more choice and driving up standards. The Bill, controversially, scraps Primary Care Trusts and gives the decision on commissioning (i.e. what health services to buy in for that area.) to GPs. I also support this because decisions on medical priorities should be taken by doctors and nurses and not bureaucrats.
The recent decision by the Prime Minister to put these reforms on hold while we take stock of people's objections was nonetheless wise. This is our NHS, a cherished institution, and the pause is welcome.  Once decisions are finalised, it is important that we better inform people of the reasons for change, and take the majority with us.
We do not want to reform the NHS because we do not care for it, but because we value it so much. If we do not put in place modern and effective structures it may not be there for us when we need it.

posted by Gary @ 11:48  



Friday, 13 May 2011

Get ready for a general election in 2013, 2 years earlier than expected. This is my verdict on the events of the past few days and their likely impact on the coalition government which is supposed to run 5 years.
It is still very much in the national interest for the coalition to continue. We have to get to grips with our devastating deficit of £140 billion a year and to get the economy moving strongly again. This is clearly work in progress and at least one more year, probably two, will be required to do this. We also have to see vital reforms to public services embedded.
But the reality is that after the outcome of last week's local elections and referendum on AV the cracks in the coalition are in danger of becoming chasms. Understandably the ordinary Lib Dem member is wondering how further electoral disasters can be avoided. There is now a major operation underway at the highest levels of government to smooth over the cracks, and this will be successful in the short term. But major obstacles lie ahead, not least House of Lords reform about which Liberal Democrats are enthusiastic and we are at best luke warm (if it ain't broke don't fix it), real differences over the Human Rights Act, our attitude to Europe plus more elections next year which are likely to be equally tricky for our coalition partners.
The Deputy Prime Minister is understandably demanding more concessions to demonstrate the alleged difference that they are making in government. The mood of the Conservative Parliamentary party is resolutely against more concessions.
The picture is further complicated because all constituency boundaries are about to be reviewed to equalise the votes between larger seats in the south and smaller seats in northern towns where electorates of 55,000 are not uncommon. This process is likely to remove the inbuilt bias against the Conservative party and deliver an extra 20 blue seats but will not be in place until 2014.
The first year of the coalition was always going to be the easiest and it may well be downhill from here on in. Every effort will be made from the top to keep the project on track, in the national interest, but given the hostile landscape, I find it inconceivable to think that it could last another four years.
Politics in this country has never been so fascinating, don't blink or you will miss it.

posted by Gary @ 08:05  



Thursday, 5 May 2011

On Friday William and Catherine were married and the nation rejoiced. In the early hours of Monday morning Osama Bin Laden was shot dead in his Pakistani hideaway. Both of these events will shape the world our children will live in.
I am an unashamed Royalist.  If you were starting from scratch to plan a constitution for a new country you would not select one special family as head of state and allow their heirs and successors to carry on the family business. But we are not starting from scratch, we have thousands of years of history and although not perfect, our constitutional settlement works very well and is the envy of many. About 26 million people (half the country) tuned into the royal wedding on TV and well over one million took to the streets of London in support. I have not met anybody yet who did not feel very proud to be British at the magnificent spectacle on display last week.
The character and qualities of William and Catherine will help secure the future of the royal family in this country for many decades to come. Governments will come and go, we will know good days and bad, but that security and stability that comes from a constitutional monarchy supported by 80% of us will help us to enjoy the precious freedoms that underpin British Society.
In the meantime, the evil man who planned the attacks on the twin towers on 11th September 2011 is now dead. I am sorry it took us so long to get him. This does not mean that Al Qaeda will evaporate, but it is a significant milestone along that road. Justice has been done. With the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa being driven by young people who want freedom democracy and jobs, who are inspired by what they see on offer for young people in the free west, I would like to think that the darkest days of Islamic Extremism lie behind us. 
It is vital that the US and UK, and other western countries, continue to exercise soft power skilfully. We must continue to invest in the developing world, financially and politically, to see good governance and rising living standards take root there, in order to capitalise on the more positive mood that Bin Laden's death will bring.
So then: stability at home and an opportunity for greater concord overseas. Not a bad weekend's work.

posted by Gary @ 11:14