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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, 22 September 2011

When I had a proper job I was a solicitor, and even in those days there were plenty of jokes around about ambulance chasing lawyers. But in the last 20 years we have spawned a huge compensation culture in this country, largely on the back of no win no fee arrangements.
We have all seen the TV adverts: have you had a fall, did you trip over a pavement, have you had an accident that wasn't your fault – just call this number and our expert legal team will win you millions in compensation. As a result we have witnessed a huge upsurge in compensation claims costing an absolute fortune to our health service, local councils and all public bodies. But who pays in the end? We do; the tax payer of course. No public body has money of its own; it all ultimately comes from us the public.
Many claims are spurious, but are settled out of court because the cost of fighting a case all the way can be prohibitive. On a no win no fee basis, the claimant has nothing to lose, so why not claim? And it is not just public bodies; many businesses are hamstrung by a steady stream of vexatious tribunal cases brought by aggrieved former employees.
The government is trying to tackle this problem. We are ending the way in which lawyers can force the defending side to settle their fees on top of any compensation. In future their fees will come out of the compensation. Nobody wants to raise obstacles in front of genuine claims where the defendant has been negligent and the plaintiff has suffered genuine loss. Our justice system exists to put right genuine wrongs. But we have drifted a long way from that.
The mess this has made of our legal system is only part of the problem: the real impact of this compensation culture is on public attitudes. There seems to be no longer such a thing as a genuine accident. I stub my toe and the cry goes up: somebody must pay, somebody must be to blame, I know my rights.
Add our national obsession with compensation to our pathological risk aversion and welfare dependency and we have an ugly list of attitudes that have got to change if we are to restore our twisted society. It may be that the cold blast of inescapable austerity will help usher in a more common sense approach.

posted by Gary @ 19:00  



Thursday, 15 September 2011

So farewell then South West Devon, we wish you well. The Boundary Commission has produced its draft revision of Parliamentary Constituencies consigning that name to history. I had half expected a radical shake-up, but the severity of the outcome has surprised even me.
The existing seat that I am so proud to represent has been carved into three: Plympton going one way, Plymstock another and Ivybridge a third. Naturally, I am disappointed by these proposals as I love the current constituency, but I also think there are sound reasons to challenge this dog's dinner of a proposal.
First, Plympton and a chunk of Crownhill are set to be linked not just with Tavistock but also Okehampton and many rural villages in deepest, darkest mid-Devon! It is hard to see the community of interest between suburban Plymouth and rural communities so far away. I currently represent rural areas between here and Bigbury, but they tend to gravitate naturally towards Plymouth. I doubt very much if the same could be said of the people of Okehampton and those places north of the A30. This might be sufficient ground to challenge this draft.
40% of my existing seat goes into the proposed Tavistock and Plympton seat.
Secondly, Plymstock is due to go back into a reshaped Plymouth Sutton from whence it came in 1997. That makes some sense, but with it goes one rural ward: Brixton and Wembury. This new seat is highly urban, including St. Peter's Ward, the waterfront and much of the city centre. It seems odd to stitch these rural wards onto it. I can imagine the people of those communities feeling very uneasy about being so unequally yoked.
Finally, Ivybridge and the villages to the east move in with Totnes. This makes more sense although I hate the thought of losing the chance to represent that vibrant community.
All of this is out for public consultation and it is important that you have your say if you feel strongly about any aspect of it. Please remember, this is not about the current crop of politicians, who come and go. This is about whether or not or our Parliamentary constituencies are based on communities that are coherent.
None of this will take effect until 2013 when Parliament will vote on it all. The proposals may be revised in the meantime. There could be a general election before then. Plenty of water to flow under this bridge yet.

posted by Gary @ 18:17  



Thursday, 8 September 2011

Back to Westminster this week with a vengeance. Votes on reforms to the NHS have been controversial and heated.
The divide is between those who think that the old model of a monolithic, centrally controlled organisation providing all the health services all of the time is the right one for the twenty first century, given the way we are all living so much longer and the spiralling costs of new technology; and those who support a more progressive service, still state owned and free at the point of use, offering healthcare carried out partly by private sector suppliers, involving a degree of competition to push up standards and drive down costs. I cannot see the former surviving much longer and have voted for the latter.
This summer has helped shaped the political agenda for the foreseeable future. Very slow growth will place the deficit reduction programme under the spotlight again. There will be many who will call for government spending to be increased to get the economy moving again, but every extra pound spent will have to be borrowed, which will be a further noose around the necks of future generations.  We must find other ways of stimulating private sector growth as we get those mind blowing debts under control.
The challenges facing debt-stricken countries in the Euro zone have not gone away, just because it all seems to be happening in slow motion. To make the Euro zone work there needs to be closer political integration for those countries involved. We were obviously right to steer clear of the single currency. The current turbulence might offer a chance for us to renegotiate our relationship within the EU to a trading one only. If so, we should grab that chance with both hands.
The riots have placed Broken Britain under the spotlight once more. As you know I have long advocated early and robust intervention into the chaotic households that produce such feral children and cause the rest of us so much grief, as well as creating insecure and under-achieving individuals, each case a tragedy of what might have been. Finding practical interventions will be a challenge for the next session of Parliament.
It feels like governing with one hand tied behind your back, with coalition partners balking at every tough move we want to make on law and order, human rights, immigration and public sector reform. Which is why I say this cannot last another four years.

posted by Gary @ 13:09  



Thursday, 1 September 2011

I reckon Charles Dickens in David Copperfield had it right: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."
This applies as much to governments as it does to individual households. We have had so many years of spending more than our income and borrowing the shortfall that the miserable day of reckoning has arrived. Which is why we sadly cannot keep Plymouth airport open through public subsidy.
I wish we could. I hate the thought of Plymouth without an airport. I still have fingers crossed that a private carrier might step forward even at this eleventh hour to try and make a fist of running commercial flights from Roborough airport. But it is becoming a forlorn hope.
I accept the recent decision by Plymouth Council to mothball the airport once Sutton Harbour ceases operations this autumn. The only alternative would be to subsidise the company to maintain flights, but this would cost millions every years and there is no pot of gold available to do so either at national or local level. There will still be aviation activity at the airport including the flying school and Flag Officer Sea Training.
Recent independent studies have demonstrated that the airport was of diminishing economic value to Plymouth and its hinterland. Once the ill-judged decision was taken many years ago to discontinue flying into Heathrow, many local businesses switched to the train rather than flight. Once Gatwick was dropped a further chunk of business fell away. Recent flight patterns had more to do with enabling early retirees to fly to Edinburgh to see their children than it did keeping the wheels of industry turning.
But this does not mean Plymouth does not have a flourishing future, because it does. The dockyard is buzzing, the naval base is secure, the university is flying and many of our manufacturing companies are bustling, thanks to the low exchange rate. Superfast broadband is on its way, the Life Centre will soon be open, and plans are well advanced to capitalise on our unique maritime assets in developing the far south west as the hub for the wave-power industry, which has massive potential.
We need to improve our connectivity with more three hour trains to London and the lobby for this is already under way.
No more living beyond our means. Mr Micawber would surely have approved.

posted by Gary @ 12:09