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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, 24 November 2011

Next week the Chancellor will stand at the despatch box and deliver his autumn statement: a kind of mini-budget. What should it say?
The context will be a difficult one: the euro zone crisis is clearly hitting our own economy and 2012 looks like being a very tough year.
If as a result we slide back into recession or just stand still, it is likely that unemployment will climb and with it the welfare bill. At the same time tax revenues would fall and we would start to fall behind in trying to reduce the deficit – i.e. the gap between what government spends and what it gets in, which all has to be borrowed, and is £140 billion this year. Some will argue that we have to borrow more to spend more in trying to kick start the economy, but higher borrowing would send immediate jitters to the market and the cost of UK government borrowing would increase (as it has in other European countries) which would mean us spending more on interest payments and setting of a vicious spiral.

So what would you do? The focus has to be on helping the private sector expand. The only thing that can help us balance the books is if the 3 million plus small and medium size businesses all start to do better and take on more employees which would increase tax revenues and reduce welfare payments. I hope the Chancellor will announce a number of ways to make it easier for companies to hire new employees and reduce the cost and bureaucracy surrounding employment. This is what firms I speak to are crying out for.

But there is a problem. Employers tell me constantly that too many of our own young people do not want to work, so if we expand the private sector many of the jobs will go to enthusiastic young people from Eastern Europe who have not (yet) been blighted by the welfare dependency disease that affects some of our own ( a small but rising minority). So the economy would expand, but the welfare bill would remain the same. This will not do. We urgently need to speed up government reforms to the benefit system to incentivise all those currently claiming benefits to do their best to work.

Most young people are keen to work and as always it is the minority spoiling things for the majority. It is time for radical change.

posted by Gary @ 09:24  



Friday, 18 November 2011


The wind blew and the rain lashed down. Several people were forcibly moved backwards by the force of the wind whipping in from the Hoe foreshore. By the end of the service there was a 4 inch stream of water sweeping over the feet of the gathered dignitaries, causing us to step rather clumsily back onto the higher ground. Umbrellas were useless against the elements. We were drenched to the skin.

And it was all worth it. It was the home coming service on the Hoe for 3 Commando Brigade on Plymouth Hoe on Friday followed by their march through Plymouth to cheers of support from thousands of local people. It was poignant, appropriate and brilliant. Speaking to some of the young Royal Marines afterwards, they greatly appreciated and had been moved by the raucous support of local people. The remembrance service on Sunday took place in relative balmy weather by comparison.

In the time since I started doing this job there has been a sea change in the public reaction to our armed forces. I am not sure what kicked started this into life but it is to be greatly welcomed. People now seem to be able to distinguish between the political aims of a war, which they may not support, and the courage and skill of dedicated professionals carrying out the tasks they have been allotted.

Most of us recognise that war is a terrible, pointless, catastrophic thing. Sadly it has always been part of human history, and there is no reason to suppose this will change. We were all urged over the weekend to become peace-makers, and although much of this work is positive: building democracy, skilful diplomacy and bringing down barriers, we also know that sometimes that means standing up to a bully or resisting an aggressor. Looking out over this coming century, there is little to suggest there will not be more examples of where national leaders, in the final resort, will be calling upon armed forces to defend our freedoms once again.

Ours is a proud military area and this is not likely to change. The Royal Marines are being increasingly gathered in the West Country and Devonport Naval Base looks set to remain the home of our amphibious fleet. It is therefore vital that we retain our foundation of support and respect for these fine young men and women. If this weekend is anything to go by, that spirit will endure.

posted by Gary @ 09:31  



Monday, 14 November 2011

Predicting the future is a mug's game, but I am going to have a go. I predict that last week's deal to save the euro will not work and that within a few months this crisis will be dominating our headlines again.
We still do not have the detail of the deal thrashed out by our Brussels overlords last week, and the devil is always in the detail. Secondly any settlement that is dependent on the governments of Italy and Greece getting their deficits under control is surely doomed to failure. As we know from our own UK experience, deficit reduction is very hard work for governments and painful for electors. People get used to one level of government spending and understandably resent less being spent on their pensions and public services. I have no confidence that the fragile governments of those countries will be able to see this enterprise through. Finally, any agreement that depends on China coughing up substantial sums of money to support the ailing west is pure fantasy. They have their long term plan to be the world's economic powerhouse and they are sticking with it.
So what will this mean? Prediction two: Led by France and Germany, some of the euro-zone countries will push for much greater integration to make the euro work (possibly cutting out the weaker brethren) and the EU will of necessity become a two tier EU. To which I say good! This will afford the UK an opportunity to lead the outer (non-euro) zone and shape it much more into a single market with powers being returned to member states, thus abandoning the "ever closer union" project much loved of Brussels bureaucrats but unwelcomed by the people. So the EU is likely to change shape over the next few years. At that time, when events have taken their course, we should have a referendum to approve or reject the new relationship.
I voted for the referendum in the heady debate in the Commons last week for two reasons. First I wanted to send a strong signal to party leaders that the status quo on the EU will no longer suffice and the time was right for the British people to have their say. Second, I knew from the overwhelming reaction from you, that this was your clear preference. The vote was lost, but from what I set out above, please do not despair. The times they are a-changing.

posted by Gary @ 08:12  



Friday, 11 November 2011

I had an e-mail this week from a teacher assuring me that even if her union vote for strike action in opposition to the government's proposed pension changes, she would not be going on strike, as she had no wish to harm children. I hope that all teachers will follow her example. I completely understand the nervousness about pension reform, but strike action will hardly help.
I do not think the penny has dropped in some minds yet that things have changed. European and North American economies are in trouble; long-term structural trouble. The old expectations and patterns no longer apply. At best, our economy in the UK will grow at a snail's pace over the next 5 years and allow us to maintain current levels of spending. If things go badly, and we fall back into recession, in part due to turbulence in the euro-zone, we may have to make more drastic cuts. These are the new realities, whoever is in power. The day of reckoning has arrived.
The government is not reshaping public sector pensions just for the sheer hell of it, but because there is no alternative. We all know that people are living so much longer and that public finances are in a dire state. The coalition is trying to introduce changes that will solve the financial black hole in the fairest possible way, especially to those who are most vulnerable. Negotiations are still ongoing between ministers and union officials so the threat of strike action seems premature and ill-judged.
I welcome the recent announcement by ministers that nobody within ten years of retirement age will be affected by proposed changes. We all have our retirement plans, scribbled on the back of an envelope in my case, and we must give people as much time as possible to adjust.
Even after we conclude these long term changes, index-linked public sector pensions are still much more generous than their private sector equivalents.  No doubt there are a few captains of industry who retire on fat nest eggs, but most people in the private sector have seen their potential standard of living in retirement plummet along with the Stock Market in the past 5 years.
These tough choices should have been taken years ago and are now urgent. It is never easy making unpopular decisions but the consequences of avoiding them is simply to make things worse in the long run. Just ask the Greeks.

posted by Gary @ 10:42