Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Victory For The Gurkhas, but City MPs get it wrong

It is disgraceful that Southampton MPs Alan Whitehead and John Denham backed Gordon Brown in trying to restrict the right of many former Gurkha soldiers to settle in the UK.

Last night’s vote was a humiliating defeat for the Government and it showed up the city’s Labour MPs for having extraordinary lack of judgement.

We owe a debt of honour to the Gurkhas for their service to this country. I am delighted that enough MPs made the right decision. I am just disappointed that locally our Southampton MPs got it wrong.

The shadow immigration minister Damian Green has said that a Conservative Government would give all Gurkhas and their immediate dependents the right to settle in the UK. I hope last night's vote will see a change in policy from the Government.

MPs voted by 267 to 246 for a Lib Dem motion offering all Gurkhas equal right of residence, with the Tories and 27 Labour rebels backing it. A list of how MPs voted can be found HERE.

Fame At Last - Portswood Councillor Vincenzo Capozzoli says why he became a Councillor

Monday, April 27, 2009

Blitz on Potholes

Tonight the new Conservative Council approved extra funds to tackle blight of potholes in the city's streets. An extra £300,000 is being allocated to tackle the affects of the winter weather which caused serious damage to Southampton's roads. This new money will mean that 4,500 extra pot holes will be filled. The money comes on top of the £800,000 increase to the council's roads budget announced in February.

The state of the roads is top concern for Southampton residents and we are working hard to do more to tackle the dreadful backlog of repairs. Year on year we are increasing investment despite the backdrop of chronic underfunding of council services by the Government. This winter saw a week of unusually bad freak weather and we are determined that we will not be knocked of course in our drive to fix the roads.

Labour's Spent

All Labour Governments eventually run out of money and last week this one proved that it was no different. The damage that Labour has done to the public finances is truly horrendous. They have saddled future generations with an unprecedented amount of debt; vastly more than in 1976 when Britain was forced to go cap in hand to the IMF and even more than in the aftermath of World War 2.

Gordon Brown once trumpeted that he abided by certain fiscal rules which included public debt not exceeding 40% of Gross Domestic Product. In fact he will end up with borrowing at a staggering 80% of GDP. To get back to his 40% figure may take up to 40 years! These crippling debts will have to be paid off not just by today’s generation but by our children as well, whose futures Gordon Brown has mortgaged.

In 2009 alone Gordon Brown says that he will borrow £175 billion. In last year’s budget he told us this figure would be only £38 billion. Independent analysts suggest that the true figure may exceed £200 billion.

The Government has a track record of getting its numbers wrong. Last year they said the economy would grow by 2.5%, now they say that it will shrink by 3.5%.

What is even more worrying is that the levels of planned government borrowing are based on some very optimistic assumptions about future economic growth. Gordon Brown says that the economy will grow by 1.25% in 2010 and 3.5% the following year. Considering how Labour got their sums so drastically wrong in the past and the fact that independent forecasters predict far worse figures for the future, we must surely worry at the actual amount of borrowing Labour will end up saddling the country with. The IMF predicts that the economy will shrink by over 4% this year and will shrink by nearly half a percent the following year.

Confidence in the economy will not come back unless the Government comes clean about the scale of the problem. It needs to set out a clear programme for showing how the debt will be repaid. Public spending restraint must be at the forefront of such a programme and the Government must prioritise. We cannot afford expensive and unnecessary schemes such as identity cards and we need to do away with the costly and unaccountable quangos that Gordon Brown has spawned. This would save billions.

The key failure in last week’s budget was the Government continuing to spin and deceive about the state of the public finances. No one believes the Government’s figures. This budget can be summed up in one word: Dishonest.

What Britain needs is some straight talking and honesty. I believe that this will only come with a change in government.

Friday, April 03, 2009

C'mon You Saints!

The city council is backing the C'Mon you Saints Campaign. The city has always worked closely with the club and is urging local people and fans to turn up in their thousands to support the Saints at tomorrow's home game against Charlton and help them storm to victory.

Free Swimming Launch!

Last Saturday I was pleased to attend the official launch of the under 16s free swimming scheme in Southampton at the Quays Swimming Pool. The scheme was recently approved after a deal was struck by the city council, the Primary Care Trust and local schools to meet the short fall in government funding.
From April 1st all young people aged 16 and under, as well as people aged 60 and over, will be able to use Bitterne Leisure Centre, Oaklands Pool and The Quays Swimming and Diving Complex for free during public sessions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

U-Turn On Business Rates

The Chancellor last night performed a last minute U-Turn on Government plans to hike up business rates by an inflation busting 5%. Business rates will now only go up 2% with the remainder of the increase deferred until after the general election.

I welcome the move and I know it will be a huge relief to struggling businesses in Southampton.

Businesses, local councils and the Conservative party too have been pressing the Government to rethink for a long time. So we all welcome the change of heart.

However it is frankly amazing the decision was made the night before the new rate hike was due to take affect.

It is a sign of a totally disjointed Government that is in absolute chaos. All the bills have gone out from the local authority and the Government is now rushing through regulations which they hope to have in place in July. This was a last minute panic from a Government that has finally bowed to common sense not part of a well thought out strategy.

Administratively it will cause local authorities like Southampton huge problems but we will get through all that as the important thing here is that are supporting local businesses who we know are struggling.

There is a remarkable similarity between this and the recent
U-Turn on Council rents.

Exactly the same thing happened in March. The tenants in Southampton were facing an inflation busting increase in their rents from Government. All the bills had gone out and then the Government announced extra money to reduce the increase. We were delighted as tenants and the Conservatives had been pressing for this for a long time but once again it was at the eleventh hour. Every day now it looks more and more like this Government is in melt down. The sooner we can have an election the better!

Winchester Big Sleep Out

I am taking part in the Big Sleep Out in Winchester on 15th May to help raise funds for Winchester Churches Night Shelter and Trinity Winchester.

Both charities help those sleeping rough and the hidden homeless.

Winchester Churches Night Shelter offers an essential lifeline to the homeless, providing high quality food and shelter and a secure support network offered to address problems and re-develop life skills. They are the only direct access accommodation for the homeless in Hampshire, and a vital first port-of-call.

Trinity Winchester is a day time drop-in centre that provides services for those experiencing the effects of homelessness, vulnerable housing, problems with substance misuse, mental health issues, poverty, unemployment and social isolation.

Click HERE to sponsor me!

Rethink Needed on Shipping Tax

This week I wrote to Southampton Test's Labour MP Alan Whitehead urging him to press government to rethink the disasterous tax hike it is planning to impose on the port of Southampton:

Dear Dr Whitehead

Light Dues and Irish Subsidy

I am writing regarding the Department of Transport’s consultation on proposed amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Light Dues) Regulations 1997.

I am sure you will agree that at a time of extreme economic difficulty for all businesses, and in particular international shipping, there is an onus on Government to minimise potential additional costs which might harm employment. This is of particular importance for Southampton as the local docks is of huge importance to the economy of the city and wider region.

As you will know, any ship docking in at all UK and Republic of Ireland ports must pay a fee (Light Dues) to cover the costs of maintaining coastal navigation aids –such as lighthouses. I am appalled to see that the Department of Transport is considering increasing Light Dues by 6p this year. In addition to this the Government is proposing significant increases to the maximum chargeable tonnage from 35,000 to 50,000 net registered tonnes. Adding even more injury to the shipping industry the Government proposes to increase the number of chargeable voyages from seven to nine.

While we will agree on the importance of maintaining such navigational facilities as lighthouses, it should not mean that costs should be allowed to spiral uncontrollably upwards. There are two factors which have lead to the possible planed increases both of which could be controlled.

The first issue concerns the management of the General Lighthouse Fund. The GLF is proposing to allow expenditure (costs) to increase by 18% over the next four years. This is despite the fact that the GLF was tasked by the Department of Transport with identifying efficiencies. Indeed, as I understand it the forecasts for last year were for a 17% increase in the same period. So they have revised their figures upwards. Regarding a solution, many in the industry are wondering why it is that we require three separate General Lighthouse bodies, when they could be brought together and efficiency savings made.

The second factor is the Irish Subsidy which also comes from Light Dues. As you will know, it has been 80 years since the Irish Free State received its independence and we are still subsidising their lighthouses and navigational aids. Until 1985 the entire cost was covered by the UK. At present the cost split falls unfairly upon ships using UK ports only. It is absurd that we are still paying 50% of the Southern Irish portion of the lighthouse costs. The assessment of the Brook Report last March suggested that Northern Ireland accounts for only 15 per cent of the costs, so Britain should be paying 15 per cent not 65 percent. While I appreciate that officials are working to revise this cost sharing arrangements, I would remind you that your Government has been promising to tackle this issue since January 2004.

The shipping industry has been particularly hard hit by the current economic turmoil. For example, freight rates for containers shipped from Asia to Europe have already hit zero with customers just paying bunker rates and terminal charges. The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), which measures freight rates for bulk commodities, fell 96 per cent several months ago. UK Ports are also under severe pressure from foreign competition, with competitors on the continent not charging such fees as Light Duties. Any additional and unnecessary cost pressures at this time could lead to lines missing out stops at UK ports altogether.

I would be grateful if you could consider the points I have made and let me have your views.