Visualising the Government debt

December 9, 2009

The amount of money the Labour Government is borrowing is so massive that its hard to visualise it, but the Conservative party have had a good try with this picture of Battersea power station…

£5,500 of Government debt is added to the clock every second

£5,500 of Government debt is added to the clock every second

In the Pre-Budget Report today the Chancellor failed to take the tough decisions on spending before the election, and as a result there will be higher taxes and higher interest rates if they win the election.


Looking for signs of improvement

December 8, 2009

At my meeting with local businesses last Friday Barclays gave a presentation on the local economic scene highlighting a modest revival with new business lending up. There are also signs of some improvement in the construction industry.

Today I am in Glasgow with the Work and Pensions Select Committee examining the effectiveness of Welfare to Work programmes in big cities. Clearly this is a big challenge in the current climate.


News from Manchester Conference

October 8, 2009

George Osborne made his keynote speech on the Economy yesterday and it seems to be going down quite well with the media. His speech was frank and candid in its tone; for those who missed George’s “astonishingly forthright speech” (to quote the Daily Mail), it started to spell out what measures a Conservative Government would take to get a grip on the national finances. Not everyone will be happy with the commitments (today the unions have come out against the promised pay freeze for public sector workers) but I believe that most of my constituents appreciate that when faced with a national deficit of almost £200 billion, we are all going to have to tighten our belts*.

I was especially pleased by his renewed commitment to re-link the state pension to earnings growth in the next Parliament in order to ensure a decent standard of living for all in retirement, halt the spread of means-testing and restore incentives to save.

George also announced an updated review of the state pension age, as recommended by Adair Turner’s Pension Commission. Given the state of the public finances and rapidly changing demographic projections, the review would consider whether the increase in the pension age from 65 to 66 should be brought forward from 2026, starting no earlier than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.

*Although Osborne did promise to protect the wages of those earning £18,000 or less. For those who did miss his speech you can read a transcript here


Closing down the pension schemes

August 19, 2009

Do you share my concern at the way in which Final Salary Pension Schemes are being closed to new members and now in some cases to existing members? These are schemes which have helped so many of today’s pensioners to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Companies in a recession may see closure as a quick way of showing they are keen to cut costs and we can understand that. But it is time it was realised that future living standards for the retired will fall, unless action is taken. Since there is little sign of working age people increasing their saving for retirement and employers are ducking for cover, the future is likely to be employees and companies paying for decent living standards for the retired through higher taxes.

The Government has no stature in discussions with employers about how to fashion a way forward for Occupational Pensions, because Gordon Brown’s 1998 Pensions Raid ending the dividend tax credit took £5 billion per annum out of Pension Schemes. Having plundered the Pension Funds himself, he can hardly take the high ground now and his poor stewardship of the nation’s finances has led to Britain’s weak position in the current recession.

His Party was also involved in rubbishing the idea of a funded national state pension scheme with money set aside and invested to help pay future pensions at a higher rate, rather than solely relying on today’s workers’ national insurance payments to pay today’s state pensions (Pay As You Go). This idea was supported by Conservatives and enlightened Labour thinkers such as Frank Field. In Canada the Canada Pension Plan has money set aside to pay for future pensions.

We are all pinning our hopes on better up-rating of the state pension in line with earnings, reform of the State Second Pension and the new Personal Accounts, but I believe we will come back to two issues. We need to look at ways of making Occupational Pension Schemes fairer for employers, but without employees losing the security of a pension which gives a defined benefit and we need to look again at the idea of setting aside an investment fund to pay for better future state pensions.


Local businesses pulling through the recession by pulling together

August 12, 2009
Oliver with Chief Executive Tim Hutchings and Yolanda Rugg

Oliver with Chief Executive Tim Hutchings and Yolanda Rugg

I have just come back from a breakfast meeting with the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Letchworth Hall Hotel. The Herts Chamber of Commerce has a good reputation founded upon these sorts of events which give the local business community the chance to get together and network. As their guest speaker my speech mainly covered the challenge for Letchworth of achieving growth while unemployment is rising, but I also described the effect of the recession on the skills gap and the the challenges faced by the High Street.

I believe that Letchworth is well placed for business success. Despite the recession, local businesses have responded to the challenge and as a result we are slightly ahead of the rest of the country in unemployment levels. I pointed to recent redevelopments such as at Spirella, North Herts College, the Cinema, Nexus House and the Broadway as a good platform for further planned development at the Wynd and Eastcheap.

As a Garden City, Letchworth has a strong sense of civic and community spirit that has led to many Garden City firms doing business together. Speaking to local business leaders I was reassured by their strong sense of pulling together and their commitment to growing out of recession. This local network of business contacts really helps local businesses to grow and therefore helps local employment too. The Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation and North Herts Council all play their part in making the Garden City business friendly too.

Letchworth wants to remain true to its principles, without becoming a museum. Events like the business breakfast this morning show that the town has done just that. It is open to business and keen to play its part in the future. Economic development and regeneration have always been at the core of the Garden City vision and still are. Despite the recession, Letchworth has a strong business future.


Apprentices losing their futures

June 30, 2009

I was shocked to hear from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) that 2000 apprentices have been “displaced” i.e. lost their jobs and thus their training. Imagine the national outrage if a university with 2000 students lost their courses. CITB have done well to place about 40 per cent of the apprentices, but you do have to ask if Government should not have a scheme to enable displaced apprentices to at least finish their training regardless. I have suggested this and will continue to press the case.


Allegations against recruitment companies

June 30, 2009

I have been shocked at allegations that recruitment companies employed by Government have been defrauding the system by forging signatures to show that work has been done when it has not. These allegations need to be investigated by the National Audit Office and those found to have misbehaved should not have Government contracts. I agree with the tough line of our Work and Pensions’ Select Committee Chairman Terry Rooney. Well done Terry!


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