Saturday 25 May, 2013
Right now, we are facing a global economic crisis; quite possibly the most dangerous we have seen in the last 100 years. The British economy – jobs, businesses and family incomes – has benefited hugely over the last 40 years from opening up of trading and investment opportunities across the European Union and the creation of the largest single market in the world.
Eurosceptics in the Tory party may put their short-term party benefit above that of the country and try to use the uncertainty in the eurozone to push for a referendum, but to do so in the midst of such a global crisis is a dangerous distraction.
Government figures show that the average UK household is up to £3300 a year better off as a result of increased UK trading within the EU; there are 3.5 million more UK jobs. And the cost of living is some £480 a year cheaper per person as result of EU-wide competition driving down the costs of goods and services.
Today, over half of UK trade is with eurozone countries and around 60 per cent with the rest of the EU.
Our trade with Ireland, a eurozone country, is greater than our trade with the growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.
We must also remember that the UK is the beating heart of the European financial system, with major exposures to other countries and their banks.
Though we can try to minimise the impact, there is no hiding from a eurozone collapse.
Liberal Democrats in the coalition government will not allow misguided Tories to jeopardise our long-term relationship with our European neighbours.
That is why we are committed to upholding the integrity of the European single market and will continue to encourage co-operation between the UK and its European counterparts.
The true test of standing up for Britain’s interests is to work with and within Europe; it is good for jobs, good for growth and good for Britain.
On Friday I launched Get Edinburgh West Working, a campaign to find at least 100 training opportunities or jobs in 100 days.
At the breakfast launch at Murrayfield Stadium the Edinburgh Joined Up For Jobs team, business leaders from across the constituency, as well as national firms with a presence in Edinburgh came together to promote the challenge and discuss how we can provide more opportunities for people struggling to find work in the capital.
This year nearly half a million apprenticeships were available throughout the UK to give young people the skills and experience they need to be successful in the job market- more than ever before! The one billion pound Youth Contract will provide 410,000 new work places over the next three years for 18-24 year olds. But it goes without saying that employers are critical partners in providing the Youth Contract; no-one else can offer young unemployed people the jobs, training and work experience opportunities that they need.
These types of opportunities can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It can also be a great catalyst for business growth, tapping into new talent and potential. And with the government programmes available it makes good business sense for companies to get involved.
I think it’s really important that business leaders do know the score, and can get all the information they need quickly and easily. The breakfast event I hosted on 25th was a one-stop-shop and I’m delighted that so many businesses and training providers across Edinburgh West showed their support for the idea.
Barrie Henderson Managing Director of Xtreme Karting in Newbridge said:
“It was a fantastic event and very successful. Businesses were able to talk openly about any concerns they had or barriers they faced. We already take on many apprentices at our Falkirk centre and after this we will certainly be taking some on in Edinburgh too.”
David Paterson, Head of Regional Affairs for Asda added:
“It's great to see a joined up approach from so many partners to get young people in to employment. We are seeing real business benefits from our apprenticeship scheme, work experience, and work placement programmes and it's excellent to see so many businesses wanting to share best practice and do their bit to fly the flag for young people in Edinburgh."
By signing up, businesses are helping the wider community as well as the economy. I have taken the first step and have taken on two apprentices in my London office; I will be taking one on in my Edinburgh office soon.
Today’s PMQs, the first of the new session, wasn’t the most electrifying. A brief exchange of mobile-phone related quips was as far as the sparring went. Nevertheless, it was a solid if unspectacular performance from the Prime Minister during a half hour which focused on job growth and the economy.
Ed Miliband caused a shock today by welcoming something this government has done – reducing unemployment. An unexpected acknowledgement that this Government, of which he is unrelentingly critical is getting something right with 379,000 more jobs; 600,000 more jobs in the private sector and 70,000 fewer people claiming employment benefits since the Coalition Government came to office.
Miliband was back to his usual script within seconds though, criticising the Coalition Government for making cuts without offering any alternative solutions. Perhaps someone should remind him about people in glass houses not throwing stones...any party in power would have to cut budgets.
The Labour leader seems to be on a bit of a mission to seek shelter with the new French President – I think he may be disappointed. Mr Hollande has already said that he doesn’t back Labour's policy of "borrowing" the UK's way out of debt as the Prime Minister pointed out.
The conclusion to the Leaders’ exchange got the biggest laugh of the day, the Speaker calling on Sir Peter Tapsell after reminding the House that ‘we need short questions and short answers’. Sir Peter is certainly one of many MPs in the House who would never use a sentence when a paragraph would do. It doesn’t sit so well with my campaign for the use of plain English.
Positive exchanges on the UK’s low interest rates, apprenticeship funding and car manufacturing came from the backbenches, reflecting the Government’s commitment to get the UK’s economy back on its feet. What was notable was how subdued the Labour benches were, perhaps they were reflecting on their own party’s economic failings?
For me it was an unsuccessful half hour of bobbing up and down trying to catch the Speaker’s eye to raise the issue of malnutrition and global food insecurity ahead of the G8 in Maryland this weekend.
My final observation of today’s PMQs is that the two Eds seem to be getting together to decide on their ties before they head to the Chamber. Last week it was purple, today dark red. Have they hired a stylist? I wonder what’s next ...
On 6th April, all but the richest taxpayers will see a rise in their take home pay. This is because the Coalition is raising the personal allowance of income tax -the amount of money you can earn before you begin to be taxed. This was a key Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge which the Liberal Democrats fought hard for in the Coalition negotiations and a policy which will make a real difference to working families and young people around the country.
Every worker will be given a tax cut of £126 in April; that’s £126 extra in your pay packets over the year. This is on top of the £200 tax cut which happened last year. From next month, over a million working people will no longer pay income tax because of the Coalition’s tax policy. But we need to go further and faster.
This week, I want to see another Budget which will benefit the millions of hard working people across Scotland and the rest of the UK; not one which works for a few millionaires. That means George Osborne putting forward a plan which focuses on Liberal Democrat priorities: helping people on low and middle incomes, helping young people get skills and jobs, helping disadvantaged young people in schools and creating jobs through investment. We have been quite clear that those who can afford it should shoulder the greatest burden. We need a tax system which is fair and this means rebalancing the system so that it rewards work and ensures that the richest pay their share.
But understandably, there’s a lot of speculation about the Chancellor’s plans: will there be a cut to the 50p tax rate? Will a ‘mansion tax’ be introduced?
The Liberal Democrats’ priority is giving tax cuts to the majority of people in the country, not just the highest earners. At present there are far too many people using complex allowances and reliefs to weave their way through the tax system and who end up paying an amount of tax that is just not fair when compared to the vast majority of hard working people.
It’s important that everybody pays and also is seen to pay their fair share, so I will not support the removal of the 50p rate without a major change in the way the wealthiest in our society are taxed to ensure that they pay their way. The Mansion Tax is just one possible option to make certain that this happens. You can’t move a house to Belize, in the way that some of the top 1% of earners hide their income, and by taxing the value of a property at 1% over and above a £2 million limit you would make sure that the very wealthy have to pay up, including those extremely wealthy individuals who do not pay income tax here at all.
The economic circumstances shouldn’t make us shy away from tax reform; in fact it makes it more important to help struggling families and make the tax system fairer. Our tax plans are a straight swap – cutting income tax for the vast majority of people by clamping down on tax avoidance.
We need to prioritise these tax cuts for hard-working people by raising the personal allowance again and ahead of schedule. That would give you £60 a month extra in your wages, that’s £60 you can spend on the weekly shop, put towards the quarterly gas bill or a well-deserved holiday.
I have supported Early Day Motion 2791 which calls on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go further and faster in his 2012 Budget and have fought hard for this in the Budget negotiations with our Coalition partners. We’ll see what Wednesday brings.
You can let me know what you would spend the £60 each month on by contacting me on Twitter @crockartmp #60pounds
Two months ago, Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that Edinburgh's Redford and Dreghorn Barracks as well as the base at Craigiehall were to close. No one expected that the Strategic Defence Review would leave Scotland's military bases untouched. But it was a decision which came out of the blue.
The plan put forward is to replace Dreghorn, Redford and Craigiehall, the three historic Edinburgh bases, with a new purpose built "super barracks" at Kirknewton. A command HQ will be incorporated into the new formation headquarters at Leuchars, and there will also be an expansion of Glencorse barracks near Penicuik.
The basis for the Ministry's proposal is financial. It believes that the sell-off of the bases for prime residential development will produce attractive capital receipts and that a superbarracks will be more cost effective in the long term, saving taxpayers' money and boosting Treasury funds. When finances are tight it is understandable and laudable to aim for such efficiency but given the MoD's track record in this I'm extremely dubious that this plan has been properly prepared.
Over the last eight weeks, I have asked Liam Fox Secretary of State for Defence fifty parliamentary questions to try to understand the financial reasoning behind the decision. But, it is clear that the Ministry has no concrete figures to base its case on. Not one answer has given details of likely costs nor possible capital receipts from disposal of the Edinburgh estate.
Liam Fox was "not able to provide a cost estimate" for the building of new barracks at Kirknewton, despite 400-500 million pounds being a commonly quoted figure. Running costs for the base seem equally unclear as his answer there was: "Until further detail is known about the size and type of units that will move to Kirknewton, it is not possible to confirm budgetary requirements or allocations."
How then is it possible to do a comparison with the costs of the undoubted modernisation work needed at Dreghorn and Redford? Especially since a question on that subject has revealed that no audit seems to have been carried out to establish those costs.
What then of the hoped for capital receipts? I asked the Ministry what value they had placed on Craigiehall especially given its position so close to the airport flight path. The answer indicates that no recent valuation of this or the other sites has actually been carried out. Added to this are the development limitations caused by listed building status of large parts of Craigiehall and Redford which may make the sites far more difficult to sell that they suspect.
Kirknewton too has its problems with over 168,000 pounds having been spent in the last 2 years repairing environmental damage caused by ruptured fuel tanks. So where exactly is the considered financial case for this proposal?
As well as a lack of financial detail, there has been no thorough consideration of an array of other important factors. Liam Fox cannot tell me what transport infrastructure is needed in and around Kirknewton to allow an army base to function. He seems unable to tell me the effects on schools, transport, housing and health services for army personnel to be based at Kirknewton, though thankfully "planning work is now underway".
The closure of Craigiehall in my constituency also confirmed that, in spite of a 3500 increase in army numbers and a major restructuring exercise taking place, Scotland will be losing its command headquarters. The post currently held by Major General David Shaw will be abolished and handed to a general at the army's base in Aldershot, Hampshire. The loss of this HQ raises questions about who will undertake the ceremonial duties which at present are carried out by Major General Shaw. Are we seriously suggesting that the Governor of Edinburgh Castle will be based in England? Or that the army's involvement in the Tattoo will be co ordinated from London?
There is too, of course, a very human aspect to the closures, for army families and local residents alike. The move will bring to an end 400 years of history between the Royal Scots Borderers and the City of Edinburgh. The changes will uproot local families and damage many areas of the city. The bases are employers to many civilians, help to boost the local economy and, of course, individuals from the army and their families have become greatly valued members of their communities. It is a consideration which the Ministry has paid lip service to at best.
When I asked if the effect of the closure of Redford and Dreghorn on the local community had been considered, I was given a quote from Mr Fox's speech on the announcement. He "recognised that Defence decisions have broader regional, economic and social consequences".
But a particularly worrying aspect is the period from 2014 when Redford and Dreghorn close through to 2017, the likely point at which Kirknewton could become operational. Even if service families continue to be based in the present family accommodation post 2017, by no means guaranteed, what transitional help will be available to local schools, local businesses and local communities to see them through these difficult years?
At a meeting hosted by the Army Families Federation last week it was clear just how much distress this uncertainty and lack of answers is causing. This is no way to treat our army families, especially when many of their husbands and fathers are presently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, today I am calling on the government to postpone the closures until a convincing financial case can be made. At that time, and only then, should a decision be made on the future of the army estate in Edinburgh, taking into account all of the issues. That is the case I will present to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mike Moore and the Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox over the coming weeks.