Category Archives: Election 2017

Leading Gloucester Forward: challenges ahead

The morning after the General Election brought mixed emotions.

On the one hand being re-elected and receiving over 50% of the votes cast (the first time any candidate in Gloucester had done so for 70 years) was a huge honour from my constituents and great credit to those of all age, backgrounds and ethnic origins who supported me.

But on the other hand was a sense of ‘what now?’ as it became clear the Conservatives fell just short of an overall majority. What were the implications for our country and our city?

If you believe in democracy you have to accept the aggregate message the electorate delivers. I interpret the results as: we understand the Conservative claim to restoring our economy but we do not want the party of government to have unbridled power; we do not care as much about Brexit as you politicians all think – we mind more about what impacts our daily life, like health, education, social care and pensions; we do not want Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and most of us don’t believe in Magic Money Trees but we do like positive manifestos; and young voters and others who traditionally don’t vote can be motivated to do so.

There are lessons in this aggregate message for all parties and politicians, and how we do so will determine the battle of ideas ahead.

But the immediate issues for my party were to be able make the mathematics needed for legislation to work: to focus on a modest programme of legislation both for leaving the EU and social change (mental health and social care – after consultation – in particular) and to be ready with a new government to deal with events.

These came quicker than expected: the fourth terrorist attack, this time on a mosque, in almost as many weeks and the simply horrific inferno at Grenfell Tower.

The reason why I believe all of us a nation are so shocked by Grenfell Tower is because we recognise that terrorists exist (even if we don’t understand why), and accept that our excellent counter terrorist agencies and police won’t be able to prevent every random individual act of terrorism; but we also all believe that the events of Grenfell Tower were preventable – and that much has happened there (and we now know elsewhere) that shouldn’t have happened. There is no-one but ourselves to blame.

But who exactly is to blame? There are two possible reactions to this sort of tragedy. One, ahead of any enquiry and many facts, is to politicise or weaponise it: call for a Day of Rage, a march by a million people and describe the residents who died as “murdered by political decisions” (as the Shadow Chancellor put it).

An aid worker said bluntly that a day of rage was the last thing anyone needed and only 400 turned up. I regard that whole approach as grotesquely inappropriate. The way for government to react is to help to rebuild lives and homes, get absolutely objective non partisan enquiries under way – above all the police one to identify any criminal responsibility – and to do all this above all with calm determination. What our country wants is not more violence on the street: but good, democratic, responsible government that gets to the bottom of tragedies and holds everyone to account.

By this weekend we will know if Jeremy Corbyn’s boast that he would vote down the Queens Speech comes true, and whether Lily Allen will eat a goat live on Sky TV if the government wins Thursday’s vote. Gradually the media will realise that Corbyn may have a following at Glastonbury, but his ambition to be Prime Minister in six months is another idle boast, that endless articles about ‘revolts’ in the Conservative Party will fail to materialise and that the government will get on with the difficult business of governing.

That in turn will enable us here to move forward on many projects. In particular, infrastructure and skills issues on which I’ve spent a lot of time and which are unfinished business include:
• Sorting the underpass between the Railway Station and Great Western Road, used by so many of my constituents to get to our Hospital more safely and comfortably
• Creating a new exit from the existing Railway Station car park straight on to Metz Way and so reducing journeys home for many commuters
• Building a strong partnership between government, our two councils and GCH so that estate regeneration for Matson and Podsmead, improving the homes and lives of thousands of residents, can move ahead viably
• Taking forward our proposed Health University Technical College so that future generations of Gloucester pupils have the best pathways into our biggest sector for jobs in the county – health & care – with home grown nurses at forefront
• Making sure that the new accommodation being built for our new Business School is ready in time for Sep 2018, and that businesses are ready to attract their custom – a boost to our city centre
• Getting the right structure for our flagship History Festival so that it can continue to inspire other future cultural developments in our City of Heritage
• Urging forward our new Rosebank GP surgery in Kingsway and the expansion of the Hadwen surgery in Abbeydale and the re-introduction of evening and weekend surgeries so that my constituents get better access to doctors
• Making sure that no school gets less funding than at present under the new fair funding formula, and many get more: while encouraging a higher intake of Gloucester pupils at all our grammar schools

I could list many more aims on my project list from leaks in our Crown Court roof and holding some hearings in Shire Hall to the return of Gloucester City Football Club to Meadow Park, but eight is a lucky number in Chinese so let me leave it at that for now.

There is a lot to do in our city to make it an even better place in which to grow up, study, work and retire, and I’m impatient to see it all happen. Of course as with national government events will distract us. Last week I was on the telephone to our Fire & Rescue Chief discussing the repercussions of Grenfell Tower and checking all our highest buildings’ fire risks: and the next day to our Police about checking security at our mosques after the Finsbury Park mosque attack. In both cases their response was immediate and reassuring. Leading Gloucester Forward is all about initiatives and then partnerships – and the good news is that we have very good public, private and charity sector partner organisations in city and county to work with. Now we need a decent period of national political stability to see things through. And I think we will have it.

KEY ISSUES: Health, Education and Skills

Health

We all want to give our Health Service more money. Only the Conservatives can credibly afford to do so, while making sure we never again have the scandals of the Mid Staffs Hospital cover up. Our NHS should be supported: and be accountable.

We will increase NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms over the next five years, an increase in real funding per head of the population for every year of the Parliament. Funding has also gone up in Gloucestershire year on year since 2010.

We’ll introduce the first new Mental Health Bill for thirty years, and prioritise protecting the 140,000 staff in our NHS during EU negotiations.

We’ll invest in medical training for 1,500 students a year and upgrade primary care facilities and hospital buildings. The GRH has a capital expenditure bid in at the moment which would be one of my early projects to pursue if re-elected.

At the same time as treating anyone from anywhere who needs A&E treatment, we will recover the cost of medical treatment from people who are not resident in the UK and ensure no new NHS numbers are issued until eligibility has been verified.

In implementing the NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, we will support GPs to innovate and aim to ensure everyone can get routine weekend and evening appointments in their GP/nearby surgery by 2019.

And locally I will continue to volunteer every year in our Gloucestershire NHS, remembering always that they saved my life and look after four generations of my family.

Education and Skills

As the son and sister of teachers I know what a difference good teaching makes.

So I’m delighted we will give an additional £4 billion funding to education, and fine tune our Fair Funding Formula – which will help MANY schools in Gloucestershire – so that NO school will be worse off.

In my first term as your MP I was pleased to secure funding for the Gloucester Academy, which now has one of the county’s most respected Heads, and big facility improvements at many other schools since. I’ve also seen great improvements in local Ofsted ratings.

The Education Secretary supports my views on increasing both the number of local pupils and pupils on free school meals at our grammars.

There will be no more grammars in Gloucestershire but I am determined to bid successfully for a new Health University Technical College here in Gloucester – with the full support of all of our NHS Trusts and the University of Gloucestershire.

I committed in 2015 to help our University relocate their Business School here and develop accommodation in Blackfriars – both are happening for a September 2018 opening.

I also committed to helping our University offer nursing degrees and run a pilot scheme for nursing associates to home grow our skills and nurses.

In 2011 I was one of the first MPs to hire my own apprentice, and hosted many Jobs/Apprenticeship Fairs to push this – since 2010 we’ve had 7,000 new apprenticeship starts, the highest in the county.

Richard’s warning on the economy:

On Thursday the country, including all those working our county’s businesses, will decide who is the next Prime Minister, the next government and Gloucestershire’s six MPs.

This is the third time in seven years that my constituents will decide if I should be their MP, and I want to share with Punchline’s readers why – as a former businessman, and shareholder in a small family business (a pub and a small hotel), I am more convinced than ever before that this election is vital not just for business but for the soul of our country.

There was a time when the basics of all main parties’ beliefs were solid. We all endorsed our monarchy, our Armed Forces and intelligence services, the NHS, the Commonwealth, NATO, the nuclear deterrent, the UN, and the importance of business, public services, charities and faith groups in the make up of civic society. And there was one other body widely endorsed – the EU.

This election is different. Most parties recognise that the Referendum means we will leave the EU, because that’s what the people determined. But one party wants us to have another vote, and get a different result: and another says no deal is a bad deal, thus taking off the table before we’ve started our negotiating clout.

But what’s also new is that one party leader, the man who would be Prime Minister, is fundamentally not a monarchist and would scrap our Armed forces, our intelligence services and our nuclear deterrent if he could.

More worrying still is an absolute distaste for business, unless it’s either very small, a co-operative or owned by the state, by Corbyn and Labour. And then there is the Magic Money tree, which is somehow going to pay for all the frenzy of spending.

The Labour manifesto is the most radical extreme left wing manifesto in our history – involving mass nationalisation (the water companies alone would cost c£70 billion) and a huge increase in taxation NOT spelt out, but just hinted at: a land tax.

Assuming that land is 55% of the value of your home, and the land tax rate is 3%, then the extra tax (ie above existing council tax) on the cost of the average house in Gloucester (worth £250,000) the  would be £2,525. How many people know that this is part of how the Labour Party would finance the Magic Money Tree?

The other part is through raising the business or corporate tax rate, from 19% to 26%. In theory this sounds good: increase the tax by 7%, and you get 7% more tax receipts. Wrong. Increase the tax rate and you get less investment, less growth, fewer pay rises and less revenue to tax PLUS less investment by overseas companies, attracted both by being based in the UK with our strong rule of law, and a competitive tax rate. Business tax is a competitive advantage which if we reversed – rather than continuing to 17%, as the Conservatives plan – would fast disappear: and with it vital tax revenue. And we know that this is the case because since we lowered the business rate, business rate revenue has risen about £10 billion.

It was President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher who grasped that lower tax rates means more revenue, because it incentivises commercial activity and productivity. Socialists, let alone Marxists, have never understood this. And it’s also why Labour could not believe that the Conservatives would be able to reduce the annual budget deficit by two thirds (from £150 billion to £50 billion) while increasing jobs by 2.9 million, adding almost 3 million apprenticeships and increasing the wages of the lowest paid by 6% last year, as well as taking 4 million people out of income tax altogether – by almost doubling the income tax threshold from £6,500 to £11,500.

When public sector workers say they have had a tough pay freeze of 1% a year they’re right: but they forget that they are a thousand pounds better off each year because of the increased tax free amount.

We assume the basics of macro economics are agreed by all politicians. They’re not. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described himself as the last Communist in Parliament. For the extreme socialists nationalisation, higher tax, squeezing the rich and the big businesses, introducing a land tax and increasing the role of the state is right because the state always knows best.

For John McDonnell making people who don’t go to university pay for the university fees of those who do, and allowing the very rich to get a winter fuel allowance is all fine. The key is that the state decides who gets what: not you.

So if you vote Labour the state will expand, business will be nationalised or squeezed and your own industry and home will be heavily taxed. You’ll get policies that communist China rejected about 30 years ago and no other western country in the world has. And for a simple reason: these policies were tested to bits, mostly behind the Iron Curtain, and we know they don’t work.

This is not the Labour Party we thought we all knew – which understood there was no social justice without economic growth: it is not even the Labour Party which ended by saying ‘sorry there’s no money left’. This is the Labour Party hijacked by communist veterans and advisors around a man rejected by 170 of his own MPs in a vote of no confidence only a few months ago.

Following these policies would lead to instant economic disaster – currency and market crashes and a rapid hike of interest rates instantly hitting those on mortgages.

That doesn’t mean everything is perfect out there at the moment. When you’re still over spending by £50 billion a year, and the interest alone on the accumulated debt is more than our entire education spend, there are huge human problems as well as a balance sheet challenge.

But whatever else we could do, just spending more from a Magic Money tree is no solution. My message to all businesses and householders is to think very carefully before voting for a dash to Marxism.

Vote for me and us and you will get a sensible approach to managing the economy, delivering growth, attracting investment, affording increases to health and education – and a cautious, determined dialogue on resolving the great unresolved issue of social care.

KEY ISSUES: Brexit, the Economy and Security

Brexit

The Referendum was a year ago and whichever way we all voted our nation decided to leave, democratically: and the will of the people must now be implemented. That is my view – and I have since worked to support our Prime Minister and the government in taking us out of Europe and getting the best possible deal.

There are two other ludicrous alternatives – the Lib Dem one in which we keep having more Referendums until we arrive at the ‘right’ answer (a very EU Commission approach to democracy) which means the EU wouldn’t need to negotiate at all; or Labour’s naive negotiating ploy (‘no deal is a bad deal’), reassuring the EU that no matter how awful their best offer Labour would never turn it down.

This is a question about democracy and trust, and it’s time to get the job done as best possible. As someone with experience of international government negotiations, I know the importance of reducing uncertainty and allowing business to go forward confidently – remembering that business generates 75% of our tax revenue to pay for the Health, Education and other services we all need. So no more referendums.

The economy

You cannot have social justice without a strong economy, and this is absolutely not the time for a Marxist approach, bashing entrepreneurs and businesses alike.

My party has created 2.9 million new jobs AND increased the wages of the poorest paid by over 6% last year through the National Living Wage. We have reduced the amount the government over spends by from over £150 billion each year to £50 billion a year: and we need to continue to reduce this to live within our means. Having another Labour blow out would be a dreadful return to old habits, and hurt the weakest and most vulnerable in society, with prices, mortgage rates and council tax rising sharply.

Raising business tax in particular, with all the uncertainties of leaving the EU, would see investment, growth and new jobs dry up – instead of attracting businesses (particularly innovative investors and companies) which will increase our tax revenues and pay for the additional funds we are putting and will put into priority areas like health, education, cyber protection and security.

Relying on a magic money tree to pay for free everything will only lead to a re-run of the last Labour movie which ended ‘sorry there’s no money left’. Your money. So let’s support business to support us.

Security

Over the last few years the Conservative-led government has adapted our security agencies, Armed Forces and policing to reflect new threats – often non-traditional in nature: frequently driven by cyber-attacks and helped by the development of technology.

We have put extra resources into intelligence gathering and cyber capabilities, and plan more for armed police units – and I pay tribute to those who have prevented 18 major attacks since 2010.

As the country in Europe with the biggest defence capability, we’ve also led on committing NATO countries to spend 2% on defence, committed to key new additional hardware like frigates and used our Development budget for overseas projects where we are building national capabilities in e.g. Afghanistan.

I cannot believe that anyone from our Armed Forces will vote for Jeremy Corbyn, who wants to leave NATO, abolish our nuclear deterrent, and who has voted against EVERY proposed anti-terrorism law.

And the Lib Dems have often voted against ways of ensuring that GCHQ has the legislative support it needs to be one step ahead of the terrorists.

This is a time for our country to make sure we have the right hardware, software, skills and legislation in place to defend our nation and our city effectively. We need strong leadership and crisis tested experience on security above all – something Theresa May’s six years as Home Secretary and year as Prime Minister have already shown.

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