Category Archives: News

My Budget Wishlist

Today I anticipate we will hear that the UK has done a lot better economically than many expected in the 18 months after the EU Referendum, but that there are still huge challenges ahead.

What would make a difference to our city of Gloucester?

I hope that the Chancellor will:

 
  • Continue to reduce our budget deficit but using some of our growth to invest in infrastructure
  • Announce lifting the salaries of certain front line public servants, and judiciously giving more investment in some public sector organisations
  • Pay those on Universal Credit slightly faster when they first come in
  • Do much more to build more homes that can be both bought and rented
  • Invest more in education and particularly skills in technology
  • Go further on new innovative industrial strategies, giving capital allowances for businesses
  • Help the young on transport and education
  • And help our environment by penalising unnecessary packaging and reducing plastics that damage the world
 
If we get most of this, and perhaps more, then I’ll be delighted.
 
Let’s see…

What’s going on in Burma?

Published 24/10/2017

I’ve been guilty of over optimism, partly influenced by respect for a remarkable woman, and have taken time to believe the full ghastliness – which is still emerging – about what is going on the Muslim areas of the Burmese state of Rakhine, close to their border with Bangladesh.

But after last week none of us can be in any doubt about what has happened. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) journalists published their rapid response mission report, and fellow MPs reported back from their visit on the plight of the Rohingya muslims.

The story is horrific, almost in the same league as the genocide in Rwanda at the turn of the millennium, or even in Cambodia during their civil war.

Fellow Trade Envoy Rushanara Ali highlighted there are now up to a million Rohingya muslim refugees from Burma in Bangladesh. She quoted from the UNHCR report of atrocious sexual violence, torture and executions of the Rohingya Muslims – mostly by the Burmese military, alongside the destruction of religious and cultural buildings. The UNHCR claimed this amounts to a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Three of my Conservative colleagues who have been out there, and others in last week’s debate, highlighted that the responsibility for these atrocities is with the Burmese military, and that the new democratic government cannot avoid some responsibility for not visibly doing much to prevent this.

And therein lies the intellectual difficulty. For the government is now run by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Oxford educated heroine whose voice and integrity, while under solitary arrest, held the military dictatorship to account – eventually obliging them to allow elections which led to her forming a civilian government under a military President.

Many of us supported and cheered Aung San Suu Kyi all the way. William Hague led the way on getting EU sanctions lifted. She addressed the joint Houses of Parliament: opened New Labour’s new offices; and of course was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But right now Aung San Suu Kyi stands guilty of not speaking up at all for the Rohingya Muslims of Burma, a community which FCO documents confirm have been there for centuries, and of acting at least as an apologist for the military regime.

This is not the way the story was supposed to go. All of us are shocked and all of our eyes are being opened.

Foreign Ministers’ responses are now robust. They’ve suspended our defence education programme and banned military visits, called for a civilian body to oversee the return of the Rohingya: given an extra £30 million of aid and helped secure a six month extension to the UNHCR mission. We’ve led on galvanising the international community around a five point plan. As Minister Mark Field said, genocide ‘looks like an increasingly accurate description of what has happened.’

But the government is also realistic that Aung San Suu Kyi ‘treads a very fine line between international condemnation and Burmese public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports what the security forces are doing’.

It is hard to avoid concluding that the relations between different communities in Burma – Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus – are riddled with mutual fear, mistrust and, sadly, hatred. It may take years before this improves significantly, with even greater bitterness passing down generations: and the risk is – as Rushanara put it – that there will be more atrocities because the military want them.

It is no good pretending that the UK has much control over what happens in Burma, but we can show leadership on encouraging her democratic leaders and hold a candle to what the military has done, and we’re now doing so.

For those of us who sort of hoped that everything would be resolved by the elections and Aung San Suu Kyi’s role this is a sharp wake up call. It is also a reminder, in the year of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary, that violence and major domestic atrocities are not yet a thing of the past within all of South East Asia.

It calls into question too the role of China, the major foreign player in Burma, very close to the military and with a record of brutality towards Muslims in Xinjiang.

But this is not the moment to walk away from engagement with Burma, leaving China and Russia to be the only foreign influences. It is even more important that the UK works with ASEAN members to help Burma forward.

Post-Election Article: The Conservative Party of Business?

If the Conservatives are anything, we are the Party of Business. We understand how to grow an economy through incentivising investment, encouraging business to provide jobs and opportunities: the sky’s the limit. We work with both academic and vocational providers of skills and business to make sure that Britain has the right skills to stimulate innovation.

But that does not make us the party of rampant capitalism, trampling over human rights – ours is the party of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, and it’s our Prime Minister who led on legislation against Modern Slavery and female genital mutilation. Where we differ from other parties is getting the balance right – encouraging people to come off benefits rather than making a life on benefits more attractive financially and less hassle. Every Labour government has ended in the equivalent of Liam Byrne’s note (“I’m afraid there is no money left”) , and the country then turns to us to sort out the mess.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have done it again. We’ve hugely reduced an enormous deficit – at the same time as Scotland has increased theirs sharply – and created over three million new jobs, more than all the other nations of the EU put together. And last month, we generated a surplus that caught economists by surprise, as has the robustness of the UK economy in general over the last seven years, particularly since Brexit.

It’s easy to forget this was not what the socialists predicted. David Blanchflower, Ed Balls, the Guardian, the New Statesman and all the other usual suspects spent the years 2010-2012 telling the nation Conservative policies would result in millions more unemployed. Now their narrative is that all of the new jobs are cheap zero hours exploitation – a lie easily put to bed by figures showing that three quarters of the new jobs are full time. And perhaps by illustrating the number of Labour-run councils (not to mention Labour MPs) who employ zero hour workers.

Labour hypocrisy needs to be exposed. There was a good moment during the last Parliament when the Labour front bench were railing against Conservatives for enabling pension funds to use CPI instead of RPI as the inflation rate for pension increases. It was unfortunate that Labour’s own pension fund for party agents had already made exactly that switch.

But we have to make our case persuasively, bringing it alive with examples, if we’re to win elections. And in the last election we didn’t make the case, not just for economic competence – a pretty dull virtue until you’re landed with the opposite, as in say Venezuela – but also why business is a positive for people’s jobs and lives, rather than being the greedy cockroach broadly painted by Labour.

One middle-aged voter in Gloucester, not earning much and with no great love of Conservative politicians, told me in June he would vote for me simply because he’d been laid off during the recession under Gordon Brown, felt Jeremy Corbyn had even less of a clue about how to keep him in work – and didn’t want the risk of being unemployed again under an extreme socialist experiment. Quite.

In my constituency of Gloucester alone, there were more than 5000 people that lost jobs in business during the Great Recession under Labour, and youth unemployment rocketed. It’s down now by 70 per cent, and many have benefited from the huge increase in employment that government has funded the training for. But their voices weren’t heard in this year’s election: we didn’t motivate an army of apprentices, or those who’d been on David Cameron’s National Citizen Service course. There was nothing to bring the positives of record employment alive to the young. And while Corbyn was offering the earth to predominantly middle-class university students, where was the Conservative voice speaking up for the parents of apprentices (who earn while they learn), and asking why they should pay tax to subsidise undergraduates’ tuition?

Interestingly, too, the numbers of jobs in most manufacturers in or just outside Gloucester (14 per cent of local GDP – much higher than the national average) have gone up since Labour left power. The same is true elsewhere – but again we made nothing of this at all, allowing Corbyn to be the only voice to talk about manufacturing at all.

Nor is this just about blokes. One of the most striking successes at Gloucestershire Engineering Training (a charity owned by business, something socialism struggles with and would probably nationalise if it could) is the increase of female engineering apprentices. When it comes to gender equality, women in jobs, the narrowing gap between the highest and lowest wages, work to help those with disabilities into work and a host of other social justice measurements, we have a much better sorry to tell than the country knows.

Of course we could do more: I would give businesses NI reductions (as for apprentices) for hiring those with disabilities because (as with apprentices) many businesses are nervous of how to manage them. Once they’ve hired someone and seen their productivity and the rise in employee morale that often goes with hiring someone with disabilities, their whole approach will change. I would also give earlier payments under Universal Credit to avoid a spiral of early debt and housing arrears. But the key is these are our programmes – with Labour boxed in again on a mantra of ‘it won’t work’.

Let me give an example of what a Conservative approach can achieve. On the edge of Gloucester is one of the best schools for severely disabled children in the whole country, Milestone. It’s a place that leaves no visitor unmoved about what it does to help the most vulnerable. It recently received its third successive Outstanding rating from Ofsted under an inspirational Head Teacher, Lyn Dance.

It also received £1.5 million for an ambitious new hydrotherapy and sports complex project for the seriously disabled pupils (and others in the local community) from Gloucestershire-headquartered St James’s Place. This takes Milestone a long way towards its target and means that the project will, I believe, go on to achieve its funding goal and make a big difference to the lives of those with the greatest difficulties. St James’s Place is the sort of financial business real socialists would consider a parasite (managing assets) and try to tax into oblivion, rather than allowing it to flourish – and in turn give back to society through its Foundation.

It is time, across the country, to stand up not just for the Party of Business, but for the Conservative values that underpin what successful business can achieve – whether in apprenticeships, manufacturing exports, jobs or contributions to good causes.  And while we’re at it lets also tackle the lie peddled by both Labour and Lib Dems that more public spending – pick a figure – can easily be afforded by increasing business tax.

We failed in GE2017 to explain that by reducing the corporate tax rate we’ve raised more tax to fund vital services. But the Infographic at the top of this article was finally produced recently, and we must re-make the point of Thatcherism and Reaganomics again and again – you generate more tax for services by cutting, not by increasing, taxes. Of course, the correlation doesn’t continue indefinitely and the Chancellor must decide what the optimal rate today is by reference to the Laffer Curve – a subject for another day.

What matters now is proving the case for low tax rates and higher tax revenue, and explaining why a great forest of taxpayer funds, without anyone having to do anything but increase business tax, simply doesn’t exist. For that we need business, and workers, to help make the case.

So I hope that during the coming Party Conference we tackle these issues head on: that we re-make the case for being the Party of Business and responsible capitalism, with businesses giving back to the communities in which we encourage it to succeed: the party of lower but more tax that funds our health and welfare system. The spending on this has (contrary to socialist myth) continued to increase in the last seven years; an uncomfortable fact for those who oppose Conservative ‘austerity’.

At that conference, let’s make our case for the values of community and country, with examples of lives changed and improved by understanding business and motivating it to do good. That way we will show the link between business and better lives.

PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP urges council to consider levy towards night time economy

Gloucester MP Richard Graham has urged the City Council to consider raising funds from a Late Night Levy on night time outlets and venues, including takeaways, to cover the social costs of nightlife in the city centre.

Richard said, “The legislation now exists to enable councils to raise funds from those who benefit most from the night time economy to help cover the social costs also associated with it. The Late Night Levy could be a valuable source of funds for services like CCTV operators and the police who deal with the brunt of incidents.

We want all the fun our night time venues can bring, and most people enjoy them responsibly. But I think it’s time that the businesses involved, for example, contribute to the clean-up of broken glass and food on the street. So this is something I’m asking Gloucester City Council to consider carefully.”

The Late Night Levy has been taken up by seven local authorities so far, and was amended by the government in January to encourage more local authorities to consider implementing the levy in their area.

The Levy allows the council to raise a contribution from late-opening alcohol suppliers towards policing the night-time economy. It can apply to specific geographical locations, and the authorities will be required to publish information about how the funds are spent. The police will receive at least 70% of the net levy revenue and the local authority can retain up to 30% to fund other services.

Gloucester: second fastest growth in business jobs in the UK

The hardest thing for those trying to make things better in a city is a sense of perspective and relative measurement. How are we doing compared to others?

The annual Centre for Cities Outlook Report, like any data gathering exercise, has limits and needs interpretation. But it does shed some interesting light.

In 2015-2016 Gloucester had the fourth highest employment rate of any city: over 80% of us are working, with a very high (6.7%) increase. In fact we had the second fastest increase in business jobs of any city in the country: 2,100 more jobs in that year alone. For me that’s critical. We’ve always had a very high ratio of public sector jobs but our economy is more balanced now, with the ratio of business to public sector now of 1.8 or 41,000 to 23,000.

This is all very good news, and takes us closer to what economists would say is full employment. Our next challenge is to increase the numbers of those with disabilities in work. Our county does well overall on this, but there is more we can do in the city, and there are skills available that employers should look at more. Forwards (based in the county council) leads co-ordination on this.

Gloucester was also the 10th fastest growing city by population, and 7th for the fastest growth in housing stock – building homes to meet increased demand. I know we need more homes, more affordable homes and more 1 and 2 bed homes. New housing is coming through in different places, both in the city centre and suburbs, and there is much more to come – while still keeping our precious green lungs.

There are a couple of areas to work on. We come fairly low on export revenue per worker (third quartile), and I suspect this reflects a mix of some strong exporters but many SMEs who aren’t yet exporting at all. Our skill levels are improving – those with no formal qualification are down to 8.1% (national average is 8.8%), but we can do much more on skills.

Which is why the relocation of the University’s Business School to Gloucester, offering nursing degrees and nursing associate higher apprenticeships from the University, the apprenticeships at GlosCol, GET, Prospect and SWAP matter hugely. As does our goal for a University Technical College. There is no point trying to increase our control of immigration unless we can train our own young for the jobs we have available, like nursing, and especially the 50,000 jobs in the county’s health sector.

The Centre for Cities latest report is a good one for Gloucester. Like any school Head’s report there’s room for improvement, and there always will be. Skills, productivity and exports stand out for me. We have plans on all and must make sure they come through. A good result from our Growth Fund bid would help, as would government approval of the world’s first tidal lagoon and local planning approval for our University’s plans. It’s all about keeping good momentum going.

Why I voted to trigger leaving the EU

Watch my speech in the House of Commons above

In the run-up to the referendum, I believed that the considerable short-term risks of leaving the European Union outweighed the unquantifiable future benefits, but I underestimated the deep mistrust of the European Union.

The people have decided to leave. I must respect that decision, and I will support this Bill.

The hard work now begins. For example, how do we access the benefits of free trade and the inspection-free transfer of goods from outside EU structures such as the single market and the customs union? Some believe that nothing is possible, but that the alternative to working for success is to hope that things go badly—even to will it—to be ceaselessly critical and, ultimately, to achieve only an echo of Private Fraser’s lament, “We’re all doomed.”

Although none of us has perfect foresight, I am absolutely confident that we will have much greater success in lining up future free trade agreements than some people have suggested.

The negotiations will begin soon. In my view, we need an agreement in which we are generous to Europeans living here, enthusiastic in our continuation of academic and research co-operation, and resolute in our solidarity with Europe on defence and security.

In that agreement, we must be practical about ways of controlling immigration but welcoming to skills, tourists and entrepreneurs; we must be free of the European Court of Justice, but never compromise on standards or the rule of law; and we must be adventurous in pursuing our own trade deals, but never underestimate the importance of free trade and easy customs clearance in all that we do with Europe.

That is what I hope the Government’s White Paper will lay out. I hope that it will bring our one nation of diverse parts together. Whatever our concerns about the journey, we should start positively, not cynically.

Do let me know what you think Brexit should look like at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.
Best regards

 

 

 

 

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PRESS RELEASE: MP secures BT broadband deal for Tolsey Gardens

Richard Graham MP has secured an agreement from Openreach – BT’s local network business – to fund vital upgrade works in Tolsey Gardens in Tuffley to provide them with fibre broadband from the Summer.

This follows concerns raised by Tolsey Gardens residents about the ongoing slow internet they were experiencing, with average speeds of 2.5MB. Richard Graham had meetings with BT and the then-Broadband Minister Ed Vaizey MP to discuss the case and to see if an appropriate solution could be found.

Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, said, “I am glad that we have now come to an agreement with BT to help Tolsey Gardens residents get the broadband that they need. One local resident told me about how he is unable to Skype his son who lives abroad, which is not acceptable in this day and age. This is a great result for Tolsey Garden residents, but there are still some who struggle to get decent internet speeds, and so we are also working with the county council on how to use Fastershire money for other black spots in Gloucester.”

Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of next generation access, said, “Our ambition is to never say no to residents who ask for improved broadband service. In this case, following a review, we were able to find a solution by working with Ministers, the local MP Richard Graham and residents. As a result, Tolsey Gardens will see a real improvement in their broadband speeds when the works are finished.”

Cllr Nigel Hanman said, “I would think the residents of Tolsey Gardens will be highly delighted considering their wait.”

Cllr Steve Morgan said, “It is encouraging that BT have responded in a positive way to the requests for improvement to this service. This demonstrates that they will listen to the views of residents and their elected representatives.”

PRESS RELEASE: Richard Graham MP urges local charities to apply for new funding option

Richard Graham MP has urged local charities to apply for a new funding opportunity from the Postcode Lottery. The Lottery have £6 million on offer via three trusts which support different categories of projects.

A minimum of 30% of Postcode Lottery profits go directly to charities and players have raised £168.4 Million for good causes across the country. The first round of funding is now open until 10 February 2017, and there will be a second opportunity in August.
The Gloucester MP said, “it’s important that our charities make the most of the opportunities like this to continue the great work they do in Gloucester. We’ve already benefited from the Heritage Lottery Fund from the National Lottery, and now the People’s Postcode Lottery provides another opportunity for our charities to get a funding boost. They just need to submit an ‘expression of interest’ form by 10 February and shortlisted candidates will be invited to bid for funding.

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said,£6million injected into grass-roots projects across Great Britain will have a tremendous impact in local communities. We encourage charities to put themselves forward for this funding and to have a look at the different Trusts to see where their project fits in.”

NOTE TO EDITOR

The maximum a project can receive is £20,000.

People’s Postcode Trust seeks applications for projects that focus on the prevention of poverty, promotion of human rights, equal rights and conflict resolution for some of society’s most vulnerable groups. Postcode Local Trust supports wildlife, sustainability and volunteering initiatives. Postcode Community Trust focuses on grass-roots sports, arts, recreation and healthy living programmes.

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised more than £168.4 million to date for over 2,800 good causes across Great Britain and internationally.

For more information on how to apply for funding, please visit the Trusts’ websites: www.postcodetrust.org.uk www.postcodelocaltrust.org.uk www.postcodecommunitytrust.org.uk

 

ENDS

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