Category Archives: Everything

PRESS RELEASE: City MP calls time on Morrisons/Trust Inns failure to act on Ridge & Furrow future

Gloucester’s MP Richard Graham has told both supermarket giant Morrisons and pubco Trust Inns it’s time to bring an end to their standoff and sort out the long closed Ridge & Furrow site in Abbeydale.

‘The situation is (politely) very frustrating’, Richard said, ‘and does nothing for the reputations of either business. Trust Inns say they’re waiting for news of their new rent, which is overdue, while Morrisons say they’re waiting for a variation of lease as Trust Inns has a potential alternative sub tenant. It is frankly absurd that they can’t sit down and sort this out together’.

Richard says the former pub has status given by the City Council as an asset of community value: ‘my earlier survey showed that many more people valued a pub than a petrol station and the campaigning group has made it clear they expect that to be honoured. However since the pub isn’t being sold the Community can’t bid for it so it would be useful to know if any group with pub or hospitality sector experience has approached the Trust Inns’ agent James Baker (Bristol) with firm interest.’

But the MP noted that the economics of a pub on the site were not easy: ‘Trust Inns say they would develop a new pub if they owned the site, but Morrisons doesn’t want to sell. If they sub lease there are at least three mouths to feed: Morrisons, Trust Inns and whomever becomes a sub tenant – plus a manager if the sub tenant is not going to do that him or herself. In my experience, with pub margins as they are, higher rateable values and tough drinking laws on drivers, it won’t be easy to make this pub profitable for so many layers, and on top there will now be a hefty capital outlay to get the place looking good again.’

So the MP believes that if there is no serious bid by a credible pub group, Trust Inns would be entitled to come up with an alternative plan which ‘should be put to the community and then to the Council Planning Committee. Residents and councillors would have to take a view on the best way forward. No-one wants to see an empty site for much longer.’

But Richard Graham said the immediate issue is a huge failure of communication between the two big companies, and with residents in Abbeydale and Abbeymead. ‘If you own a site, especially on a prominent site in a community which supports your supermarket, you have a duty to let people know your plan. If you don’t, and time drags on, then residents are rightly suspicious. I told Morrisons years ago they would not get a petrol station there and should think of a plan B. God knows they and their tenant Trust Inns have had long enough to sort this out’.

The MP added that he will highlight that this whole saga runs completely opposite to all of Morrisons’ original values: ‘it’s a story I’m afraid of corporate greed that starts with the Supermarket wanting to get the pub out for a much higher margin petrol station – but not being able to deliver on that. I will be writing to Morrisons’ Chief Executive to seek his help in getting this sorted and if that doesn’t work then I will hold a parliamentary debate on this ridiculous situation’.

 

Tenth successive month of falling unemployment in Gloucester

Gloucester MP Richard Graham said  today’s latest unemployment figures mark the tenth month in a row that unemployment in Gloucester: with over 800 more people in jobs over the last year.

Reacting to the news, the City MP said, “108 more people in the city with a job in the last month, 800 in the last year, and over a thousand since 2010.

Each new job means one more person with a wage packet and an opportunity to get on. Further evidence of Gloucester on the UP”

Gloucester MP welcomes resurfacing of road by War Memorial for Remembrance Sunday

Richard Graham MP and Westgate councillors joined Gloucestershire County Council and contractor Amey to look at the finished resurfacing of Park Road, beside the city’s War Memorial.

Richard said, “our county council promised to sort the very poor state of this road in time for our Armed Forces, veterans and cadets to gather this Remembrance Sunday – and it has.”

The city MP noted that, “in this 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Somme, where so many soldiers in the Glosters fought and died (and my grandfather was badly wounded), it’s good that the road looks as it does now.”

Richard also said the city council had prepared the garden and would sort the mindless graffiti recently added to the wall before Sunday’s ceremony: “I much appreciate both of our local authorities showing their respect.”

Vernon Smith, Cabinet Member for Transport, commented, “On Remembrance Day lets us all acknowledge the debt we owe to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. When Richard raised the condition of the road leading to the Gloucester War Memorial, we were only too happy to help resurface it. I have family serving in the armed forces, and many County Council and Amey staff are veterans. It was our pleasure to pull out the stops and get the job done in time.”

County Councillor for Westgate Pam Tracey added that she was pleased residents’ concerns about the road’s condition had been heard and improvements made.

park-road

Cllr Vernon Smith, Cllr Paul Toleman, Gloucester MP Richard Graham, Darren Mizen from Amey & Cllr Pam Tracey on Park Road

Why I think we should pause the LISA

Parliament is debating the legislation for the proposed Lifetime Individual Savings Account on Monday, and will set out how it will work.

The Lisa will encourage those aged between 18 and 40 to save up to £4,000 a year with a very generous 25 per cent government monthly top-up, which they can use to buy a home in their thirties, or for savings later in life.

The aims are in line with the government’s manifesto to help people on to the housing ladder, in a familiar savings wrapper, with implementation scheduled for next April. So what’s not to like? Unfortunately, quite a lot.

The problem is that when it comes to savings, we don’t start with a blank sheet of paper. We already have a mind-boggling collection of pension and other savings products, with every recent government tempted to try to be the savings industry’s product designer.

The stakeholder pension, created under Tony Blair’s government, died a quiet death. And we should be careful of not unintentionally doing the same to the auto-enrolment scheme, implemented by the coalition government, and backed by the government-owned pension provider Nest, to ensure that every employer offers millions of employees a workplace pension. This is a noble cause. Why is that at risk?

Today, auto enrolment has 6.9m new savers signed up to a pension and another 3m more still to come. Crucially, contributions are tax free, and both government and the employer contribute too. By contrast, any savings into a Lisa come from taxed income and the employer does not contribute anything. But all of that is as nothing compared with the guaranteed Lisa incentive: 25 per cent a year, an unimaginable no-risk annual return on any asset class.

So there will inevitably be a flood of savers switching from existing Isas (especially cash Isas) and new money going into the Lisa. Better-off workers and retirees will find the spare cash to get their children and grandchildren’s savings moving.

The problem is that the lowest earners will not have enough both to save through their auto-enrolled pension (especially as their contribution level increases sharply to 4 per cent by 2019), and to have taxed income to spare for a Lisa.

We are bound to see a rapid increase of opt-outs from auto enrolment, especially in 2019, and people instead opening Lisas. Employers will not mind this as they will not have to pay their (2019) contribution of 3 per cent into their workers’ pension pots.

The likely result is that building long-term savings through auto enrolment, with government, employer and employee all contributing, will be severely set back. The Lisa may prevent auto enrolment from being the growing source of later-life income that it could be. That, in turn, could have implications for future social security pressures.

Does this matter? Some believe that no one understands pensions, they are too inflexible and everyone prefers Isas (which you can cash in tax free). Use that brand to mobilise house buying and savings, they say, and don’t worry about which product the money goes into: it is the savings generated that matter.

A growing proportion of people neither own a home nor have a pension.

And I might, broadly agree, except that taxpayers are paying for the Lisa top-ups (estimated at £850m by 2021). So who will benefit the most?

The government has not given us any breakdown but my instinct is that the biggest beneficiaries will be existing savers who are transferring assets, and families of higher-rate earners — the opposite of those intended to benefit from auto enrolment.

Finding £4,000 out of taxed income will not be easy for those on the average wage for my Gloucester constituency of about £24,000: my constituents will not be able to save nearly that much. So the Lisa, while available to all, risks principally benefiting the few.

Moreover, the Lisa is criticised by many in the savings industry, and ignores the concerns of the previous two pension ministers, the work and pensions select committee, the ABI and other professional bodies. There is an FCA consultation that ends only a few weeks before it is supposed to be introduced next April.

This is not the best backdrop to the introduction of a new savings product with such generous incentives. I am convinced that piecemeal Treasury product design is not the answer and a wider consensus on savings is needed. And because we have such a feeble opposition, deeply entangled in civil war, it is for Conservatives to call for this.

It is not too late for the chancellor to pause and reconsider the whole savings landscape. I recommend he establish a savings commission. Led by an independent figure, this body should work out how we can best stimulate savings for homes and retirement, without adding unnecessarily to the range of offerings, creating competing government products or giving generous tax breaks to the few. The remit should include current tax breaks for pensions and savings instruments. Let it be formed quickly and give recommendations within six months.

The Lisa is the product of the last Treasury’s habit of tinkering with product design for savings, its dislike of pensions, its preference for tax up front (and so Isas) and its inability to work effectively with the Department of Work and Pensions on this issue. The new chancellor and work and pensions secretary have the chance to change all that, and provide solutions better suited for the many.

Pausing the Lisa would be a good start.

Heritage Lottery Fund: What Heritage Means to Me

Project Pilgrim improvements for the Cathedral setting

Project Pilgrim improvements for the Cathedral

What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word “heritage”?

Heritage is like honey. Take it little and often. The taste is enhanced if you know a bit about it – where it comes from and how its varieties are made. Honey has been part of life forever: we just need to keep making it, thinking of new ways to enjoy it, and continuing to treasure it. Just like heritage.

What’s your favourite Gloucester heritage?

“Heritage is like honey. Take it little and often. The taste is enhanced if you know a bit about it – where it comes from and how its varieties are made.”

All the streets and buildings and people with stories.

I like the less easy questions: where was Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, buried? Was Civil War soldier Colonel Massey a hero or a turncoat? Were the remains of Llanthony Priory smashed up for the canal?

And always – what can we learn from the past that might help the future?

In Ecclesiastes are the rather gloomy lines that nothing is new – all has been done before.

But history rarely repeats itself exactly. What does happen is the constant human and architectural need for re-invention: warriors become business people, and industrial quays modern flats; one Victorian chapel is a care home, another a gym: and the Cathedral is for filming as well as prayer.

While we’re at it, let’s make an effigy of Henry III more interesting for today’s generation by showing him in digitalised form, as if by magic. Technology revisits our story, shedding light on our past, present and future.

Why is Gloucester historically important?

It was the nearest crossing of the River Severn to Wales and so of strategic and trading importance. Gloucester was the third greatest city in England and we’re still finding things that reflect that.

What’s your favourite UK heritage?

Anglican choral music, cricket, our great forests, a feast of great buildings large and small from yesteryear and a number of semi-mad happenings like cheese rolling.

Who is your favourite historical figure?

My heart says James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, the romantic Scotsman who won impossible victories for his king and ‘dared to put unto the touch to win or lose it all’ – he did lose it all, including his head.

“What can we learn from the past that might help the future?”
But my head says Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In a lifetime of genius Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, Temple Meads station and the line that snakes through our county all stand out as brilliant and beautiful engineering.

Do you have a favourite bit of parliamentary heritage?

The story of Westminster Hall and how it has evolved is the story of our nation – the ambitions of kings, the work of great craftsmen, the trials of great men, the bombs of the Second World War, and the new window to a great Queen. Look no further for our Island Story.

Which heritage highlights should visitors to Gloucester make sure to see?

Our shining jewel is the Cathedral. Inside look for Edward II, the medieval golfer in the East Window, the cloisters that Harry Potter and every film maker love and Thomas Denny’s stained glass brilliance. And that’s just the start of it.

Find out more about Gloucester
  • Since 1994, HLF has invested almost £19million in Gloucester
  • In 2014 we announced our support for a major 10-year development project at Gloucester Cathedral
  • Established in 1136, Llanthony Secunda Priory has been awarded a grant of more than £3m for major renovation work

A Plea to end Knife Crime

One of the saddest parts of an MP’s life is dealing with the death of a constituent from violent crime or hideous accident, especially if the victim is young.

There is nothing more unnatural or miserable than parents burying their own children. Families’ lives suffer for years: some barely recover; all have to dig deep and find resilience and new purpose to pull through.

Today – in the wake of two more stabbings in Gloucester, one fatal, and another young man killed in Cheltenham, all last week – I’m asking every family in our city to find a different sort of courage.

Because, despite what some people may want to believe, almost all the knife stabbings are between people known to each other, not random attacks. Ours is not a dangerous city for people not involved in drugs or carrying knives – and I say that living by and walking in Gloucester Park almost every day I’m not in Parliament. It is a safe park.

And while not all of the very serious knife crimes are caused by arguments about drugs and drug money, many are – as the police and the courts can testify.

So keeping out of the drug scene, and not carrying a knife, massively reduces the chances of getting caught up in a stabbing. And that means every family having those difficult discussions: do we know anyone who carries a knife or is involved in drugs? And if they are, what is it going to lead to? Who’s the next casualty?

We can all do things to help. The Police can break down the gangs who want to flood Gloucester and Cheltenham with drugs, like the duet sentenced last week. They can work with charities and schools about a programme of education in the widest sense. The PCC can and should focus more on this.

Meanwhile councils can commission tough love programmes like that of the Nelson Trust. Those who’ve gone to prison can tell, movingly, of their journey – modern cautionary tales. Schools and youth groups have to engage and Councillors and civic groups must spread the word about the safety of our city and the dangers of drugs and knives. Lastly Parliament can, and I hope will, widen sentencing discretion for judges.

For this is about US: our children, friends and communities. We can turn a blind eye, we can pretend we don’t know: we may be scared to know exactly what is going on. But it is only when enough people say ‘I am not going to see drug dealing go on any longer’ – and ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, that we will start to win.

So I’m asking all of my constituents to help save our young people by uniting against carrying knives and dealing in drugs. Let’s get our communities back.

Education Green Paper – Grammar Schools and More

Prime Minister Theresa May was once Shadow Secretary of State for Education, and it is her understanding of the dilemmas ahead that guides the new Green Paper.

It asks big questions: How can the independent sector support state schools? How can universities increase school attainment levels and thus their intake from different backgrounds? And lastly, how can more selective schools (grammar schools) become part of the equation again?

I’ve always felt strongly about independent schools supporting state schools. That’s why I encouraged Beaudesert Park School in Minchinhampton to work with Widden Primary in Gloucester, so that urban pupils had the chance to go and see what a rural school looks like and enjoy their facilities, while Beaudesert pupils get to visit a mosque and see what a multi-ethnic school looks like. The exchanges have been a success, and all around the county there is more to be done.

Many independent schools have charitable status exempting them from business rates due to ‘public benefit’ rules. The paper asks if this should include a certain proportion of students receiving a bursary or scholarship, or a partnership with a state school.

On Universities, our University of Gloucestershire played a big part in turning around Finlay Community School, which was placed in ‘Special Measures’ by Ofsted in 2006 and was then rated Outstanding in 2011. This was only after Conservative county councillors refused to accept officers’ recommendations to close the school and the University took over responsibility for monitoring and improving it. The paper asks if this sort of support should be a requirement for all Universities, in exchange for being able to set tuition fees.

One question that will also need to be clarified is whether supporting a University Technical College, like the one we’re bidding for in Gloucester (for health and social studies), will count towards this. The University of Gloucestershire has been a key leader on this project and I expect that to continue when the UTC opens.

On grammars, research from the Sutton Trust found that around a fifth of grammar school pupils come from outside the 36 local authorities areas with grammar schools. This is even more so the case in Gloucester, showing demand for them in neighbouring cities like Swindon and Worcester. The green paper outlines potential criteria for setting up new grammars, including taking into account pre-existing schools and geography. We have four great grammar schools in our City and so it is unlikely that we will get any more, especially when the paper includes funding options to allow existing grammars to grow.

But the most important aspect of this paper for Gloucester, in my opinion, is the opportunity for grammar schools to take a higher proportion of pupils from lower income households. We have a higher percentage of free school meal pupils in Gloucester than neighbouring constituencies, and our grammars should be identifying those with talent at nearby primary schools.

The paper also mentions partnering with non-selective schools, or establishing primary feeder schools in areas with a higher density of lower income households. Both of these are positive ideas, and the latter is part of Crypt’s plans to create a new primary.

So the paper offers real opportunities for anyone to offer their thoughts on specific issues, and I hope constituents will copy me in on their replies. It’s a wide topic, not just about more grammar schools, and all of us who want the best education for students should contribute. I certainly will.

 

Link to the Consultation.

The Finance Bill 2016

Back in Parliament this week not least to pass the Finance Bill through a midnight session on Monday. Why does it matter?
Basically this is Parliament’s chance to approve or disapprove the government’s spending plans. The detail mostly reflects previous announcements, but there was a detail that highlights how this government is for the many and not the few.
In the last Autumn Statement the government closed a loophole which private equity managers had used to use to disguise some forms of income so they didn’t have to pay tax for some time (sometimes ever).These performance-based rewards, known as ‘carried interest’, are now counted as income making them fully taxable: and therefore the tax rate on private equity much more fair.
The latest Finance Bill reduces basic rate and capital gains tax to encourage investment in companies instead of property – but the Bill keeps the previous higher rate for carried interest and chargeable gains to make sure that taxes are paid fairly by everyone.
I know from a private equity accountant how unfair many in the industry themselves thought this was – and now something which a Labour government allowed for all 13 years of its time is abolished. By the Conservatives.
In 2014-15 HMRC brought in £26.6 billion from tackling tax evasion and avoidance. That funds, for example, a big chunk of the Education budget. And the principle of fairness is hugely important. So I was glad to help see the Finance Bill through.

Illegal Tobacco Sellers in Gloucester

Finally someone in Gloucester has been sentenced for selling illegal tobacco.

Iraqi national Farman Haiday had been warned more than once before by the Glos Trading Standards team, when he was found trying to sell 560 packets of 20 counterfeit cigarettes worth around £4,000 in the General Store in Gloucester’s city centre.

The thing is these counterfeit products vary in quality and don’t adhere to government standards on the levels of tar, nicotine and monoxide. They might also contain ingredients that are not on the Department of Health’s approved additives list. In short such cigarettes are a serious health danger, while offering the retailer a fat profit.

Farman Haiday will now serve a twelve months sentence for the cigarettes which he stashed in a child’s play house behind his shop on Station Road. I hope this is a serious warning to anyone else selling illegal tobacco in Gloucester.

For those who buy cigarettes or tobacco, I urge buyers to think less of the cost of the cigarettes than the impact on your health. Packaging irregularities, health warnings without pictures, or unusual brands are often tell-tale signs. I’d like smokers to be more responsible of their own health and sellers to respect the law – or get caught, go to prison and (for foreigners) face likely deportation.

Happy Birthday Dave

This video highlights what Waste Operator Dave Newman does to increase recycling at the GRH. It’s a good story and one not very well known.

As it happens it was Dave’s birthday last Friday. He’s been working for 60 years and he’s 74, still working full time.

So do join me in congratulating Dave and appreciating his great enthusiasm for recycling – it would be a great birthday present for him to know how many people share his enthusiasm for it.

Belated Happy Birthday Dave!



« Older Entries