Gale's View - 23rd March 2015
It was an American President who famously said “It`s Morning in Britain Again”. As this will be the last “View” before Parliament dissolves on March 30th and we go into candidate-mode for the General Election on 7th May that seems to be a good note upon which to pause before, I naturally hope, normal service will be resumed in due course. The “morning” referred to is an economy that, as revealed in last week`s budget, is now out of intensive care and well on the road to full recovery. While healthcare and education and policing and defence and immigration and welfare and overseas aid and other issues are all, of course, going to feature on election agendas it is an indisputable fact that everything that everybody wants for themselves, for their families and for our Country stems from the strength or weakness of the economy. Without growth and sound money aspirations are impossible to meet.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is the first to admit that although the Government is “mending the roof while the sun is shining”, in a reversal of the policies pursued by Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown, there is still a great deal to be done. More constraints will be placed upon the spending of taxpayers` money on public services if we are to retain our widely envied place as one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in the developed world.
What has been achieved to date has been at a cost in austerity that has had an impact upon every family in the Country and those of us in Westminster, on both sides of both Houses of Parliament, are very aware of that. As a result, though, there are now more people in work in full-time jobs than at any time in our history and fewer people on benefits than for a very long time. By raising the level of the personal tax threshold to, first, £10,800 and then to £11.000 some five and a half million people will have been taken out of tax altogether and the widely-respected Institute of Fiscal Studies has confirmed that, although it has been a long and rough haul, family incomes are at last higher in real terms than they were when the coalition took office in 2010 and improving. Knocking a penny off the cost of a pint of beer may seem like a gimmick but for the third year running duty has been cut and the continued freeze on fuel duty with which Osborne has replaced Brown`s planned “escalator” has mean real savings every time the family car is filled.
Much of the recovery is due, of course, to the determination of small businesses that have weathered the recession and fought to retain business share and to increase employment. These enterprises have suffered from too much `government` and bureaucracy for too long but the greatest burden of all for SMEs and particularly High Street retailers competing with Out-of-Town shopping malls has been, and remains, the business rate. It is therefore timely that the Chancellor has announced a full review of the business rating and valuation system with a view to overhauling an archaic tax that is out of date and not fit for purpose in the 21st Century marketplace.
The “Big Ticket” items have benefitted also. It has been fashionable to talk about “NHS cuts” but the facts contradict the left-wing rhetoric. Spending on health services have increased dramatically over the lifetime of this government. Nationally and locally there are more consultants, more doctors and more nurses employed and while the figures that I have before me cover a seven and not a five-year period it is, for the serial critics, an uncomfortable reality that most of those increases, together with a huge rise in the number of patients treated by our hospitals, has taken place during the lifetime of this government. Our Armed Forces are once again both solvent and better equipped and much long-term commitment to capital spending (aircraft carriers, aircraft, the nuclear deterrent, frigates, for example) has been made. We are, similarly, now in a position to be able to increase spending on education generally and on school buildings in particular. We are doing so and the effect of that spending is again being felt in North Thanet. I have said, and believe, that our determination to maintain our spending upon Overseas Aid is both right and honourable. If we, as one of the four richest economies in the World, cannot afford to support some of the poorest people in the World through a commitment of just 0.7% of GDP then we ought to be ashamed of ourselves and I am revolted by those political parties who propose otherwise. It is, of course, vital that aid is well-targeted but that, also, has been and is being addressed.
During the coming weeks I will seek to address every issue raised with me personally by those that I, and our Council candidates who are also seeking election, have sought and continue to seek to represent. But while I recognise that individuals and households have equally individual and very specific priorities I believe that the coming election will be determined by who people want to run their country as Prime Minister, who people want and trust to represent them and to fight their corner locally and, above all, how the needs of our nation will be met and paid for financially. We have learned the hard way that, like families, we cannot spend what we have not earned and I do not believe that Britain can, or wants to, return to the days of economic incontinence