Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, and to my campaign launch to be the next MP for Isle of Wight I wish to talk to you this evening about three areas - obviously Island issues and then National priorities, but firstly the question I know many are asking - why am I here?
Why am I here?
Am I here because of I am described as a former Islander?
This is true - in part. True in that I don't live on the Island at present.
However in 1992 when I lived in Germany, I received Conservative Party general election literature, it described me as an important British expat voter, not a former British voter. So I see myself not as a former Islander but as an Isle of Wight expat, and still an Islander, but that is not why I am here.
Am I here because of numerous links to the Island?
Well many of you may have read them, it is after all the place where I grew up, going to primary, middle and high schools in Cowes.
The Island is the place I started my now 35-year career in industry, with 11 years at Plesseys in Cowes, first as an apprentice, then as a sponsored undergraduate and finally as digital electronics design engineer.
The Island is the place I learnt to swim with many hours spent ploughing up and down the pool at West Wight Swimming Club, even when the club started to first use the current indoor pool, before the roof and walls were added & most crucially the heating was installed.
For 14 years I played for the Isle of Wight hockey club, including many of those years as 2nd XI captain.
The Island is the place I met and married my wife of the past 25 years.
It is the place our boys were born and it's the place the rest of my family still live.
In short, the Island is a place I care deeply about.
These are very good reasons to wish to return to the Island.
But that is not why I am here.
I am here because of the general elections in 1974.
The first one saw the good folk of the Island decide they had enough of the conservative chap, there was talk of dodgy deals and Bembridge Harbour.
The result was the election Liberal Steve Ross.
In the autumn came the second election and I heard that Steve Ross was speaking on Cowes parade. In the intervening months between the elections, Steve had build up a good reputation. So I went along. It was windswept and chilly, but there was a Steve Ross speaking and speak up about wishing to change things for the better.
Years later, I went to the same Steve Ross and said can I interview you about becoming an MP. He said no problem, so I did. Afterwards he gave me some tips, which appeared to involve delivered lots of leaflets and importantly about always working hard to help people.
This is why I am here - applying for this particular job - as MP for the Isle of Wight.
Politics is not about the fight for power between party groupings;
it is not about gaining power for self-interest or claiming as much as possible on expenses;
it is about one thing and one thing only -
helping people to have better, happier and more fulfilling lives.
That is why I wish to return to the Island to put all my experiences as an Engineer, a manager and a Councillor to the benefit of Islanders.
Now to the issues on island - there are numerous issues I could talk about ferries/fixed link, general economic development, roads, traffic, or even what do about Coppins bridge roundabout?
So as not to go all night I will stick to just three council finance, housing and schools,
should you wish to you can always ask questions on the other subjects at the end.
In tackling the problem of the deficit all Councils across the country have seen their grant from central government cut and all councils have responded differently to this problem.
Some have just buried their collective heads in the sand and done nothing, but spent their reserve. However, the countries deficit and national debt will not disappear by magic and they are only putting off difficult decisions to later.
Some have simply cut services and under the freedom of the Localism Act, it is generally their decision what services to cut. This is where it is important to know what the political priorities of the council are.
Some have decided to take a more business headed and community engagement approach to the problem. I have been fortunate to be part of council that has taken this third route. The principle mechanisms have been the council's use of Prudential Borrowing powers plus working with parish/town councils and other local community groups.
The Council's innovative property management scheme now means it is landlord to a high profile mix of businesses including B&Q, Lloyds Bank, Wetherspoons, Matalan, Halfords, Pets at Home, Costa Coffee and Travelodge as a result of the freehold purchase of land and buildings since 2008.
These assets brought at a cost of £55 million are now worth about £188 million and they generate an income for the Council after borrowing and other costs of about £2.5 million per year, which has closed most of the funding gap from central government.
It is also possible to work smarter and more locally, for example, when Hampshire County Council decided to cut the number of youth workers from about 150 to just a handful.
As a Borough Council we decided something had to be done for youth provision,
even though the Borough Council had no statutory responsible so to do.
A partnership was formed in the West End, Hedge End and Botley local area between the Borough, Parish and Town councils plus the local churches, the secondary school and other community groups to co-ordinate the provision youth services.
Nearly two years on, it is working well with new youth facilities and hundreds of young people attending youth clubs in the area during the course of the week,
including 300+ young people on a Friday night church youth club.
Initiatives like this, combined with Liberal principle of devolving the ownership on many local facilities to the lowest possible level, like town and parish councils, have meant that:-
- for the past 11 years borough council tax increases have been below inflation by at least 1%.
- Services have not been cut but improved
- and unsurprising we Liberal Democrats have increased our control of the council, which in the past 5 years has seen the removal of Labour group and reduction of the Conservative group to 4 councillors all from just two wards.
We have done this by making sure the number one aim is to help people have better lives.
The provision of new homes is always a very contentious thing, the council has to decide on the planning application, the competing needs of people without a home and neighbourhood that would be affect by that development.
This is why I believe in local committee system where local councillors take all planning decisions is the best system. Councillors representing the area of the application know the area the best and if the development is to go ahead will know how best how to implement it.
On the Island the various local clusters could be these local committees and so the Ryde, Seaview, Brading, Bembridge, Havenstreet cluster would make the decision on the Pennyfeathers development. In my experience such a system works well, even some of the committee meetings have lasted from 6pm to half past midnight.
New developments present both a threat and an opportunity to local communities. The opportunities come in the form of new infrastructure schools, roads, hospitals, jobs which are required for the development but can also help sort out existing problems.
The current Island plan's requirement is for about 500 homes per year for the next 20 years to meet demand. So the size of this challenge is not to be under estimated.
To meet the challenge will require both a pro-active council and Member of Parliament to get all the agencies of government working together. It will probably also require the council to become a developer to have the greatest control over development and correctly response to housing need.
As a member of parliament, I would be prepared and willing to work with any political colour of council to help meet this challenge. As I have already done on the PUSH overview and scrutiny panel, which for the last 18 months includes the Isle of Wight and I have chaired for the past few years despite been the only Lib Dem on the panel.
When it comes to the issue of schools I believe I come at it from a unique perspective, for I believe I am the only person in this contest who has:-
- Been a pupil on the Island through the primary, middle and high school system
- And has been a school governor for the past 13 years in the primary and secondary school system that the Island has recently adopted.
- And as a parent has had two children go right through that primary and secondary school system whilst I have been a governor at their school.
This gives me a distinctive insight into the issues involved in running this still relative new system on the Island.
When the council were proposing to change the system in 2008, I came across to two of the public meetings, one at Carisbrooke High School and the other at my old school Cowes High, which I am pleased to see, had much improved results last year.
During the meeting there were two particular points that stood out, firstly the idea for a new secondary school west of Carisbrooke to serve the West Wight catchment area and secondly the passion of the parents at the Cowes High School to save Gurnard primary school.
So I was quite surprise to find out that new secondary school was the former Archbishop King Middle School in the same road as Carisbrooke High School. Personally I would have thought I better decision would have been to make West Wight Middle School a secondary school. Now the western half of the island has no secondary school in it
And I was not surprised that following the parents campaign Gurnard Primary School was saved. Well in name only, my old middle school Solent is now Gurnard Primary School. I have nothing against using the site as a school. It was the best school I attended. The only thing is it is - is not in Gurnard.
As an MP I would seek to help the council look at the wider picture. I would be both their critical friend and central government champion - to get as much help as I possibly can.
And I would do this regardless of their political colour, because our schools are the guardians of the future, as they are prepare the next generation to face the challenges we leave them.
Talking of challenges - this bring me on to the national situation.
Think back to 2010: a country in turmoil, at sea on the financial markets, with borrowing spiralling out of control and forecasters predicting disaster as the first peacetime coalition in 80 years sought to restore order after the financial crash.
And for the Liberal Democrats a choice step up to meet the challenge or stand by on the sidelines. I for one am proud the party took the decision to step up, even if it meant a coalition with the self-confessed 'nasty party' (Teresa May - October 2002)
And as a party we have achieve a great deal, not all the things we would have wished,
but great deal considering there are only 57 Lib Dem MPs.
Yet still I hear some people say we have done nothing but support Tory party policy,
when I hear that a compare it with the facts
and that reminds me of the Life of Brian Monty Python sketch
when some asked what have the Romans ever done for us.
The record of achievement is actually quite long, so here is a starter OR
What have those Lib Dems ever done for us:-
- Cut the deficit by half, reducing borrowing by the equivalent of £3,000 for every household.
- Given an £800 tax cut to low and middle income earners by letting you earn £10,500 tax free, benefiting over 44,000 people on the Island.
- Industrial Strategy and Business Bank to grow modern British businesses;
- and delivered 99,000 jobs with our £3 billion Regional Growth Fund.
- Protected schools budgets and introduced the pupil premium to help children who might otherwise fall behind, which includes over 13 million pounds extra for those disadvantaged pupils on the Island.
- Increased free childcare to 15 hours a week for 3 and 4 year olds, and disadvantaged 2 year olds, including over 300 children on the Island.
- Secured the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension with our 'triple lock' policy on uprating, improving the pensions for over 35,000 pensioners on the Island.
- Established the world's first Green Investment Bank, helping treble renewable electricity generation.
- Nearly 2 million new apprenticeships, training our workforce for 21st century jobs, including over 6,500 on the Island
- Helped people balance work and family life with shared parental leave and the right to request flexible working for all.
- Extended personal freedom by scrapping ID cards and introducing equal marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
- Closed down bogus colleges and tightened up English language tests for people moving to Britain from overseas.
- Fixed Term Parliaments, taking away the Prime Minister's power to call elections when it suits the governing party.
- New financial powers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, City Deals and Growth Deals to enable local people to drive local economic growth.
None of this would have happened without the Lib Dems in government
and there is a - promise of more in the next parliament OR
What are those Lib Dems ever going to do for us:-
- Finish the job of balancing the books, on time and fairly.
- Raise the personal allowance to at least £12,500, cutting your taxes by an extra £400, increasing on island the number people taken out of pay tax by 50% to 9,000
- Invest to make the UK a world leader in low carbon cars, energy efficiency and hi-tech manufacturing, and continue the Regional Growth Fund to back growing businesses.
- Protect early years, sixth form and college budgets too - investment from cradle to college to raise standards.
- More free childcare: moving to 20 hours a week for working families from the end of paid maternity leave right through to school.
- Legislate to make the triple lock permanent, guaranteeing decent pension rises every year.
- Cut energy bills and create jobs with a national programme to insulate homes with a Council Tax cut if you take part.
- A 2/3rds discount bus pass for under-21s so they can afford to travel to college or work, benefiting over 9,000 young people on the Island.
- Introduce a new 'Carer's Bonus' so carers can take a proper break every year, benefiting over 2,200 carers on the Island
- Bring back proper border checks so we know who's coming in and leaving the UK.
- Reform party funding, electoral reform and an elected House of Lords.
- A new wave of devolution to the nations of the UK and 'Devolution on Demand' to transfer more power and control to local areas.
All of these things will only be possible with the Liberal Democrats in government
because we are the only party who both act to provide
a Strong Economy and Fair Society with opportunity for all.
This will be achieved by:-
- Finishing the job on the deficit fairly and balance the books so the next generation aren't burdened by huge interest payments.
- Rewiring the economy to cut out carbon, rebuild our national infrastructure, and embrace new technology, so the next generation can be protected from the threat of runaway climate change.
- Rebalancing the tax system away from taxing work and towards unearned wealth, so the next generation can keep more of the money they earn and live in a more equal world.
- Building the homes our country needs to stop prices spiralling out of reach, so the next generation have the chance to bring up a family in a home of their own.
- Returning power from the stifling grip of Whitehall to the citizens and communities of our nation, so the next generation have the power to shape the society in which they live.
- Restoring confidence in Britain's immigration system with fair rules and competent administration, so the next generation can continue to live in an open, tolerant society that benefits from people and expertise from around the world.
- And, above all, by investing every penny we can in education from cradle to college - nursery, school, apprenticeships and college - so all our children get the chance to live out their full potential.
So if you care about the:-
NHS, schools, housing, the environment, social care, taxation, benefits, national security, policing, cutting crime, animal welfare, renewable energy, education, climate change
or indeed anything in this country
then vote in May.
And if believe there is a need to balance the needs of the environment, economy and welfare of society in fair manner, so that there is opportunity for all - then vote Liberal Democrat.
And if you wish to vote for someone who will work for all this
and work hard the Island
then vote for me
Thank you listening, staying awake and now it's time for questions -
so who wishes to go first?