Last week I had a good meeting with the Chancellor, Philip Hammond. In particular I wanted to discuss HMRC’s customs declaration system whose upgrade is a part of the Brexit preparation that is urgent to ensure a smooth transition. Whilst some the details as to rates etc that will need to be incorporated into the system are not yet settled, the IT framework on which they will sit can and should be developed as quickly as possible.
Chancellor of the Exchequer is a tough job. A successful economy requires stability and confidence, and it sometimes feels like our media and politicians create the opposite by searching for conflict. Since 2010 the structural deficit, what we borrow each year, has been reduced by two thirds yet it is not something that gets headlines anymore. The importance of paying off our debts remains essential as we change our relationship with the European Union and forge a new global identity. Much has been made of the term ‘austerity’ for political ends but living within our means must not be a phase and we are not there yet. The criticism of Labour’s policy on student debt is totally justified as making these sorts of promises without even knowing what they would cost is unacceptable.
In the last fortnight I have focussed some of my time in Somerset on visiting some of our key public services and meeting the brilliant people involved, including the Police, Fire Service, schoolteachers and care home staff. Of course, it is always apparent that it is reductive to speak about ‘the Public Sector’ – this contains very distinct, skilled professions with their own successes and challenges. They also have their own strengths and weaknesses in funding and even the much publicised average 1% pay cap does not cover many areas particularly the lower paid and it does not affect progression within those sectors. That said, I am one of those in Westminster calling for more flexibility in public sector pay if it can be achieved in a sustainable way.
The debate has been heightened by the publication of BBC salaries. Along with the NHS, the BBC is one of the institutions that makes this country proud and yet there is clearly an issue here, not least with the disparity in pay between men and women. There is enough evidence to suggest it is a systemic problem and it must be tackled. The other issue for me is that the Licence Fee is such an unfair tax and, to put it bluntly, below the age of 75 those who can least afford it pay the same as the richest for the Graham Norton Show, whether they watch it or not.
Parliament is now in recess but my office is very much open and so too are Government Departments so I am able to take up issues as always. I am doing some open advice surgery sessions this week including in Tatworth and Ilchester; if you have an issue that I may be able to help or you would like to get in touch for another reason please do call 01935314321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.