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Island MP accuses Government of time-wasting over Equitable Life compensation

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Andrew Turner, the Island’s MP, this week highlighted the total failure of the Government’s handling of the Equitable Life compensation saga.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society almost collapsed in 2000, leaving the future uncertain for tens of thousands of policy holders. Eight years later and the Government have made little progress in deciding when and how Equitable Life policy holders should be compensated. Mr Turner called the Government’s position into question during a debate at Westminster. He asked why compensation was not forthcoming. Mr Turner accused the Government of procrastination whilst those affected by Equitable Life suffered.

Mr Turner said:
“I think it is disgraceful the way the Government is treating those affected by the near-collapse of Equitable Life. The recent Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report looking into the Equitable Life situation made it quite clear that the Government should pay out compensation. In response, the Treasury stated that is was ‘not generally appropriate’ for the Government to pay out in such circumstances and that the process may take a further 2 and a half years, ‘if not significantly longer’. Equitable Life policy holders cannot afford to wait this long.

“I suspect that the Government is waiting for nature to takes its course so that if and when compensation comes, they have to pay out fewer sums of money. Sadly, 30,000 policy holders have already died before justice was done. We cannot let this continue.

“In addition to the unacceptable delays, the Government is set on ignoring the Ombudsman’s recommendations and replacing proper compensation with a means-tested hardship fund. This so-called hardship fund, it seems, will be smaller than an adequate compensation package and will, no doubt, require lengthy means-testing before Equitable Life policy holders see any money. Means-testing is a most unwelcome factor the Government have introduced. In their response to the report they talked of identifying those who have been ‘disproportionately affected’. In effect, it would be the Government who decides who is worthy or help and who is not – but these are people have been prudent and put money aside for their old age..

“The whole situation is totally unacceptable. I call on the Government to get its act together and come to the aid of the victims of Equitable Life.”

The inaction has incensed other MPs, including the Member for Chichester, Andrew Tyrie, who said that the Government had employed “a series of blocking and delaying tactics” in response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report, which stated that the Government should act to compensate those affected. Mr Tyrie also blasted the Treasury’s decision to replace compensation with a watered-down hardship fund.

In his contribution, the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham, Greg Hands, illustrated the asymmetry and unfairness of Government action. He cited the example of the Government’s overnight protection of savers who were affected by the recent collapse of Icelandic banks and compared it to the “glacial progress on Equitable Life”. Echoing Mr Tyrie’s contribution, Mr Hands said that “every step of the way, the Government have sought to block, frustrate and delay the fight for justice”.

Mr Turner along with many of his colleagues and counterparts from across the House have argued that, whilst this was not a party-political issue, the Government had become isolated on the matter.

As the Island’s MP, Mr Turner said later he would stand up for anyone who suffered from the collapse of their pension fund, not just Equitable Life victims.

“It is unacceptable in this day and age that people from across the private sector, who have saved diligently throughout their working lives, can wake up one morning to find they have nothing. There are schemes to protect workers’ pensions, such as the Pension Protection Fund but the Government needs to be proactive in looking for ways to safeguard pensions, rather than waste their time looking for excuses to dither.”

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Contact: Andrew Turner’s office 01983 530808

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Broadlands jobs safe

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Island MP Andrew Turner has received confirmation that the future of jobs and services at Broadlands House are secure following press reports that previously announced new jobs would not now be coming to the Island. Mr Turner said that yesterday’s press reports were completely at odds with assurances he had received both from the Minister last summer and the regional manager as recently as November last year. On hearing the reports that plans had changed he contacted the senior management of JobCentre Plus to seek clarification of the position.

Mr Turner said

“I have now received definite confirmation that the plans of Jobcentre Plus have not changed and that they will be keeping a benefit processing centre on the Island as well as establishing one of only two national insurance number processing centres here. I have been told that the additional jobs will arise as their plans are implemented over the coming months.”

Mr Turner went on to say

“During our meeting last November Guy Tompkins Jobcentre Plus’s regional manager was very complimentary about their workforce on the Island and told me that the positive approach of the staff was one of the reasons why they planned to expand on the Island. I am very glad that they see the sense of bringing work to the Island rather than taking it to the mainland and I will continue to press Government to follow their example.

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School Reorganization – Where will £70m come from?

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Government have denied promising the IW Council £70 million to pay for reorganizing Island schools from a three- to a two-tier system. And the Island’s MP has criticized the ‘optimistic noises’ on funding given at consultation meetings.

In a Parliamentary Answer to Island MP Andrew Turner it was revealed that there have been absolutely no promises from the Government to provide the estimated £70 million needed for the changes being proposed by council officials. In answering Mr Turner, Stephen Twigg MP, the Minister responsible for school funding, made it clear that the Isle of Wight council has received no assurances that extra money will be made available for the proposed changeover. Mr Turner has criticized the impression given to parents and teachers that obtaining the money needed from central government would not present a problem.

Andrew Turner said,

“During the meeting I attended at Sandown High School it was clearly stated that ‘we can get’ the £70 million needed to change the system. I was surprised to hear that because that simply isn’t the way that Government works. I have asked the Government what promises they have given and they have clearly told me that they have given none. I have now asked the Council what led them to give such a misleading impression to those who went to the trouble of attending the meeting. I have been told that there have been informal meetings with government officials who support these proposals – I am afraid that does not represent government spending commitments. Frankly I am shocked that optimistic noises were made which misled people.”

Exam results and education standards on the Island are far below the national average and the recent report costing £100,000 by 4S recommended changing the system but did not provide any evidence that this alone would improve standards. Mr Turner went on to say:

“There may well be arguments for changing the system – but changing the system does not guarantee improving standards; the issues should not be mixed up. Even the advocates of change admit it would cost a fortune. If that money does not come from central government it will have to come from existing council budgets and be topped up by Island council taxpayers.

“It is at very least disingenuous to suggest that finding the money to achieve change is not an important issue that needs to be discussed as part of these proposals. I am worried that the Council seems to believe that informal discussions with civil servants translates into promises of many millions of pounds – sadly that is not the case.

“We need to raise standards but that is best done by the Council accepting that some schools are better than others, publishing that information to parents, governors, teachers and the wider public, and tackling the problems on a school-by-school basis. It is not as glamorous as being the architect of a whole new system, but it is much more likely to give our children the quality schooling they deserve.”

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Contact : Andrew Turner 01983 530808

School Building (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) commitments and (b) undertakings she has made to the Isle of Wight Council regarding future capital allocations provided (i) through the Building Schools for the Future programme or (ii) otherwise, whether (A) contingent on or (B) not contingent on school reorganisation. [216280]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: A letter has been sent to all council leaders stating that, for authorities not prioritised in the first three waves of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), including the Isle of Wight, we are determined to make a start on BSF plans between 2005–06 and 2010–11. Our ambition is that in the next full Parliament, subject to future spending decisions, 60 per cent. of all authorities will have started in the BSF programme, or else be given resources to renew at least one secondary school with the greatest need as a school for the future, or as an academy. Each BSF scheme will be judged on its merits, and is not necessarily contingent on school reorganisation. Other capital allocations to the council and its schools were announced on 30 November, and are set out in the following table:

£000
2006–07 14,853
2007–08 15,446

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Can we become a Fairtrade Island?

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As World Fair Trade Fortnight draws to a close this Sunday the Island’s MP Andrew Turner has praised the work of the IW Fairtrade Forum. The Forum is working towards the accolade of Fairtrade Island by building on existing users and suppliers of Fairtrade products to spread the word about the products and the good they do for their producers in the developing world. There are now more than 250 products bearing the distinctive green and blue logo which guarantees a fair deal to producers of such items as coffee, tea, sugar and bananas.

Andrew Turner said,

“The Fairtrade product range has expanded over recent years and whilst once they were seen as an expensive alternative they now offer good value and quality. In order to become a Fairtrade Island we need more suppliers of the products so everybody really can make a difference by asking their local coffee shop or convenience store to stock a few items from the range. As the largest constituency in the country the Island gaining this accolade really would make a difference and give a boost to the national campaign. Fairtrade really makes a difference to those communities that need a helping hand – and I know that on the Island we have a really caring and compassionate community”.

Jim Curtis the co-ordinator of the IW Fairtrade Forum said

“I very much value Andrew’s support for this campaign. In order for the Island to be recognised in this way we need the active support of the Isle of Wight council as well as that of suppliers across the Island. I urge everyone to let their local councillors know that they would be proud to see us become a Fairtrade Island helping less fortunate people to take control of their own lives and build themselves a better future.

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