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Island MP “remove Irish Lights subsidy”

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Andrew Turner, the Island’s MP, last week raised the subject of the Light Dues shipping tax in Parliament.

Light Dues are a tax that merchant and larger fishing vessels must pay when docking in UK and Irish ports. The revenue goes towards the upkeep of lighthouses, lightships and other nautical navigational aids. However, the system is anachronistic and inequitable. Shipping companies are forced to contribute towards the upkeep of Irish lights, even if they do not call at Irish ports. In 2004, the Government promised to abolish the Irish lights subsidy but this has never happened. In February of this year, the Government launched a consultation exercise looking at raising the Light Dues tax. The proposed tax hike could cost shipping companies hundreds of thousands of pounds a year extra to dock in the UK.

During the debate, Andrew Turner said:
“[The Department for Transport] has let panic set in…No one will be surprised to learn that the situation has caused unparalleled outrage among the international and UK shipping communities. News of the additional burden has reached Bombay, Tokyo, Shanghai, New York and all world cities that control major shipping lines.”

Mr Turner added:
“The impact of the changes will increase the burden of charges on some sectors of the shipping industry by a whopping 115%. The Government assume that deep-sea vessels will continue to call at UK ports, including the busy port of Southampton, regardless of cost. I suggest that that is risky.”

Another contributor to the debate, Julian Brazier MP, the Shadow Transport Minister said:
“When businesses face severe difficulties, there is a particularly strong onus on Government to minimise potential additional costs. As a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend [Mr Turner], have remarked, the shipping industry has been particularly hard hit by the current economic turmoil.”

After the debate, Mr Turner said:
“I raised this issue at Westminster because I am concerned that Government proposals to increase Light Dues could cause incalculable damage to trade coming to Southampton through the Solent and elsewhere. I understand that such taxes are not applied in most EU countries – which could be a powerful incentive to avoid UK docks.

“The Light Dues controversy has been going on for a long time. A parliamentary debate, dating back 111 years to 1898, called for ‘an earnest attempt to deal with a matter which has been a scandal for the last 70 years.’ This puts the problem back to as early as the 1820s!”

Mr Turner added:
“During the debate, I called on the Department for Transport Under-Secretary of State, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, to suspend plans to increase Light Dues and to provide a timetable for removing the Irish subsidy. I was pleased to hear that Mr Fitzpatrick had recently come to a more balanced arrangement with the Irish authorities, but I do not believe this is enough. I was disappointed that Mr Fitzpatrick could not assure me that the proposed Light Dues increases would be frozen. We must end the inequity of the current system and, at the same time, safeguard the income and jobs that the shipping trade brings to this country.”

END Contact : Andrew Turner’s office 01983 530808

The full debate can be found at:

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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.”

END

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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