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Island MP’s response to Kelly report

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Andrew Turner has given his response to the report on MPs’ Expenses by Sir Christopher Kelly and the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Mr Turner welcomed the report which, he says, contains many sensible proposals. He hopes that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) will implement the recommendations in full as part of the process of restoring trust in politics, despite the fact that some of them may present difficulties for individual MPs.

The 140-page report makes 60 individual recommendations. Many of them, such as providing documentary evidence of all expenditure and moving responsibility for setting MPs’ pay and pensions from MPs themselves to an independent regulator, Mr Turner described as “self-evidently sensible”. Other proposals such as ending the employment of family members and phasing out mortgage interest payments (for which there are transitional arrangements which can last up to five years), will bring about fundamental changes to the way MPs work and organise their family lives. After the five years have elapsed, only claims relating to rented property (under a scheme similar to that currently used by the Ministry of Defence for service personnel) will be allowed, and family members will be made compulsorily redundant.

Mr Turner said,
“I welcome the report and many of the recommendations are self-evidently sensible and necessary. I have always voluntarily provided evidence for all expenditure – that is normal practice elsewhere. The old system allowed claims of £250 for petty cash, £400 for food, and more recently £25 per night subsistence allowance without receipts. I have not claimed for these things because I did not think they could be justified and I believe that claims under any expenses system should be supported by evidence that the money has actually been spent. I also think it is wrong that MPs should decide their own levels of pay and pensions and have voted to change this in the past.

“I am also pleased that Sir Christopher has recommended that the rules for the designation of second homes should be clear, unambiguous and properly policed. It simply never occurred to me that the system allowed MPs to ‘flip’ homes for personal gain, which clearly happened in some cases. Although it is reasonable to allow people up to five years to make big changes to their living arrangements, for my own part I do not intend to take advantage of the transitional period which would allow me to claim mortgage interest for up to five years. As soon as the new system for providing rented accommodation is up and running, I shall seek to transfer to it.

“I have always been perfectly candid about employing my partner Carole in my office. Sir Christopher’s report accepts that the ‘vast majority of employed family members provide an excellent service’, but recommends that after the transitional period of five years the employment of family members should end. Carole has carried out a first class job, as many Islanders who have come to me with individual problems know. I regret that this will end, but accept that it is necessary to completely reform the system in order to begin restoring the confidence of the public in our parliamentary democracy.

“This change will fundamentally affect the way I organise my office, as Carole works for me both in London and on the Island on a completely flexible basis, for that she is paid £19,000 pa. I am sure people will understand that I am unlikely to be able to find a skilled replacement who would be willing to work on the same basis for a similar salary.

“Although I am provided with an office in Westminster my main office base is in Newport and I currently have no paid employees based in London. That is likely to remain the case until after the next election; however once the new system is in place I shall of course comply with all the rules within the required timescale.”

END 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.”

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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