Starting back at Westminster this week after the festive break I should be feeling refreshed and ready for 2018. I’m not sure I am. Constituency and national Parliamentary work continued throughout and I was also hit by the winter illnesses floating around. I’m not sure the road to recovery was helped by the freezing conditions which accompanied the Blessing of the Seas service in Margate at the weekend. A fantastic and colourful event, rich in the traditions of the Greek Orthodox church which celebrates the baptism of Christ known as the Epiphany. This is a festival which predates the historical celebration of Christmas by some centuries. Over the years, snow has been a regular feature on Margate’s main beach for the event, but this year, wind driven sand was the main culprit. This is my fourth year of attendance, and marks, for me, the final divide between the Christmas and new year season and the year ahead.
I launched three national discussions over the recess. The first was a policy paper on borders and immigration post-Brexit. Our EU partners are proposing a US style ESTA pre-application system for visa free travel across the EU. My paper examined this and makes a similar proposal, with a similar fee in response which would raise significant sums, add to border security and get Britain ready for post-Brexit realities.
My second initiative was making the case for a new Royal Yacht Britannia to showcase our country as a floating embassy and trade platform as we become able to project ‘Global Britain’ once more. The previous Royal Yacht Britannia was pivotal in unlocking trade to Britain’s advantage, and had the unique ability to humble foreign Presidents and potentates when invited aboard. It was an immensely powerful diplomatic tool that should never have been mothballed without replacement in 1997. The usual suspects, doubtless with tones of Republicanism, were quick to suggest that the £120m would be better spent on other national priorities. Just to put this into context, £120m represents a little under an hour and a half of government expenditure and represents under one thousandth of what is spent annually on the NHS. But I am aware of these sensitivities and my suggestion is for a new bespoke nationally lottery to augment the pledges by the best of British businesses to put the funding together.
My third launch of the recess season was the publication of detailed research following Freedom of Information requests across all local authorities, Health trusts, Universities and other public bodies subject to FOI transparency. My question was a simple one “What do you spend on a ream of standard 80gsm copier paper?” The results were startling with a range of prices paid from £4.65 (Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust) to just 75p by Runnymede Borough Council. You and I can find similar online and for about £2.00. With the permanent calls for more spending, the purpose of the exercise was to highlight that there is still fat to trim within the spending habits of public sector bodies, and if procurement horrors exist for the purchase of something so routine as copier paper, what else is lurking out there?
In closing, I enter 2018 with great enthusiasm as we progress Brexit towards the conclusion. I am hugely positive as about the state of the economy and regeneration opportunities throughout the Isle. Happy New Year. Happy New Year.