Budget address by the leader of the Opposition, Elliott Phillips
1. MR SPEAKER this is my third budget contribution and my first as Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition. It is a privilege and a great honour to lead the Opposition in this House on behalf of the people of Gibraltar.
2. MR SPEAKER before I get to the substance of my address we must of course recognise the work of the Clerk of the House, Paul Martinez and Frances, Kevin, Daniel and of course you MR SPEAKER.
THE “BIG LIE” BUDGET
3. MR SPEAKER, if I may, and before setting out our stall, we have an initial observation as to the description of this year’s budget. The Chief Minister describes the so-called Budget as a BREXIT BUDGET. I have to hand it to the Honourable Chief Minister, he is in our estimation a consummate spin doctor, but the Merry Go Round has finally halted and the music has stopped MR SPEAKER. People have stopped trusting him, the buzz words are falling on deaf ears, whoever he pays to write his speeches for him will soon be out of a job. The public MR SPEAKER are no fools. This is not a ‘BREXIT’ Budget this is the BIG LIE BUDGET. The Chief Minister claims to be prudent, he claims to be cautious, he claims to be a safe pair of hands when spending our money, he even sets up a department set up for public efficiency MR SPEAKER to create the illusion that our money, the people’s money is safer in his hands.
4. MR SPEAKER this is all part of the BIG LIE BUDGET. The direct evidence for this is the CM’s so called revolution in education. The fact of the matter is that the £52M contract for the two-secondary schools at Waterport isn’t included in this year estimates! Why not? Let’s not forget that the contract does not include the fitting out of the two schools and therefore we the costs of the two new secondary schools is very likely to be in the region of £75M.
5. How can this be a Brexit Budget when trucks are hurtling down Waterport, laden with materials, the deafening sound of the thuds of the machinery operating 24/7 at enormous cost to the public. The project is devoid of any real consultation from those who will actually use those schools. Embarrassingly he then jokes to anyone who would care to listen, included foreign MPS that even the opposition complain that they are moving too fast. There is nothing remotely BREXIT about this BUDGET MR SPEAKER.
6. MR SPEAKER the Chief Minister as we all know, is a BIG SPENDER, and his cabinet the BIGGEST CHEERLEADERS of spending our MONEY. MR SPEAKER the GSLP/LIB Government are penny wise pound foolish.
7. MR SPEAKER it has finally dawned on the Hon Gentlemen that he has been reckless with our money MR SPEAKER, it took him 7 years of SPEND, SPEND SPEND and now the public, the tax payer, businesses and our future generations we will be saddled with DEBT, DEBT, DEBT, a debt that he has created whilst he and his Government attempt in a desperate scramble to spin this as a consequence of Brexit. We do not accept this and neither do the people listening and watching this debate.
8. MR SPEAKER in December 2011 the GSLP/LIB Alliance were elected on their now infamous “Time for Change” or “New Dawn” manifesto, promising all things to all men. To their credit and as anyone who has been charged with huge responsibility of administering the public affairs of Gibraltar there are several projects and initiatives which we ourselves as servants of the people of our community have welcomed. We have been constructive when we have needed to be, and we have been robustly critical in areas where we strongly hold the belief that this community has been and is being taken in the wrong direction.
9. MR SPEAKER one such striking example is the management and administration of our public finances. Everyone understand the message: “its your money and the Government must properly and transparently account for what they are doing with your money”. The issue is even more acute now because it is clear to our community that the Government is parking most of it debt off balance sheet and intentionally hiding the true level of our debt from the people. I now turn to make the position of HM Opposition abundantly clear.
10. MR SPEAKER we will not vote in favour of this budget because it fails to present a clear, transparent, accurate and unambiguous reflection of the state of our public finances. We consider it a gross dereliction of our duty as representatives of this community to condone and support a budget which is fundamentally opaque and which handcuffs elected representatives from properly and effectively scrutinising the public finances of this community.
11. MR SPEAKER it will no doubt be said in reply that voting against the budget is repugnant, wrong and we will suffer detriment by playing into the hands of Gibraltar’s enemies- what nonsense nothing could be further from the truth, no one buys that juvenile, playground argument. It is true that parliamentary practice/convention has meant that the Opposition traditional voted in favour of the budget, but as the Chief Minister was at pains to teach me last time we were in this House, practice or conventions change.
12. MR SPEAKER it is not unusual in the slightest for oppositions to vote against budgets- it happens the world over. There are in our view very good reasons to depart from this perceived practice. MR SPEAKER the point is this, we the Opposition do not know how the public’s money is being spent and we disagree in any event with what it is being spent on.
13. MR SPEAKER 2017-2018 has been the Hon Chief Minister’s annus horribilis. 2018-2019 is shaping up to be no better for him. Oh well MR SPEAKER all good things must come to an end. MR SPEAKER the Chief Minister is living off borrowed time…. MR SPEAKER I am not fond of quoting rappers but I could resist this one.. When the CM and his Ministers are all sat in their VVIP luxury Government enclosure at the GMF this year they should reflect very carefully to their headliners Stormzy’s warning in his catchy lyrics “You’re getting way too big for your boots… You’re never too big for the boot”.
14. MR SPEAKER the Chief Minister so called 2015 strongest foundation manifesto is suffering from significant structure damage resulting no doubt from the inherent weak foundations upon which it was built. Brexit is now fast becoming the excuse for our woes and we have been treated this morning to a Brexit Budget or the BIG LIE BUDGET.
15. MR SPEAKER it is clear that the Chief Minister no longer has his finger on the pulse of our community and the day to day issues that affect hard working families. Domestic issues have been in the main been ignored using the Brexit excuse. I have heard it being said that the Hon Gentlemen’s focus must be on Brexit but the world did not stop turning on 23 June 2016 and we must carry on. The Hon Gen is hemoreging support and although not yet on life support the Government condition is serious. The Government are failing to address the serious concerns of working families, the vulnerable and importantly young people. Last year he CM promised a budget designed with prudence in mind, to support our working families, young people, the elderly and the disabled, he has failed to achieve that objective. Increases in rents, rates, social security again are all measures that fail to support working families.
16. In the Opposition contributions to the debate on the Appropriation Bill each of us will deal with our respective shadow responsibilities. In particular, our Shadow Public Finances Minister The Hon Roy Clinton will address and present in granular detail the numbers whilst the Hon Daniel Feetham will chart the historic context which have led us to the current financial position that our community finds itself in.
17. MR SPEAKER we have a duty to the people that elected us to hold the Government to account particularly at Budget time. The debate of the Appropriation Bill fails entirely to provide the public with an accurate, comprehensive and transparent account of our public finances. The Government have in 7 years have consistently denigrated and destroyed any form of oversight of our public finances, hidden debt from public view, evaded answering detailed questions on public finances from the Opposition and created a system where this House is incapable of properly and effectively subject the management of our public finance by the Government to parliamentary scrutiny.
18. To all those who will tune in across our community to listen or watch this debate from home or work I am sorry to have to say to each one of them that there is very little that we can do as your elected Opposition to uncover the mass of hidden debt which will hang round the necks of our children and grandchild for generations to come. But there are some indicators even from the slither of information that Government have provided. From what we have been able to distil:
(i) Our recurrent expenditure is increasing estimated at £627,815,000 for 31 March 2019
(ii) Our net debt is rising to £339,900,000 in 2019
(iii) Our revenue is lower at £635,849,000 at March 2018
(iv) Our cash balances are decreasing from £127,600,000 in 2017 to £96,000,000 in 2019
19. So MR SPEAKER to our community. Money coming in is down, the cost of running Gibraltar is going up, debt is rising and our money at the Bank is down. The Government is clearly not on target to honour their promise to the people to get net public debt below £300M. The Hon R Clinton will in detail assess the consequences of these startling figures but it is clear that for the first time the GSLP LIB Government will be running a deficit and for the first time the donation to Community Care will be at its lowest. The headline figures I have presented show a critically worrying trend.
20. MR SPEAKER it is important sometimes to actually reflect on what the Chief Minister said in the New Daw Manifesto of 2011:
When we were in Government FP (Leader of the Opposition) as he then was said:
“…… On the GSD Government’s own figures, we are already at least £480 million in debt in terms of Gross Debt. Gross Debt is the relevant figure for analysis of national debt that you would see referred to in any publication considering the national debt of any country. That works out to £16,000 per man, woman and child in Gibraltar. In 1996, the figure was £3,000 per man, woman and child. The GSD then referred to that level of debt (which it has now quintupled) as a “millstone round the necks of future Gibraltarians”
21. MR SPEAKER fast forward to 2018-2019. We have a situation where approximately 65% of our indirect debt is now hidden from public scrutiny. The change to the legal debt limit and the over reliance on the debt/GDP ratio/ formula instead of linking debt with revenue coupled with hidden debt of massive proportions indicates to all concerned that the picture being painted by the Government as to the true level of public debt is entirely false and misleading.
22. MR SPEAKER our analysis concludes that our total Gross debt level is £1,248.7Million or £1.248.7Bn. The community will remember in 2011 during the General Election Campaign Leader of the then Opposition Fabian Picardo castigated Sir Peter and the GSD by saying that gross national debt meant that every man, woman and child were exposed to a millstone round their necks of £16,000 each.
23. Well MR SPEAKER pausing there and using the Chief Minister’s own logic namely the gross national debt every man women and child of our community has a £37,000 reefy style millstone round the necks of our children and grandchildren. The Chief Minister has almost doubled the level of exposure of this community from £16,000 (on his own figures of gross national debt in 2011) to over £37,000 for every one of our people.
24. MR SPEAKER when the Chief Ministers finally gets the Stomzy boot his legacy will be DEBT, DEBT, and even more DEBT.
THE CURRENT POLTICAL CLIMATE – A RETURN TO DIALOGUE AND COOPERATION IN THE TRIALTERAL PROCESS
25. The result of Spain’s vote of no confidence motion has provided our community with a renewed hope that the new Spanish Government will be more receptive to our position. Although the dust is settling on the formation of a new Spanish Government we remain hopeful that dialogue and cooperation for the benefit of our community and the wider Campo will prevail. We have been very clear as to what our vision is for Gibraltar and that we would be seeking to achieve:
(i) A restoration of the trilateral process of discussion. Bilateralism on matters that affect Gibraltar is unacceptable. In that process of discussion there would have to be a realistic discussion to seek to achieve Gibraltar objectives without making any concessions on sovereignty jurisdiction and control;
(ii) Freedom of movement of the border;
(iii) Single Market Access
26. We continue to press the Government for the restoration of the trilateral forum with the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain to ensure that our rights, wishes and interests are fully protected in the context of Brexit.
27. MR SPEAKER Because it is in the interests of Gibraltar as a whole we have consistently and regularly communicated our position in that we stand ready to assist. Briefings of the nature we have received do very little to persuade those on this side of the House that the Chief Minister is interested in seeking our views on the challenges that we face as a community.
28. MR SPEAKER the public expects both Government and Opposition to work together in order to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of Gibraltar. Briefings to the Opposition are infrequent and contain limited information which soon is released in the public domain. Hardly working together…
29. Turning MR SPEAKER to some of my more specific responsibilities:
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS – A YEAR OF INDUSTRIAL STRIFE
30. The last 12 months has been a very low point for the Government in its handling of industrial relations. The uncertainty of the future of the contract of municipal cleaning services continued until the end of last week, and who could forget the “brandishing of signs calling for an “end to the uncertainty” by the GGCA and its Master Services members.
31. We have all heard the pre-budget announcement of the award of the cleaning contract to Britannia Management. We will subject this award to the closest possible scrutiny and comment shortly after the Budget.
32. The last 12 months has also seen GHA workforce of 400 strong staging a walk out over its longstanding concerns regarding the reliance on supply workers. Its “enough is enough” campaign sent a clear and loud message that morale within the service hitting an all-time law within the GHA. It is clear to many within our community that the use of supply workers is privatisation through the back door. It will be recalled that in 2011 General Election the GSLP/LIBs Manifesto stated that:
“Government work and services will be carried out by direct labour which includes employees in related entities on Government pay and conditions. There will be no privatisation of Government departments”
33. Last month the Boarders and Coastguards took industrial action and the frontier over a similar issue and the use of supply labour.
34. AND the related Medoc/Grand Home saga is a story which keeps on giving. Concerns are now being highlighted in relation to Mount Alvernia and its relationship with Medoc.
35. MR SPEAKER we have described the level of contract workers in the public service as unprecedented. The affect cannot be underestimated 39% of the total labour force is employed via recruitment consultants or agencies.
36. MR SPEAKER the Opposition has been asking questions of the Government in relation to the use of companies to recruit parallel labour or supply workers into different sectors of the public service for a long time now. The practice of recruiting parallel permanent labour or supply worker to work alongside permanent civil service or public service posts on different terms is pervasive and one which we say erodes workers’ rights as well as security of employment.
37. Organising your labour force in this way can seriously affect the quality of the service provided to the public. We have also said that these practices raise serious questions of accountability, transparency, quality and value for money in the procurement of public contracts. These are all issues that require serious examination and an overhaul of the way things are done by the Government.
EMPLOYMENT TRAINING AND SKILLS – GSLP/LIBS FAILED SKILLS AND TRAINING POLICY- A LOST GENERATION OF UNTRAINED AND UNSKILLED YOUNG PEOPLE WITHOUT HOPE
38. MR SPEAKER on apprenticeships last year the CM announced at Budget time the introduction of T-Levels, a year on and nothing further despite our questions in this House as to the progress of this policy initiative. The Government has failed entirely in its commitment to Young People and their families in developing truly inspiring alternatives for those who do not wish or are simply unable to take the higher education route.
39. MR SPEAKER for too long the Government have ignored a loud call for the development of an apprenticeship programme. The Government continue to ignore the skills deficit and cliff edge and are blinded to the calls from the Unions, the Chamber of Commerce, business, young people and their families.
40. MR SPEAKER, the failure of the Government’s employment policy will have long lasting consequences beyond their short time in office and we will have to pick up the pieces when the people of this Community put them back in their natural habit of the Opposition. This community may forgive the Hon Members opposite for much but not for the abject failure of the Young People of this community and their families. Almost daily we hear from disaffected young people, without hope and opportunity because of the Government’s failure to tackle skills training and the establishment of a fit for purpose Apprenticeship programme.
41. MR SPEAKER the Honourable the Father of the House, Sir Joe has attempted to denigrate our arguments by instructing his staff to write to employers in a desperate attempt to demonstrate that there is no interest in the business community for Apprenticeships. MR SPEAKER I will never share the views of the Father of the House and I will never shy away from telling him that.
42. MR SPEAKER The Hon Members Opposite will recall the statement by Playtec’s Chief Operating Officer which clearly supports and reinforces our longstanding commitment to investing in our future generations so that they are the first choice for employers now and in the future. The absence of any response to this call by a senior member of our gaming industry demonstrates to those in our community and beyond that we are not serious about investing in our own people.
43. MR SPEAKER if we want big business to set up in Gibraltar we need to ensure that our people are trained to do skilled jobs required by those business- it requires foresight and it requires proper investment in people where the dividends will be reaped over a long period of time and not by the narrow confines of an electoral cycle.
44. MR SPEAKER the Government’s non-policy on skills training will leave a lost generation of young people without skills and our position within the global digital economy weakened. It is time for the Government to abandon its Future Job Strategy and adopt proactive policies which position out Young People at the forefront of the digital economy.
45. MR SPEAKER the Hon Chief Minister talks about building a successful economy but he fails to understand that fundamentally the success of our community depends on the creation of better opportunities for our young people, it cannot work by operating a plugging the skills gap policy that the Government are determined in pursing.
46. MR SPEAKER we need to proactively shape our own future by using the human resources available to us rather than reactively plug the skills gaps. We need to continue to focus on supporting start-ups in IT, gaming, software development Fintec to name a few. I remain absolutely convinced that we need to do a lot more to truly harness the human resource we have available in our community.
47. MR SPEAKER many in our community will agree that creating a vibrant environment for Fintech to flourish is a good for our economy but we must ensure that when we encourage these types of start-ups or more evolved business to our shores that we do so safe in the knowledge that we can grow our own talent in partnership with business so that we become the centre for excellence. Fintech is proving to be a highly competitive environment with many sophisticated jurisdictions moving quickly into that space. In our experience of the gaming industry the longstanding complaint from those companies has traditionally been the lack of skilled workforce, let us not expose ourselves to that type of criticism.
HOUSING- A BROKEN SYSTEM- FAILING TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THOSE MOST IN NEED
48. MR SPEAKER in my political clinics Housing is the number 1 complaint area.
49. MR SPEAKER this year we focused a big part of our outreach campaign on meeting with many of the representatives of the so called forgotten estates. It’s fair to say that after 7 years of GSLP administration they feel very disappointed, Laguna Estate is waiting for 35 lifts to be installed, we have reports as to problems at Moorish Castle and VBE has scaffolding erected with little or no work being done on the buildings. The main issues affected thousands appears to be the never-ending refurbishment, and security of our housing estates which clearly is borne out by the CM meeting with residents of Laguna Estate and Glacis Estate as recently Friday 22 June.
50. MR SPEAKER our Housing estates are the heart and soul of our community and 7 years on the Government continue to be plagued by inactivity, neglect and failing to get the job done. It is simply unacceptable for the Government to take 7 years to complete works to our housing estates, I am sure that we will now have to endure all the excuses under the sun from the Minister and the Chief Minister where they will no doubt play the blame once again. The public are bored of their excuses action must be taken to finish the job they promised 7 years ago.
51. MR SPEAKER recent announcements by the Ministry in relation to establishing a Register of Residential Tenancies are in principal, and subject to a comprehensive review, welcomed by those on this side of the House. It is wrong and an abuse for anyone who has based on need has secured a Governmental rental to rent out that property. The practice is abhorrent, and it should be stopped. It is equally wrong as a matter of principal that those who derive a rental income from their homes do not declare that income to the Income Tax Department as it from those who rent out their homes in breach of the terms of the underlease.
52. This is not the time for public statements on how we would deal with Housing moving to the future the GSD has developed a key policy document which come the next election will be open for the community to consider. For now, we believe that the system is not fit for purpose. We need a radical shake up and rethink entirely the way in which we allocate Government homes and access to opportunity for Government co-ownership schemes.
53. MR SPEAKER I have asked the Minister for Housing and the Chief Minister several times to explain when the Government will announce the building of homes for rental and I have been treated to as usual a non-reply, an announcement will be made in due course. There is a real need which is not only expressed by Action for Housing but struggling families. What is the secret tell us now MR SPEAKER and give hope to those people who are struggling.
54. In relation to rental arrears in the last 12 months the Government’s record on recovery is appalling. In March 2017 arrears were just over £5,000,000. At the budget last year The Chief Minister stated that arrears stood at £4,995,42 and confirmed that “problem clearly under control”. As at the end of April Hon lady told me that arrears stood at £4,829,692.28.
(i) January 4,879,901.75
(ii) February 4,871,271.96
(iii) March 4,850,205.20
(iv) April 4,835,308.50
55. Where is the success story in those figures?……nothing has changed . It is clear for all to see that the Government are failing to recover what is owed and the problem is stagnating under their leadership.
56. The Government are failing, failing to identify and address the root problem. Those in real social need are unable to access housing because the system is not fit for purpose. There is also systemic abuse in the Housing system which must be urgently addressed by the Government. We need to revolutionise housing and only provide homes to those in need. Our policy on means testing must be implemented alongside a range of initiatives that make the system user friendly accessible and above all fair.
57. For instance, how is it right that the when each of our children reach the age of 18 parents feel the need to put their names on a social housing list in order slowly creep up an archaic system to have the opportunity to buy into the government co-ownership or be allocated a Government flat in the future. I have heard of many cases when children leave for University parents ensure that their children are on the list so that when they finish full time education. MR SPEAKER what on earth is going on…..
58. On Housing Lists there are currently a total of 1350 applicants on the pre and housing list as well as a small number of the social lists. Only 69 people have been allocated flats in 2018 so far. With a growing and aging population how does the Government intend to cater for demand an evolving and changing circumstances? What contingencies are in place for a hard Brexit? Where is the investigatory and enforcement process to minimise abuse of Government Housing? I know that the Hon Housing Minister does try and help but we must recognise that the system is fundamentally broken MR SPEAKER. We need to operate a system based on REAL need. We need to provide for families small and large, young single parents, the elderly, key workers and those with disabilities. The system needs a degree of flexibility but above all it must be fair and cater for the needs of those most in need.
59. MR SPEAKER on 26 November 2015 some 2 and half years ago I made promise to those who entrusted their vote to my colleagues and I that we would speak for those people in our community who felt distant from politics and politicians. I have promised that where I can I will help, if I can’t I will say, but I am here to listen. It has become apparent that the CM likes to use the opportunity of the debate of the Appropriation Bill NOT JUST to report to the House on the public finances of our community but the state of the economy generally and our political future facing Gibraltar.
60. Almost 2 years after my election MR SPEAKER I was asked by the Leader of the Party Keith Azopardi QC to lead the parliamentary party in this House after the Hon D Feetham stepped down. It is a great honour and privilege to be able to serve my community in which capacity I am asked to serve. It is of course right at this juncture that this House pays tribute to the crucial role played by Daniel Feetham in driving the party forward in Opposition after 16 years in Government
61. MR SPEAKER opposition politics is as everyone in the House will know a hard, a difficult and isolating endeavour at the best of times. It can also be brutal but it is in the main rewarding for each one of us on this side of the House. Serving our community in key domestic areas such as housing, employment, health, skills, social services and care and understanding the plight of members of our community has been a privilege and an honour.
62. MR SPEAKER It has also been an eye opener because despite the constant spin from the benches that drive the new dawn propaganda machine there is endemic and growing discount from the public as to the Government’s administration of our public affairs. Not one day goes past that each of us on this side of the House receives a complaint about this Government’s mismanagement of the domestic agenda. The discontent is also coming from the Government’s own supporter’s MR SPEAKER and they are becoming very vocal.
63. MR SPEAKER as I believe we will demonstrate through our various contributions that we are fundamentally at odds with the Government in respect of the substance or lack therefore and form of Appropriation Bill.
64. MR SPEAKER to end my contribution voting against the budget is not a decision to be taken lightly but it stands as an important message to the public, for whose money we are responsible for, that we as you elected representatives genuinely believe that the financial underpinning of our public services is being threatened by the bad management of our public finances and we on this side will not support the BIG LIE BUDGET.