The following is my piece in todays Argus: Now that all of the main parties have published their manifestos it is interesting to see some of the elements that have been included. I confess my focus has been on the two major parties and of course there will be elements from other manifestos that would be just as interesting to Sussex residents. However of all of the parties and Independent candidates, only Labour and the Conservatives claim that they are likely to be running the country on 9th June.
The Tory Manifesto promises to increase the public procurement offer to ‘SMEs’ from 25% to 33%, however once again it fails to distinguish between the distinct elements. Medium size businesses employ up to 250 people whilst Micro Enterprises employ less than 10 people. In Sussex the vast majority of businesses are small or micro sized and if this promise is to offer us value we need the new Government to break down this goal. In their focus on shale gas the Conservatives state “We will only be able to do so [develop shale gas industry] if we maintain public confidence in the process” Perhaps I have missed something but there is almost no public confidence in the process, so does that mean they won’t develop the industry? They also make a bold promise “We will bring sustainable growth to the rural economy and boost our rural areas, so that people who live in the countryside have the same opportunities as those who live in our towns and cities”. This is based on naïve, unrealistic wishful thinking as there is no way to achieve this. They go on to state “This Conservative government has devolved more power to English local authorities, closer to local people, than any previous Government in over a Century” and that they will “provide clarity across England on what devolution means for different administrations so all authorities operate in a common framework … we will continue to support the adoption of elected mayors, but we will not support them for rural counties” Whilst this distinction might suit Party supporters it is at odds with the need to strengthen rural communities and what the party argues has been achieved by urban Mayors. On Homelessness they propose setting up a homelessness reduction taskforce to assist in their aim to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027. Let us hope they will take into account the good work carried out here in Sussex and they will also get a strong reality check.
When it came to the Labour Manifesto I found much to agree with, however on the theme of unrealistic promises they state “We seek to build a society free from all forms of racism, anti Semitism and Islamaphobia” and “We will end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and protect the right to lead a nomadic way of life” As wonderfully aspirational these statements are, they are unrealistic promises. The Labour manifesto also expresses support for SMEs but their promise that small businesses would be exempted from quarterly reporting, becomes a bit shallow when the threshold is set as low as £85,000 which is far too low to benefit a meaningful number of businesses. The manifesto promises “Working with trade unions, we will end workplace exploitation”. This is another valuable promise but it is vital that this is not a limited offer. There are examples of how trade unions have been the source of exploitation and our next Government must protect workers irrespective of the source. On the subject of child care the Labour promises include “Transition to a qualified, graduate-led workforce, by increasing staff wages and enhancing training opportunities. This will benefit staff, who are among our worst-paid workers, and improve child development”. The motivation behind this proposal is welcome, but we have a well established childcare industry based on staff who may not all be graduates, but who have great experience and wisdom between them. As the manifesto states they are some of the lowest paid workers in the UK. By all means set a target for increasing qualifications, but the priority must be to improve their working conditions before focusing on their education and qualifications.