Sunday, 13 March 2011

Some recent visits

I've just been looking at some photos of recent visits.... Its been a bit of a busy time for hard hats and hair nets.

Last Friday, at Lowestoft discussing reforms of EU fishing quotas with local fish dealer Sam Coles. We want an end to discards, all fish to be landed, to move decision making from Brussels to regional boards and a fair deal for our local small fishermen.

Two weeks ago, visiting Norfolk's state of the art waste sorter. This vibrating machine sorts plastic bottles from cans from paper.

The resulting waste is packaged up and resold. Behind me are milk containers. A proportion of the profits are returned to local councils thus covering the costs of doorstep recycling.

This week visiting CMAC in Great Yarmouth - one of only two European companies that supplies the North American Space Program (NASA) and makes circuit boards for communications satellites. Each minute electronic circuit board can withstand temperatures down to -50C and +125C. Before being sent off into space they are individually inspected through a x20 microscope. It is incredibly clean. I hope to help them with exchange programs for scientists.

Last week on the control centre of a North Sea Oil Drilling Rig. I am reaching out towards the red button of the "blow out" preventer. This is the button that operators failed to push when all was going wrong in the Gulf of Mexico and resulted in BP's Deep Water disaster. I hope that safety lessons from the North Sea will now be mirrored in other countries.

And yes I did need to go in a helicopter - which meant that I had to be spun upside down in a submerged helicopter and escape by pushing out the windows.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pensions - are there lessons from other Countries

Meeting the pensions gap - both for public and private sector workers is one of the thorniest issues that my generation faces. The UK is not alone in this - its a huge debate in many countries.

Whilst I don't want Brussels setting minimum pensions ages, I wonder if there are ideas that we in the UK could borrow from other countries?

For example, I understand that in the Netherlands it is possible to go on a public website - enter ones own personal details (e.g. National Insurance number). It is obviously password protected. The website then pulls up a set of personal information that shows ones individual pension proposition - collating that persons pension benefits from state, employer and private savings all in one simple format, allowing the individual to predict what they may get in retirement and reconsider their own saving strategy. I'm told Sweden has a similar scheme.

Cutting Strasbourg

My West Country colleague, Ashley Fox MEP, has just led an iconic victory through the European Parliament to cut visits to Strasbourg. MEPs are obliged to hold 12 plenary session in Strasbourg each year under the European Treaty. Changing this needs unanimous consent of all 27 national governments across the EU and is not in the hands of MEPS themselves. The monthly migration from Brussels to Strasbourg costs tax payers 15 million Euros each month.

Last year, Ashley proposed an amendment to the Parliament´s annual calendar which would allow for two of the Strasbourg sessions to be combined into the same week. MEPs voted down the suggestion. However Ashley believed that some MEPs from the larger S&D and EPP groups, who would have liked to support the amendment, were being leant on by colleagues from some of the countries closest to Strasbourg.

Last September Ashley tasked his Conservative colleagues to "find a friend", each UK conservative was asked to find 3 MEPs from those that had voted against the original ammendment and persuade them to change their minds. The campaign posters urging MEPs to "Save money, time and CO2" in 21 languages have been appearing in lifts and loos.

Today MEPs voted on the 2012 and 2013 calendar - this time Ashley´s amendment to roll two weeks into one was co-signed by 216 MEPs from across the parliament. He also asked for it to be a secret vote to stop bullying by larger delegations. The result was 356 to 255 in favour of reducing trips to Strasbourg.

This all matters because it is the first time MEPs from across Europe have come out so clearly in a vote against the two seat parliament. We hope that this will give national governments the change to re-consider their position regarding Strasbourg altogether. Its a beautiful City - but we we must stop this travelling circus which is such a waste of taxpayers money.