Falklands : The Hon Mrs Sharon Halford Speaks to the Finance Bill 2012/13
Submitted by Falkland Islands News Network (Juanita Brock) 02.06.2012 (Article Archived on 16.06.2012)
Mr Speaker, Honourable members, in rising to support the Motion I would like to say a few words. In many ways this budget is not dissimilar to numerous budgets we have passed before in that whatever the outcome it will not be welcomed by all in the community.
The Finance Bill 2012 (The Final Stages) Report of the Select Committee:
MLAs spoke to the Motion to accept the report.
The Hon Mrs Sharon Halford
Mr Speaker, Honourable members, in rising to support the Motion I would like to say a few words. In many ways this budget is not dissimilar to numerous budgets we have passed before in that whatever the outcome it will not be welcomed by all in the community. However, from where I currently sit, I have to look at what, in my view are the best options for the Falklands to progress into the future; and not go down the slippery slope of squandering our reserves for our current needs without a care about what will fund the Islands at the bottom of that slope.
Many people suggest that we should be spending our reserves but at the moment they are one of the things that help to fund what we need. If we reduce them then in turn our income will reduce too. On the other hand, the larger they are then the larger our returns to put into the pot to sustain our needs. If the black elixir does not materialise then we will need them more than ever.
When presenting the Finance Bill earlier in the week, the Acting Financial Secretary mentioned at the end of her speech that we were currently living beyond our means and this was only possible because of the windfalls that we have had of late. There was also some criticism of the current Medium Financial Plan, specifically we should be doing better than that and putting money away each year. Whilst I would wholly subscribe to this view, I would also point out that we did progress from a deficit budget when we were elected to the current state of a balanced budget today and we’d like to see it progress on to be even better.
As we have just heard, although we currently have a surplus this year, we are not projecting this for the following year, although we are for future years. It would not be responsible for us to factor in other revenue at this stage as anything could happen to delay matters in this area. And I hope all goes well.
We do therefore have to be careful what we wish for as if we get too comfortable it will be very hard to go back from that position should the need arise. In other words, it will be much more painful tightening the belt.
I would like to think that by the time – if I get that far – that I am pushing my Zimmer frame along to collect my pension, the pension will still be there to collect. At the moment we are spending out more from this fund than we are taking in each year. And like many populations around the world we are tending to live longer and it must be more of a drain on these funds than was originally envisaged when they were set up. I believe this is one area where we need to make sure that we have adequate funding put aside as hopefully most of us will live long enough to draw our pensions after a hard working life.
As the Honourable Roger Edwards remarked earlier in the week that to an MLA no one would be happy with everything in this budget and that is a fact. But as we live in a democracy where all of these things have to be voted on, as much as you may strive, you cannot win all of the arguments, for example, I am not best pleased with the rising of FIG house rents as in my view, we should not be trying to keep up with the private sector in this area. Every society has a need for some social housing and as such, people living in these are hardly likely to be able to afford huge rents meaning that FIG will have to issue more rebates to people who are no longer able to pay what is being asked. While there have been the inevitable increases with this budget which will not be appreciated, there have also been increases which should be of benefit to people.
Raising the tax threshold will likely benefit most but in my view we will not be achieving this when it comes to the lower paid in our society as they will not be earning this in the first place. What needs to be driven forward here is worth looking into the minimum wage. We will be able to continue to enjoy watching the television channels currently available from SSVC free of charge. This is one of the decisions we were faced with when first elected and have finally decided that rather than bat this particular issue around each year we will, whilst we can afford to do so, put it to bed. This is by no means a free service and costs FIG a considerable amount of money each year.
Now I would like to touch on some of my portfolio areas, where some of the larger expenditure occurs. The largest area of expenditure around the Islands is in relation to transport through the services provided by FIGAS and Workboat Services Limited and also the general maintenance of the road network. I do not subscribe to the view that these are areas that only benefit those of us living out in Camp and on the outer Islands. These services are there for all to make use of. These are areas in my view that will have to be subsidises probably for as long as we need them because of the sprawling and sparsely populated nature of the Falklands and I have no problem with that. However I think we need to take a policy decision on what is sustainable when it comes to fare structures. There has to be a balance at some point between the level of subsidy that is acceptable and the level of fare that is affordable. And I do not see that the later will ever compensate the former. I am pleased to say that this has already been looked into and a paper is to be brought to the Transport Advisory Committee in the not too distant future before it goes to members. In the past this has often happened in reverse order. This paper will look at various scenarios and should lead to a lengthy discussion with good input from users.
On the Roads front I am pleased to report that we have been able to allocate more funding than previously, which will hopefully allow for an addition to normal maintenance, more capping works to be undertaken, some road construction and the sorting out of areas deemed to have become dangerous. Of course to achieve this we will need dedicated men and/or women to work the plant or machinery, whether they are in the private sector or working for FIG.
The Health and Medical Services budget is also quite considerable and will inevitably continue to increase as our population expands and medicines and some overseas services continue to increase. Despite all of us paying Medical Service Tax on our earnings, this will not cover the cost of the service we receive. I would not like to see this tax abolished as I feel it is one of the better things that we subscribe to. You never know what you will need or when you will need it.
Other than this tax our Medical services are pretty much free to the end user. However, we currently have to pay the first £400.00 towards the flight cost when we are sent overseas for medical treatment, for all non- life threatening issues. During our budget deliberations this was reduced to £300.00 but will now have to be paid by all patients. What should be understood with this charge is that it is only paid once for a particular complaint regardless of how many times you have to be sent overseas.
Finally, I would like to thank Treasury Staff for all the hard work they put into the budget process. As usual they have done themselves proud.