Why I wrote a Vision for the Island


Introduction


Being the Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight and representing its people in our Parliament is a wonderful privilege.  The role is, for me, a labour of love.  I am passionate about our Island and its future.  The purpose of being involved in public life is to make a difference. That should be as true for me as it is for leaders across the Island: in the business community, the voluntary sector, the media, local authority officers and councillors, union representatives, along with all Islanders.  Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those people on the Island who dedicate themselves to helping others: those work who in the NHS, police, fire and ambulance, council workers as well as volunteers from across the Island who spend their spare time engaged in their local communities.

In this document, I offer a vision of what we should aim to achieve to make our Island even better.  That does not mean I can do it all, or even lead it.  My role is very often to support others, to make connections in Westminster and Whitehall – and to bring people together.  For many of these projects to succeed, I will need to work with others; indeed, I may just be supporting and facilitating the work of others. Ultimately, it is what is achieved that matters; not who does it.

I had always hoped to write this document but did not necessarily expect to be doing so as the Island’s Member of Parliament.  I have been looking at the issues facing the Island for the best part of a decade now. This document is a result of that thinking, and not just as a result of being elected in 2017 as the Island’s MP.

I am aware that by proposing new things, and a personal vision, I am opening myself to both scrutiny and potential criticism.  If I wanted to play it safe I wouldn’t write such a document at all.  As far as I know, I am the only MP to produce a detailed vision of what his or her constituency should look like afterbeing elected.  In addition, I could suggest as little as possible, to avoid criticism from political opponents if we failed to achieve some of these things.  However, I believe that such an approach would be both short-sighted and a disservice to what the public expects.  I would rather outline an ambitious plan for the Island and, working with others, see how much of it we can achieve, rather than be timid in our vision. Consequently, this document encapsulates a bold, ambition for our Island.

Role of the Member of Parliament

At the outset, it is important to explain the role of the MP.   An MP does not have unlimited powers.  I often cannot make things happen.  An MP gets to vote on national laws in Parliament.  He or she can also have influence over decisions taken at a national level, and clearly, any decent MP should be a strong and persuasive voice for his or her constituency. 

So, what can I do?  I can press Ministers in Westminster.  I can open doors in Whitehall.  Working with others, I can champion our vision and aims in the heart of our democracy.  On the Island, I have influence, but very limited power.  Planning, house-building and land use are local decisions made by Isle of Wight Councillors and guided by council officers, with national Government having a considerable say, especially in the currently flawed system of housing targets. I say the above because most, if not all, of the goals, targets and aspirations in this document will only be reached with the support and determination of other people.  Indeed, it is vital for the Council, MP, business, voluntary and other sectors to work together.  When I pitch ideas to Ministers, I want to say that I am speaking for the Island.  The past inability or reluctance of council leadership and MPs to work together has undermined us.  I won’t always agree with the Isle of Wight Council, and vice-versa, but we need to have a close and effective working relationship. We do.


What’s good, what’s not and what do we do to make the Island even better


I want to look at not only what our problems are, but more importantly what our strengths are.  What I want most of all, is for us to collectively remember how unique Islanders are and how unique our Island is; to remember the extraordinary things that we have contributed to our nation’s art and science as well as its history and landscape, to be ambitious for its future, not to put up with second best and to have a sense of aspiration for ourselves and our future. That does not mean sugar-coating our problems, but it does mean putting them in perspective.

Okay, so first, what could be better?

Our economic model - how we have planned to grow our economy and increase our prosperity - has often fallen short. For 50 years we have built an economy overly reliant on seasonal tourism and house-building.  It has not worked.  Because we have built houses, rather than grown businesses, we have too few jobs.  And house-building jobs only last so long as the houses are being built. 

Collectively we earn 70 percent of the national average if you include everyone on the Island – 91 percent if you include only people of working age.  If anything, we are marginally poorer relative to the mainland in 2018 than we were at the turn of the century. There was a relativefall in our GVA per head – the amount we earn – between 2000 and 2005.  We have not quite returned to pre-2000 levels relative to the rest of the UK.[3]  Although GVA is the standard figure by which wealth is judged, a different figure called Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI), suggests that the margin is less.  However, either way, we earn less per Islander than our mainland counterparts.

Increasing our population has not made us richer.  Indeed, the larger our population, the poorer we have become compared to the mainland, as our proportion of working-age people has declined.  The Island is marked by what statisticians call a net migration outflow of the young and a net inflow of older generation - we export our young people.  Because we export youngsters, we have fewer people of working age.  That means that not only do we earn less than the national average, but we have a smaller proportion of people of working age (57.3 percent) than either Hampshire (60.7 percent), the South East (62.0 percent) or nationally (63.1 percent).

The educational and university revolution that has energised Bournemouth, Brighton, Southampton and Portsmouth has passed us by.  Because there is no higher education and no university campus on the Island, the one guarantee is that if you want to get on in life and get a degree, apart from a few exceptions, you have to leave the Island.  For over fifty years we have betrayed our future.  This situation is unacceptable. 

Whilst we need to cherish and value Islanders of all ages - and make the Island the best place in the UK to enjoy the later years in life - we need to slow or halt the demographic shift.  We need an agenda to encourage younger Islanders to stay or to return earlier in their working lives.

As a result of our population increase, our adult social care costs - the cost of looking after older and vulnerable residents that local councils are responsible for -rise exponentially. It does not help that we send our older residents to nursing homes earlier than the national average and at greater cost.  Whilst this aspect is being tackled at the moment, our underlying demographics means that this will continue to be a constant struggle.

As regards housing, speculative development is changing the nature of the Island and damages us.  Housing has not been built for Islanders and even “affordable” housing – at up to 80 percent of market value[6]- is not affordable for purchase.  It also eats into our green landscape and damages our tourism economy.  This pattern is unsustainable and the result of an utter lack of vision.  In addition, because land values are low and build costs are high, developers and landowners hang on to land and often do not develop when they get permission. This is a national problem which also affects the Island.

We need a jobs agenda, not a speculative housing agenda.  We also need an agenda which - whilst protecting the landscape - builds genuinely affordable housing for existing Islanders and builds an economy that offers our fellow Islanders the hope of prosperity on the Island.

Our Vision


However, there is good news.  I believe that we are incredibly well-placed to do well in the coming years, and I believe that the Island can soon be seen as one of the nation’s hotspots. 

Why?  We have a great quality of life, we have strong community bonds, our voluntary sector is a remarkable success story; we have a brilliantly creative streak and a cluster of high-tech industry.  In addition, our education is improving.  In the next few years we will have some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world,[1]and there is now a determination from the Council, MP, the Chamber of Commerce and other key organisations to push for a transformative agenda built around jobs, the digital economy, improved education and improved life chances for our young. 

Equally importantly, positive changes being introduced in adult social care mean that we can become a model for better living in later life as well.

We are also working towards becoming a national leader in recycling and unifying public services to drive quality and keep down administrative costs.

Despite the failed, speculative house-building agenda, we still have a remarkable quality of life.  For those investors and entrepreneurs who want an outdoors lifestyle, we are remarkably placed to offer proximity to southern England with a unique environment.

If we can deliver some of the bigger ideas in this vision, we can drive a regeneration of Island life that will have a significantly transformational effect on Islanders of all ages.  Above all, we need to be an Island of aspiration, inspiration and innovation.  That is what this document tries to achieve.

Goals


This document outlines those aims and goals that I believe are important for the Island’s future.  Whilst there are over 40 goals, the major ten are to:

  1. Deliver increased numbers of genuinely affordable housing for Islanders, and especially young Islanders.
  2. At the same time, protect the landscape, severely limiting green field development and speculative development outside built-up areas
  3. Raise primary and secondary education standards, have fewer but better sixth forms and develop a higher education facility and campus
  4. Improve the integration of health and social care, ensure that the NHS on the Island is on a secure footing
  5. Use arts to drive inspiration, aspiration, education and regeneration
  6. Develop public transport (cycle and rail)
  7. Develop the Island’s digital infrastructure and economy as part of the Island’s drive to attract high-quality jobs
  8. Encourage the ferry firms to support the Island better
  9. Improve our visitor offer and develop high-quality tourism across the Island
  10. Extend the land covered by the Area of Outstanding National Beauty designation and look seriously at whether the Island should become a National Park