By now, we will know the name of the new Prime Minister. If reports over the weekend were correct, two of the policies which will be announced will be higher and fairer funding for education, and clear proposals to tackle the crisis in social care funding. Both problems have been the subject of several Newsletter columns over the years. I look forward now to finding lasting solutions to them.
The seizure of the UK flagged ship in the Gulf has shown how we can again no longer afford to take unhindered navigation for granted. 90% of the world’s trade in goods still goes by sea. When I was in the coffee and cocoa business, our products came from East Africa through the Red Sea and Suez. For many years, the formerly UK-led EU naval force has provided protection to the dozens of merchant ships on that route each week.
The U.K. now has too few (19) destroyers and frigates, the workhorses of the Royal Navy. In 1997, there were 37. A strong navy is important not only for keeping open sea lanes for the trade on which we depend. It will also play an increasing role in supporting the response to climate- related and other emergencies, such as coastal flooding. The new Government will need to commission more escort ships.
One event which largely escaped the notice of the U.K. press last week but which is of considerable long-term significance was the coming into operation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest in the world by the number of countries. This has been discussed and negotiated for 30 years but is now a reality. Currently, Africa accounts for a very small share of the world’s trade. Yet it has 17pc of the world’s people and that will rise to at least 25pc by 2050. It is essential that we engage fully with our vast neighbouring continent. A good way is to support its young people create the jobs and livelihoods which they need to develop sustainably their communities and countries.
Closer to home, it was strange that the Chairman of HS2 only went public last weekend with his concerns about the potential for a £15bn-30bn increase in cost to between £70bn and £85bn. The previous Monday, we had debated Phase 2a (Handsacre to Crewe) in Parliament. Sir Bill Cash MP and I, in opposing the legislation, both stated that we understood that the costs would be considerably higher than the current £56bn budget. The House of Commons, in my view, voted for the Bill based on information which may now prove to have been inaccurate. The House of Lords will surely now demand closer scrutiny of the costs.
As another academic year comes to an end, I would like to thank all school, college and university staff for the wonderful work they do. This was to me exemplified in the high standard of the debates in the third Stafford Schools debating competition at Westminster earlier this month.