Having met a great many constituents on the doorstep over the past four years, I am acutely aware that the issue of the European Union is an emotive one. So many might be shocked if they read the Draft Budget as proposed by the European Commission for the forthcoming year. I should add at this point that before anyone tries to paint me as an anti-European, I am not. I am certainly not a Better Off Out campaigner but I do think we need to bring back some of our sovereignty - ie I subscribe to the old mantra of in Europe but not run by Europe.
So at 5:30pm this afternoon, the Draft EU Budget came before Parliament for its rightful scrutiny. Each member state of the EU, including the UK, contribute collectively to a EU Budget which is then spent on a variety of initiatives across Europe. So, in a time when money is tight and essential spending reviews taking place in our country, you could expect every taxpayer's pound spent and hoping to be spent by the EU to be questioned thoroughly. Perhaps more so given that despite every country across Europe suffering from a harsh economic climate and announcing spending cuts, the European Commission have proposed an eye watering increase in their 2011 budget by 5.8%, set to cost the UK a further £1.9 billion in their net contributions to the budget.
To put this figure into perspective. The UK payed in £6.4 billion in net contributions to the EU Budget last year. A £1.9 billion increase would leave the UK paying a whopping £8.3 billion in the coming year. This towers over any budget cuts made by departments this year.
It seems to me, as I am sure it does to you, that when the Government is making the tough but necessary spending decisions in trying to put our public finance back in order, the thought of contributing more to the EU Budget is unquestionably wrong. However, as we know, value for money was not an ethos adhered to by the previous Government who kindly signed the country up to an agreement seeing the UK's contributions increasing year on year, forecast to reach £10.3 billion in 2014/15.
In the small print of this particular Draft EU Budget, you will also discover that the EU deems it necessary to factor in a £296 million increase in their own administrative costs. Why should the British taxpayer be asked to tighten their belts as the Government is admirably driving down costs and eliminating waste, only to loosen them again to fund higher administration costs in the EU? This is a question I put to Parliament during the debate.
What the debate essentially boils down to, from my perspective at least, is a basic value for money argument. So I ask the following questions: Does this increase of £1.9 billion represent value for money for the British taxpayer? Does it represent value for money for the people of Chatham & Aylesford? Is this the best use of the country's finances? I certainly don't think so and nor did the Labour Party this evening as they didn't even turn up to support their own negotiated Budget. Every backbench Labour MP who spoke did so against the increase in spending, for the same reasons as outlined above.
Now our very able Minister Justine Greening will head for Brussels to try and ensure that the 2011 EU budget is held at cash levels equivalent to the 2010 budget and to reject the European Parliament's proposals to increase the budget; she does so with the full support of Parliament.
The full debate including my contribution can be found HERE.