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Meeting with UK Undersecretary of State for Exiting the EU

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We took the opportunity yesterday to meet with UK Undersecretary of State for Exiting the EU, Robin Walker. Daniel Feetham, Roy Clinton, Trevor Hammond and Robert Vasquez attended the meeting in which a briefing was provided on the position of the UK Government with respect to Gibraltar and Brexit and assurances were given that many of the concerns peculiar to Gibraltar were of importance in the process.

We were able to set out our views, which have been consistent since the result of the referendum; that it was vital to Gibraltar’s interests that we be a part of any trade deals that Britain might make as part of this process with the EU and also with any third parties who are not in the EU; that we retain and expand upon the ‘single market’ with the UK, and that maintaining fluidity of flow of people and vehicles at the frontier was essential to our economy and could not be sacrificed to expedite or improve the outcome of negotiations for the United Kingdom.

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Social Insurance Increases undermines Families and Small Businesses

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We have noted the increases in Social Insurance announced by the Government last Friday which are effective next month.  These measures would normally be announced at the annual Budget session and the Government now it would appear is set on introducing cost increases by stealth ahead of the Budget so as to cowardly avoid having to debate them in Parliament.

GSD shadow minister for public finance, Roy Clinton,commented “In his 2016 Budget speech the Chief Minister stated that he would NOT increase social insurance contributions due to the seismic effect of Brexit and that he would observe the effects of the decision on business in Gibraltar before doing so and only if necessary. These measures will cost employers on average an extra £183.56 per annum per employee and employees will take home £121.68 on average less per year. Families and ordinary working people will be obviously worse off at a time when inflation is running at 2.5%. “Thus small businesses and employees across the board will feel the pinch” as the Chief Minister himself remarked in his budget debate contribution in 2010 during the last Social Insurance increase.
I invite the Chief Minister to answer his own question in 2010 namely: “if we are running surpluses, if we are in such good shape… tell us why it is that we need to further increase the cost of doing business in Gibraltar?”  The small business sector is still reeling from the recent unpopular increase in business licencing fees and red tape, this latest additional cost to small businesses is the last thing they need ahead of Brexit.”

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We’re calling on Government to explain Charles Bruzon House delays

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We have received representations from Senior Citizens who are now concerned at the unexplained delays in getting the keys to their newly allocated homes at Charles Bruzon House. It is now a whole month since the draw for the allocation of flats was made and as yet the Ministry for Housing is unable to say when residents will be able to move into their new homes.
A group of Senior Citizens have explained to us how they eagerly started to pack their personal belongings a month ago in order to be as ready as possible to move into their new homes with the minimum of delays. However, to date, the Ministry for Housing is unwilling to commit themselves to say when the keys to their new homes will actually be handed over. “It is not just a question of signing a new rental contract and getting your keys” explained a very concerned Senior Citizen, “we then have to make arrangements for the connections of electrical and potable water services. Based upon others’ experiences we know that the connection of these services will take some time unless we are willing to pay extra charges for a speedy service, this is something Senior Citizens wish to avoid”.
GSD MP, Edwin Reyes, calls upon the Minister for Housing and other senior officials to issue a statement so that all future residents of Charles Bruzon House may have their questions answered as soon as possible.
Edwin Reyes
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We Welcome Speed Cameras Despite Delays

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We have today welcomed the announcement by Government that at last the speed cameras, which have been in place for so long, will shortly become operational and we’ll be carefully monitoring when this actually happens. The whole episode has been an embarassment to the Minister for Transport who really should not make too much of finally getting this project off the ground, if this latest announcement by Government is to be believed.

Trevor Hammond, GSD MP, said “It’s important to look back at the reasons cited for the introduction of speed cameras which the Minister said was to address “the numerous concerns resulting from serious or lethal injuries as a direct result of excessive speeding on our roads”. Those were his words not ours and it was therefore according to him a matter of public safety and yet the Minister was saying this in early November 2015, nearly 18 months ago!
“He also explained in that press release that “all the infrastructure and legislation for the speed cameras is now in place” and that our roads “will no doubt be safer for all”. The legislation that the Minister said was in place in November 2015 was only passed by Parliament in October 2016. It is a remarkable indictment of the Minister’s abject failure in respect of this project, his Government’s lack of priorities on matters of public safety and the propensity of this administration to mislead the public that this project might be coming to fruition over a year later than first announced”.

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Doctor resignations will affect continuity of care

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Yet another consultant has left the GHA according to information being received by the GSD from distressed patients who have had appointments cancelled.  This follows the resignation of Dr Kovac, a surgeon at the hospital, within the last few weeks and four consultants last year together with an unprecedented morale survey conducted by doctors at the hospital.  This time, we are told it is Dr Lorenc the endocrinologist that has suddenly resigned. The news has been so sudden that patients were called yesterday to be told that appointments with the doctor today were cancelled.  Dr Lorenc was a highly regarded doctor who saw (amongst other patients) people suffering from diabetics.  It is inevitable that this and other recent resignations will create an unfortunate vacuum in continuity of care. The GSD calls on the Government to explain what contingency plans it has in place to reassure patients who have had their appointments cancelled that they will be seen by alternative doctors within a reasonable period of time.

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GSD successfully drives forward its position on mandatory drugs testing in prisons

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We are pleased that as a direct result of our questioning in the last session of Parliament the Government has agreed with our position, namely, that we should ensure that the Prison Service makes use of the statutory powers it has in order to make mandatory drugs testing of inmates a reality.  It will be recalled that it was the former GSD Government that made provision for mandatory drugs testing in Prisons but some 5 years later the Government has been very slow to expedite this critical work within our Prisons.

Last year Elliott Phillips MP asked the former Justice Minister Gilbert Lucudi QC MP questions on the mandatory testing of prisoners.  We were told three things by the former Justice Minister (1) that the technology for such tests was not calibrated (2) that the Superintendent preferred voluntary arrangements with Prisoners in exchange for privileges (3) that the Superintendent of Prisons had not issued the requisite statutory notice despite the legal framework being put in place by a GSD Government over 5 years ago.

In the recent parliamentary session the newly appointed Justice Minister agreed with the Opposition and accepted our invitation to speak with the Superintendent in order to ensure that mandatory drugs testing of inmates was to be actively pursued.

Elliott Phillips, Shadow Justice Minister, said “we believe it is right that the authorities use the powers at their disposal to get inmates away from drugs and their abuse and moving them towards making a positive contribution to our community. Substance abuse must be tackled at ever level in our community and if we have the statutory muscle to tackle drugs there is no reason why we should not do so. We continue to express disappointment not to have received a explanation for the 5 year delay of the Government to ensure that mandatory drugs testing becomes a practical reality but we welcome Minister Costa’s stance and his commitment to working with us on this important issue”.

Elliott Phillips

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Blame GSD for Marrache parole is just surreal

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The Government’s latest statement in relation to the Marrache debacle is surreal. Now it is suggesting that Isaac Marrache has been released because of legislation introduced by GSD Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Danny Feetham, when he was Minister for Justice. It takes their “blame the GSD” mantra to a whole new levels. It is also not true. The qualifying period for parole has been in existence for decades and has nothing to do with Danny Feetham or the GSD.

The GSD introduced the current appeal procedure, whereby the Minister for Justice was given the power to ask the Supreme Court to review the decision of the Parole Board, where he felt, on the face of their reasoning, that the Parole Board had got it wrong. It is that procedure that the current Minister for Justice, Mr. Costa, has botched in the case of Isaac Marrache by placing the matter before the Supreme Court and then attempting to withdraw his application.

Daniel Feetham said “First I was accused of cutting the electricity supply to mothers and babies, and now it is my fault that Isaac Marrache has been released on parole. I suppose it was also my fault that the Minister so botched the matter that Mr. Marrache was unlawfully at large, according to the judge, for a quite some time before the issue was finally resolved.”

“The fact is that the Government has had five years to change the law on parole. It could have done so before any of the Marrache brothers qualified for parole and it chose not to do so.”

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Government needs to wake up and accept the reality

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The fact that Minister Costa communicates his thanks to management and staff at the Care Agency without extending his thanks to the sub-contracted workforce which makes up 45% of the service shows he simply doesn’t want to accept the reality.

Lawrence Llamas, GSD MP, said “I have been scrutinising Government on its unsustainable approach and policies with regards care workers ever since I became a Member of Parliament. Mr Costa hails his predecessor Mrs Sacramento, as having laid strong foundations on which he will continue to build the Care Agency during her time as Social Services Minister. But facts speak for themselves, Mrs Sacramento described the reason for sub-contracting workers as “workers who are subcontracted from time to time to provide temporary cover or temporary additional resources” this statement is flawed to say the least with the amount of subcontracted workers increasing from three in 2013 to, 25 in 2014, 80 in 2015 and 107 in total by June 2016. The elephant in the room has to be the surreptitious privatisation of services in Gibraltar and the effect this has on vulnerable service users as it is obviously not a temporary arrangement.”

The issue of continuity of care has been highlighted extensively over the past months by: Care Agency workers; a local pressure group where both Mr Costa and Mr Llamas attended, and; the subcontracted workers themselves as recent as the 16th January 2017! If Government is in denial of this issue when raised in Parliament, it is more than justified for Mr Llamas to raise issues of public concern in a public manner.

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CEPSA flaring incident unacceptable

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We welcome the news that Government intends to raise the matter of Sunday’s emergency flaring from the CEPSA refinery with the EU Commission and offers to join Government in any representations it makes in order to demonstrate the strength of feeling and unity shared by our community against the frequency and seriousness of such events.

Trevor Hammond, GSD MP, said “While good fortune appears to have prevented a direct impact on our community from this release of pollutants by the CEPSA refinery, it is not acceptable that we, or any community should be placed at risk from such events. For CEPSA themselves to tritely suggest that there was no risk at all just shows how little oil companies can be relied on to take an honest approach when it comes to matters of public or environmental safety. This event, if by luck did not affect human health, and the possibility cannot yet be entirely dismissed, certainly impacted upon the environment. For this activity to constitute a routine safety mechanism clearly demonstrates the inadequacy of the plant and its processes and it is high time the EU took this seriously. The GSD is more than happy to join Government in protesting this to the EU and intends to take the matter up itself with the Commission”.
CEPSA

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Article 50 Supreme Court Ruling

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We have today noted the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in which it is stated that the United Kingdom Parliament must provide the approval for the Government to trigger the Article 50 notice which would then begin the Brexit negotiation process. The Court also ruled unanimously that the devolved Parliaments of Scotland and Wales did not have to be consulted on the date.

Trevor Hammond, GSD MP, said “this ruling by the Supreme Court confirms the decision of the High Court which was taken in December of last year. The verdict, while very important from a legal perspective in establishing the respective powers of Government and Parliament  in this instance, will not affect the overall outcome, or even the timeline established by Prime Minister May as Parliament has already taken a vote on this and agreed the 31st of March deadline.

“The challenges that faced Gibraltar prior to this ruling remain unchanged and the GSD remains firmly committed to supporting the Government where it is consulted in decisions and given an opportunity to do so. Parliament has already agreed on the composition of the Brexit select committee and we wait upon Government to convene it in order that these issues, so crucial to the future of our community, can be discussed. The GSD continues to believe that the best solutions for Gibraltar are the simplest, in form at least if not in attainment. That Gibraltar acquire the same rights as the United Kingdom in any future agreements that the United Kingdom makes either with the European Union or outside of it and that the United Kingdom must keep in mind the importance of freedom of movement at our frontier when it is negotiating its own borders policy”.

Trevor Hammond, GSD MP

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Meeting on £300 million housing estates loan rescheduled by Chief Minister

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The Chief Minister has written to the Opposition advising that the meeting in respect of the nature of the £300 million loan secured on the six housing estates due on Monday 23 January 2017 has had to be rescheduled due to his invitation to address the House of Commons Select Committee on Brexit. A new date has been proposed being the 6 February 2017.

In lieu of answering tabled official Parliamentary questions on 22nd September 2016, the Chief Minister offered to host a meeting with its technical advisers and Members of the Opposition in order to provide the detailed information that had been requested on the £300 million loan.

According to the Chief Minister’s answers to questions in Parliament, the meeting could not be held before 23 January 2017 because of the need to coordinate the availability of the company’s technical advisors. The professional advisers to be present at the meeting were only recently identified by the Chief Minister in answers to questions in December as being the Financial Secretary, the directors of Gibraltar Capital Assets Limited and the company’s legal adviser Mr Peter Montegriffo from Hassans all of whom are resident in Gibraltar and no doubt readily available.

Roy Clinton GSD MP with shadow responsibility for public finance said: “I naturally understand that the need to reschedule the meeting was out of the Chief Minister’s control given the invitation to address the House of Commons Select Committee on Brexit, which is hugely important for Gibraltar. We look forward to attending the rescheduled meeting to discuss the terms of the £300 million mortgage on 6 February 2017 and trust there will be no further delays in holding the meeting, which is of public interest and importance.”

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Government explanations on bed shortages do not stack up

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Unfortunately the explanations provided by the Government, as to the shortage of beds in the Hospital over the festive period simply do not stack up. Those shortages have meant that some patients who needed to be admitted into hospital have had to wait for up to 12 hours at A & E for a ward bed, while others have not been able to be transferred from Xanit in Spain.

The problems are far more systemic than the Government is admitting.  Statistics provided by in the latest GHA Board Report show that the bed occupancy rates at the Hospital for the last five years ranged between 92% and 111%.  Since June of 2015, monthly bed occupancy rates have ranged between 102% to 111%.  That is well over the UK Department of Health Guidelines that provide that state hospitals should have bed occupancy levels of no higher than 85%.

The clear statistical trend is for average bed occupancy levels to go up not down, regardless of peak demands.  The information we have been provided with indicates that in the last week alone extra beds have been placed in wards and in areas such as the physiotherapy gym to cope with increased demand.

For the Government to say that the delay in opening the Dementia Unit has not contributed substantially to this problem is nonsensical.  On the GHA’s own statistics, in April 2016 dementia and elderly long stay patients took up 48% of beds.  That is nearly half of all beds!  In their latest PR the Government says there are 60 patients receiving long term care at the Hospital “some of whom might otherwise be cared for in the new facility”.  They are careful not to say how many of those 60 could be cared for in the Dementia Unit but it is safe to assume that a large proportion would be.

Daniel Feetham, The Leader of the Opposition, said: “The reality is that despite huge spending by the Government over the last five years, the Dementia Unit has not been prioritised and dementia sufferers have had a litany of broken promise as to when the Unit would open.  That has had a very significant effect on the ability of the GHA to meet bed occupancy targets and the pressure is contributing to low moral on the part of front line staff, who despite these problems have remained very professional throughout”.

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Government lack of priorities the cause of bed shortages

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We have had many complaints over the festive period from patients either at Xanit in Spain waiting for days to be transferred to St Bernard’s Hospital or waiting for hours at the Accident and Emergency because of lack of available beds on hospital wards. The main reason for the lack of beds is that many beds are taken by elderly long term patients and those with dementia, which in April 2016 accounted for 48% of bed occupancy. This could have been avoided if the Government had prioritised the completion of the Dementia Residential Unit. Despite spending £750 million in capital projects over the first four years of its term in office, they did not do so.

Indeed, on 22 September 2015, the then Minister for Health, Mr. Cortes, stated that the 50 bed Residential Unit would be handed over by the contractor by the end of 2015.  When that failed to materialise and pressed by GSD MP Roy Clinton, Minister Cortes issued a communique on 6 June 2016, stating that “we are very close indeed to opening the new unit” only for the Government to disappoint sufferers of dementia and their families when Minister Costa announced in Parliament on 21 December 2016 that the residential unit building would not be handed over by the contractor until April 2017!

GSD Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Daniel Feetham said:  “It is appalling that five years after they were elected into Government, St Bernard’s hospital is experiencing these problems with bed shortages caused, in large part, by the Government’s failure to properly prioritise the completion of the Residential Unit.  The lack of beds at St Bernard’s has caused a lot of distress to patients affected and their families. Very often the brunt of the frustrations are being borne by the staff at the hospital”.

“I know that Mr Picardo does not like me reminding him, but the £6 million the Government spent on his very plush offices would have been better spent in the interests of the community completing the Residential Unit.  For a Government that has freely spent so much money over the last five years it should have prioritised this project.  That would have freed very much needed beds at St Bernard’s.”

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