2022 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, KEITH AZOPARDI
As we reach the close of the year it’s obvious so many people have less. Less money for your families. The price of everything in the supermarket is shooting up. Your electricity bills have risen. If you’re a home-owner or tenant your mortgage or rent may have gone up. Everyone has seen their tax go up. Workers wages are effectively shrinking. If you’re a small business owner you’ve seen extra costs levied over your running costs at a time when you are simply trying to survive. Everyone is being squeezed with higher social insurance, fees and charges. And the rises in taxes and fees have not been a one-off. The government announced rises in 2021 and did so again in this year’s budget. The result of all this is that some people are struggling just to make ends meet.
Mr Picardo told you in 2019 that the age of entitlement was over and promised a dawn of a new age of responsibility.
This was another of his false dawns because where is the Government’s responsibility and discipline? Of course, they can’t control interest rates or the trickle down of global recession or inflation but they can control waste and financial abuse and stick to their own budget. And if they did that it would benefit you as a citizen because it would mean there would be more money for public services or for protecting the less well off from tax rises.
But there’s little evidence of that era of responsibility. In the year of the worst financial crisis ever the Government borrowed 100M to pay its bills and wages. It taxed you more because it has a big hole in its budget and to make it all worse it could not even keep to its own departmental budgets. The Government overspent by tens of millions of pounds and borrowed more making the overall debt even higher and the hole in our finances even bigger. Instead of getting to grips with the financial crisis it allowed the freefall to go into a swifter downward spiral.
And all that matters because there is less money around and because the squeeze on you is harder because of 11 years of financial mismanagement. If Mr Picardo had done what he said 11 years ago and halved the gross debt there would now be more financial leeway to help you and your families out of the cost of living crisis.
The promised new era of responsibility has not fared well. The Government doesn’t stick to its budgets or promises. The disconnect is palpable. It seems to think that splashing out savers money on a new football stadium without serious regard to whether it is value for money is the cure to its crash in popularity. But an empty stadium however glamorous won’t pay your bills or fix the health service.
The promised end of the era of entitlement does not appear to extend to the privileged few in the close circles around the Government who seem to believe that they are entitled to carry on benefiting from lucrative contracts. We need an effective crackdown on cronyism, conflicts of interests and trafficking of influences. That’s why the proposed anti-corruption law presented by Mr Picardo is too little too late because it tackles none of those things. It is simply an attempt to silence public clamour about yet another unfulfilled promise that festers since 2011.
Mr Picardo’s administration has tolerated practices that have been deeply corrosive of fairness and democracy and cheated the taxpayer of value for money.
The reality is that the Government led by Mr Picardo is now part of the problem and they are an obstacle to reform because they think they are doing it right. Unless there is a change of Government there won’t be decisive and radical reform.
What is needed is a clear plan to get out of this public finances crisis and this will be at the core of our manifesto for the next election. A plan to balance our books and to deliver value for money, transparency and standards. A plan to cut waste, abuse and corruption.
Only by addressing all that will we get out of this spiral and fix the broken systems, provide value for money and improve public services – in health, social services or housing. There would then be more money for you and your families.
And in the slipstream of this directionless Government many people are being left behind – those struggling to make ends meet in this cost of living crisis; those just trying to get a break or an opportunity for meaningful, stable employment; those tired of being ignored by the Government – those who wait and don’t get answers on housing issues or disability allowance applications or employment claims or face long delays for hospital surgery or appointments.
This is a Government that has lost its way. Election year cannot come soon enough for those people. It cannot come soon enough for anyone hoping that Gibraltar will get back on track. Together with your help we can do that.
On behalf of myself and my colleagues I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas