Down to the wire in Eastleigh by-election

Phil Bennion MEP and campaigning Lib Dems from across the West Midlands region have joined the campaign trail for the Parliamentary by-election being fought in Eastleigh this week.

Phil visited Eastleigh today (Monday Feb 25th) to support the campaign to elect Mike Thornton as the next MP for the town, just north of Southampton


  • Boosting SMEs from Brussels

    Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are by far the biggest employers in Europe and the UK. 99% of all EU businesses are SMEs, and they account for about two thirds of all private sector jobs. I have made it my priority to be responsible on behalf of the Liberal group in the Employment committee for anything to do with boosting SMEs and Micro Enterprises.

    The Employment Committee, while not always directly responsible for policies relating to SMEs, Growth, and Innovation, is often an opinion giving committee, allowed to feed in ideas and suggestions to the reports of other Committees and draft legislation from the European Commission. This fits in with a bigger campaign by the Liberal group in the European Parliament (ALDE) to "Boost SMEs". You can read more about the campaign here.

    Key files I have been responsible for so far include:

    "SMEs: Competitiveness and Business Opportunities"

     "Employment aspects of minimizing regulatory burden for SMEs"

    "An Action Plan to improve Access to finance for SMEs".

    My work has focussed on cutting administrative burdens - the day to day paperwork required to show compliance with national and EU rules. I've been pushing hard to make simplification of these process an absolute priority, particularly by promoting things like "e-government" and "one-stop shops" where information is easily available and accessible through well managed websites and information points.

    I'm also emphasising the importance of apprenticeships and other kinds of in work learning and training, to help young people and those who maybe haven't got the right skills and education in the past to be able to find a first job. This is really important as Small and Micro businesses can tap into a huge amount of talent which is often missed, by recruiting people through these schemes. In return, apprentices and trainees get valuable experience and more often than not a firm job offer at the end.

    Access to Finance however is one of our biggest challenges. Over the past few years, as a result of the economic crisis funding for small businesses and entrepreneurs to start up, expand, or even operate in their normal way has dried up. Many small businesses used small flexible loans to cover gaps between their upfront production costs, and the profits made once their goods had been sold. But increasingly wary banks having made disastrously bad lending decisions in the past, stopped this kind of lending even to perfectly viable and profitable businesses.

    I'm doing everything I can to make sure that European funding helps sort this problem out, and to ensure that new rules coming from Brussels complement the good measures being taken by the coalition government, like the Green Investment Bank, rather than hold them back on competition or other legal grounds.

  • Renewable energy for a greener society


    Climate change is getting worse and is damaging our way of life. Our children will suffer most if we don't act now.


    I and my Lib Dem colleagues believe that there is a huge opportunity to get out of this recession by going green, strengthening the economy, creating new jobs and improving the quality of people's lives.


    Ordinary people are struggling to pay their rising fuel bills, as a direct result of increases in wholesale cost of diminishing oil and gas reserves.


    • Liberal Democrats believe energy companies should simplify the complicated tangle of different tariffs, requiring them to charge families less for a basic amount of energy used, to encourage responsible use.


    • We believe there should also be a fair social tariff system for disadvantaged families, smart meters should be rolled out to all households within five years and all of Britain's homes should be insulated to a decent standard within 10 years.


    • We think the requirements of Building Regulations should be raised to ensure that all new homes are energy efficient and use "Green Loans"โ„ข to encourage people to invest in home energy efficiency and micro-renewables.


    Liberal Democrats are pushing for a comprehensive programme of investment in renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar. The National Grid should be transformed into a smart decentralised grid which would respond dynamically to the changing patterns of energy demand. Smart metering and guaranteed prices will unlock the potential of local and community energy generation, giving people control over the energy they use.


    In Europe, we're working to develop a "super-grid" network of power supplies that efficiently shunt clean renewable energy from offshore wind farms and other sources to the places where it is needed, to ease the pressure on conventional coal and gas power plants, and reduce the need for new nuclear power stations. By making these connections we can balance out supply and demand, cutting the costs of renewable power generation through greater flexibility and efficiency. Crucially, we can begin to end our dependence on unstable supplies of gas from Russia, which is vulnerable to political disputes which have resulted in the past of the taps simply being turned off.


    This is a prime example of the benefits for the UK from working across borders with our neighbours to get the best deal for our consumers, protect ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels supplied from unstable parts of the world, and help the environment.


    Investing now in the green technologies for the future delivers hundreds of thousands of new and better jobs in the UK for years to come.


    We prioritise achieving a global agreement providing leadership for an international framework that will enable each country to manage a transition to a low-carbon economy. We believe it is vital to help developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


    For more information, you can read Ed Davey's speech from our Autumn 2012 conference, and the policy motion which Lib Dem members adopted that day.