In the past few weeks, due to the “cuts”, it is reported that we are to lose our coastguard tug, and it would now seem our coastguard station is also under threat. I’m sure all Shetlanders would agree that these two things are absolutely essential to our environment and for the safekeeping of life, but apparently the ConDems, down in the Palace of Westminster, do not agree – they consider there are much more important things to spend UK taxpayers’ money on.
There is a tendency, in the media, to talk of government money and EU money. Do not be fooled: there is no such thing as government or EU money – it is our money, taxpayers’ money.
So maybe we should take a look at how our money is being spent.
No-one disagrees that aid should be given to the poorer countries of the world, but during the past five years the UK has doled out £8.7 million to Singapore, whose gross domestic product is the fourth highest in the world, 46 per cent higher than our own.
Last year we gave £40.2 million to China, which is fast on its way to becoming the world’s leading economic superpower.
Aid to India – a country which has its own overseas aid programme, and can also afford a nuclear weapons and space programme – shows no sign of letting up and the last full figure available, for the years 2007/08, was £275 million.
And, believe it or not, we, British taxpayers, even managed to give £380,000 to Saudi Arabia, one of the richest, if not the richest, country in the world.
So is it right that the UK taxpayer is shelling out millions to these countries, while at home many families are being forced onto the breadline, and essential lifesaving services are being threatened with closure.
Bosses of taxpayer-backed banks plan to pay themselves up to £2 million each in bonuses. The Royal Bank of Scotland – 84 per cent owned by the taxpayer – is expected to pay around £1 billion in bonuses alone. Its chief executive is reported to be going home with £6.8 million. Why is this being allowed to happen?
However, greedy, totally immoral bankers are not the only ones with their snouts in the taxpayers’ trough. The Ministry of Defence, in the first six months of this financial year, lavished £40 million in bonuses on its taxpayer-paid pen pushers, and since 2003 has ladled out an incredible £330.3 million in bonuses.
In 2009 the civil servants in Whitehall, on top of their taxpayer-funded wages, were paid bonuses totalling £130 million – I have no reason to suppose they were paid any less in 2010.
A bit nearer to home, in Edinburgh, at the wee pretendy parliament (as Billy Connolly called it), 141 senior civil servants have shared £1.1 million of taxpayers’ money in bonuses, with a further 818 sharing almost £600,000.
Then, of course, there is the daddy of them all, the EU, without which the list of useless ways to squander vast amounts of taxpayers’ money would not be complete. This year the EU budget will be a grand total of £105.7 billion.
In 2009/10 the UK paid £6.4 billion, net, of taxpayers’ money, into the EU. This year that figure will rise to £7.6 billion, or, in more understandable figures, £869,963 an hour.
So what exciting value do we get for our money?
Well, we get a government – the EU Commission – which no-one voted into power, but which makes about 70 per cent of the laws which govern our everyday lives.
We get an obscure Belgian politician – a Mr Herman Van Rompuy – who no-one has ever heard of, far less voted for, as our EU president. Mr Van Rompuy is paid an annual salary of £273,814 (a greater yearly salary than Barack Obama), and his office, in 2010, had a budget of £4.98 million.
We get someone called a high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, a Baroness Cathy Ashton, who, like the so called EU president, no-one has ever heard of or voted for. Her department, for 2011, will have an annual budget of £404 million, set to rise to £8 billion by 2013.
We get a so called “parliament” without any powers, which, in 2011, will have a budget of £1.54 billion, an increase from last year of £60 million.
These examples I have given are merely scratching the surface of how taxpayers’ money is being squandered by our out of touch ruling classes.
According to The Shetland Times, the closure of coastguard stations around the UK will save £20 million over five years. This is just a mere drop in the ocean in comparison to the figures I have mentioned. I can only say that the people who proposed these coastguard closures must put a very cheap rate on peoples lives and should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Do a very simple sum: the Royal Bank of Scotland is to pay out £1 billion in bonuses, while closures of the coastguard stations will save £20 million over five years. Then divide 1 billion by 20 million and multiply by 5. The answer is that the RBS bonuses could keep the coastguard stations open for 250 years.
I, like most other seamen around Shetland, have talked to Shetland Coastguard on numerous occasions and have seen how, in a matter of life and death, local knowledge is invaluable.
So I would urge every Shetlander to sign the petition against the closure. Shetland Coastguard keep watch over an island community surrounded by some very hostile waters – you never know when it might be your turn to need their assistance.