HERE are the questions – and more importantly the answers – from the Bromsgrove Parliamentary candidates at the South Bromsgrove High School hustings last Friday (March 20).
Among them were Conservative Sajid Javid, Labour’s Tom Ebbutt, Liberal Democrat Bart Ricketts, UKIP’s Stuart Cross and Green Party candidate and former Birmingham Poet Laurate Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito.
Young people from South and North Bromsgrove High Schools and Bromsgrove School were present and put forward questions for the candidates.
The first was about what the wannabe MPs would do about funding for local schools.
Mr Javid said: “There’s a big gap between schools in semi-rural and city constituencies – there is a difference of £800 per head per year.
“It has narrowed in the last few years but there is more to be done.
“I wish it would have been more of a priority but the coalition could not agree – we need a new funding formula.”
Mr Ebbutt spoke about how he went to Waseley and a school across the border in Birmingham received hundreds of thousands of pounds more.
“Worcestershire doesn’t get a fair deal.
“Money is being put in the wrong places, free schools are opening where people shout the loudest, not where they are needed.
“Responsible funding would see it go where it is needed.”
Mr Cross added he agreed with Mr Javid that more needed to be done.
The second question asked about whether the electoral system should be changed to a more fairer one.
Mr Cross said: “UKIP could finish second in every constituency with millions of votes but not one seat.”
He questioned if that was right and said proportional representation (PR) would be fairer in that instance.
Mr Ebbutt said he voted in favour of PR and added that he wanted to lower the voting age to 16.
Mr Ricketts added he would also support lowering the voting age to 16.
Mr Javid said: “It’s fair to say no electoral system is perfect – every one has pros and cons.”
But, he added, first past the post was the best we could have for a direct link between the people and the candidate.
The next question was about House of Commons voting figures, asking why, in this Parliament, the average of West Midlands MPs having their say was less than 75 per cent.
Mr Javid pointed out that, locally, the Conservative vote stood at 74 per cent, the Liberal Democrats at 68 per cent and Labour’s was 67.
He pointed out his voting attendance was 85 per cent before he became a minister but overall, his was higher than every Labour and Liberal Democrat in the West Midlands.
Spoz said if the voting percentage was 75 per cent, it was 25 per cent non-attendance, which seemed quite high.
“But, you do have to consider what an MP’s job is – is it to go to the votes or to look after his or her constituency?
“They need to strike a balance,” he added.
Mr Ricketts said constituency work was crucial to the role.
And he added: “They should make sure they are there for the important votes.”
Mr Ebbutt said as an MP, they should be available to their constituents where possible.
Candidates were also asked what they would do to improve contact between themselves and their constituents, if they were elected.
Mr Cross from UKIP said most of his time would be spent in his constituency.
“It is about meeting local people and engaging with them.
“Social media would also make me more accessible to residents,” he added.
Mr Ricketts said he would hold community contact events and surgeries.
“It’s about engaging with the people and finding out what is important to them.”
Mr Javid said he had held surgeries, made himself available on Bromsgrove High Street and at supermarkets for people to come and see him, along with visiting people in their own homes when they could invite people round.
He also spoke about being the first MP in the country to hold a teleforum where there was a conference call which enabled his constituents to listen and – if they wanted – ask questions, similar to a radio station phone-in.
A local issue which has made the headlines and led to a lot of debate was funding for Bromsgrove’s Artrix and the reduction in funding from the initial £120,000 per year for the first ten years to £60,000 per annum now for the next three.
Spoz said: “It’s a real shame that Artrix has had to face funding cuts.”
He criticised the situation, saying it could lead to community arts projects and courses being pulled.
Mr Javid said he wanted to clear up that it was not the whole of the centre’s funding that had been cut and that the venue generated £1million-a-year so the difference in the new funding deal equated to only a small percentage of its overall revenue.
He added theatres and arts centres had to find other sources of funding rather than relying on handouts.
He reiterated that he, using his Culture Secretary experience, had successfully appealed to Worcestershire County Council for £30,000 to pay for a fund-raiser for a year to look at alternative sources of funding to secure the centre’s long-term future.
Candidates were then asked what they would do to improve Bromsgrove Town Centre.
Mr Ebbutt said: “We (Labour) have been campaigning to get free evening car parking since 2012 and it’s good that is now happening.”
He added it was sad that the farmers’ market had been lost while the High Street surface was being laid and that other plans for the projects in the town centre, such as the former Market Hall site, had fallen through.
He pointed out numerous suggestions had been put forward, including a town centre partnership and a food festival.
Spoz said: “A town centre partnership would be a good idea – we have one in Northfield and it is great.
“Bromsgrove has a beautiful High Street but it is dead on its backside.
“We need to look at free parking and bringing down business rates.
“We need to make it a niche town like Ludlow – by doing that, it will be vibrant again.”
He also lambasted the bulldozing of the Market Hall.
Another question asked about immigration and, specifically, if the UK should only be looking at taking in highly skilled immigrants.
Mr Cross said: “Contrary to reports, UKIP is not against immigration, it’s just the type of people.
“We need people who will benefit the UK.
“The immigration we are against is the uncontrolled and unlimited immigration.”
Mr Ebbutt spoke about the importance of immigration and, as an example, a late Egyptian doctor who worked at the Alexandra Hospital as a surgeon.
He pointed out not only how much he had changed the lives of his patients but also how he had inspired people to pursue careers in the health service.
The students questioned what was being done for young people and what the candidates felt should be done.
Spoz said jobs and careers were important but a community spirit also needed to be fostered.
He also questioned cuts in Worcestershire, saying across the border in Birmingham there was more for young people to do.
“The youth club building in Rubery was closed and they were given a poxy little house in return.
“Youth services have been cut and they need bringing back.”
Mr Javid said his biggest focus in this Parliament had been jobs and opportunities for young people.
He spoke about how he added he had organised the biggest jobs fair Bromsgrove had ever seen and the most beneficial aspect about it was how he had spoken to young people afterwards who had found jobs.
“Youth employment in Bromsgrove has fallen 63 per cent in the last five years to 2.3 per cent.
“That is one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the World,” he added.
A question was also put forward about the EU and the benefits from it.
Mr Cross said: “I don’t believe Britain has benefited from the EU, it is just a political union which costs us.
“It is an expensive union and they also over-rule our MPs and judges.”
He added countries would still trade with the UK if we left the EU.”
In contrast, it was stated, that the Liberal Democrats were openly pro-European.
Mr Ricketts said he felt there would be a referendum in the next Parliament which the party would be asked to support.
He added the EU was important for a number of reasons, including peace-keeping, and voiced his view that the idea of a European army was one which should be looked at to strengthen that.
Labour candidate Tom Ebbutt.
Liberal Democrat Bart Ricketts.
UKIP’s Stuart Cross.
Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito will be representing the Green Party.