THERE was standing room only at Bromsgrove Methodist Centre where residents had the chance to quiz the town’s Parliamentary candidates at the latest hustings event.
The event, on Sunday (April 26), was organised by Churches Together in Bromsgrove and put the five candidates – Conservative Sajid Javid, Labour’s Tom Ebbutt, Liberal Democrat Bart Ricketts, Spoz from the Green Party and UKIP’s Stuart Cross – on the spot.
The first question asked the candidates what they would do to sort out the crisis surrounding Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, with particular regard to the position of the Alexandra Hospital.
Mr Cross said there needed to be an independent review of the management structure from top to bottom. He said someone needed to come in and take responsibility for the problems at the Alex and sort the situation out.
Mr Ebbutt said the problems at the Alex reflected what was going on nationwide with the NHS. He said the situation regarding the resigning consultants should never have got to that stage, adding if Labour got in, it would repeal the NHS Reform Act.
Spoz said he agreed the NHS needed sorting out nationally and that would, in turn help the local situation. He said staff confidence had been chiseled away and morale in the health service was at an all-time low. He labelled the ‘back door’ privatisation of the health service ‘poison’.
Mr Javid said the NHS faced challenges across the country, but added there had been successes locally – with the new Worcestershire oncology unit and that the Princess of Wales Community Hospital had got stronger. He said he was frustrated and disappointed the Birmingham option had not been properly considered in the Alex review.
And Mr Ricketts said there needed to be more investment in the Alex, questioning, if the services there were reduced, where would local people go. He added there should be more consultation with the public about the issues there.
* Another question asked about the defence budget and whether two per cent of the nation’s GDP was necessary to protect Britain against the many threats facing it.
Mr Ricketts said the Liberal Democrats supported the two per cent of GDP spending but added he wanted to see a review of Trident.
“Do we need four nuclear submarines or could we have two?”
He also mooted the idea of a European Army which would reduce the amount that needed to be invested.
Mr Cross said he agreed with the two per cent asked for by NATO, but he said the Government needed to make sure the armed forces were properly equipped to do the jobs they were asked to do. He said if troops were going to be committed to so many areas in the World, such as Syria and Iraq, ‘they need to put the money in’.
Mr Ebbutt said rather than have a straight two per cent, the situation needed to be looked at with regard to the demand. Although, he added, if we wanted to be one of the main nations in the World, with regard to peace-keeping, it had to be paid for.
Spoz said two per cent sounded like a fair figure but claimed there was no need to renew Trident. He said nuclear weapons were not a deterrent, in the same way the death penalty was not a deterrent for murder. “America is full of people on death row,” he said. He said a lot of the threats to the UK were down to the country and the US getting involved in so many previous conflicts and destabilising other nations. He said Britain and America needed to stop ‘being the World’s police force’.
And Mr Javid said the first job of any Government was the security of its people and it needed to spend what was necessary. He said he agreed with the two per cent. He said while the rest of the World had nuclear weapons, Britain would be mad to get rid of Trident or not replace it. He said the Conservatives had committed to not let armed forces numbers fall below 80,000 and added the biggest ever investment of equipment the UK had ever seen was currently taking place.
Spoz asked the audience if they would use nuclear weapons and when there was a murmuring of ‘nos’, he questioned: ‘Why have them then?’
* The candidates were asked whether the super-rich and large corporations were making a fair contribution to the exchequer.
Mr Cross said everyone had seen in the news how large corporations had avoided paying the amounts of tax they were supposed to, adding UKIP would look at closing loopholes. “No one likes paying tax, but everyone needs to pay their way,” he added.
Mr Ebbutt said everyone should play by the same rules and that was not happening. He said the problem was an outdated system, adding Labour would bring an end to nom-dom tax evasion where people kept their cash overseas. With regard to multi-national companies, he said there had been a lot of publicity about making large corporations pay the right amount of tax they owed but, in reality, nothing had been done.
Spoz said the super-rich and large corporations did not pay their fair share. He added the Greens would bring in a 60 per cent tax rate for those earning more than £150,000-a-year. He said they would also bring in a mansion tax and Robin Hood tax to make the system fairer. He said he admired people who were paid millions, but added if they earned more, they needed to pay more.
Mr Javid said in the last five years, the Conservatives had introduced a diverted profit tax and anti-avoidance rule to clamp down on those evading tax. He claimed Labour could have taken similar steps during its 13 years in power but had not done anything. He said the top one per cent of earners in the country generated 28 per cent of the overall income tax coffers and the top five per cent raised 46 per cent of the overall amount collected. He added Capital Gains Tax had also been upped from 18 per cent to 28 per cent.
Mr Ricketts pointed out the Liberal Democrats had helped implement those policies and said the party, if elected, planned to close more loopholes.
“If everyone did pay their way, there would be no need for people to be poor in this society.”
UKIP’s Stuart Cross, Liberal Democrat Bart Ricketts and Spoz from the Green Party. Pictures by Tristan Harris