Telford & Wrekin hustings: Parliamentary candidates debate A&E, climate change and other big issues
A&E provision, public transportation and TV licences were all up for debate during one of the first major hustings in Telford.
Every candidate across the Telford & Wrekin constituencies were given a chance to have their say on major issues to a crowd of about 50 people.
The event, held at the Whitehouse Hotel in Wellington this morning, had been organised by Age UK and Telford Senior Citizens Forum, and was a chance for older people to ask questions about issues that might impact on them.
The debate gave a representative of each political party the chance to talk about how issues would affect people in their constituency and what they were doing to combat it.
On specifically local issues, both candidates for Telford and the Wrekin were able to speak. The session was chaired by Morgan Vine and attendees were invited to write down questions before they entered the Telford Suite at the hotel.
Representing Labour was Telford candidate Katrina Gilman and Wrekin candidate Dylan Harrison. Lucy Allan is standing in Telford and Mark Pritchard in The Wrekin for the Conservatives. Shana Roberts and Thomas Janke are standing for the Liberal Democrats for Telford and The Wrekin retrospectively. Tim Dawes, who is standing in The Wrekin, represented the Green Party.
Telford's A&E and Mother and Children's Unit
It was no surprise that the most important issue to people in the nearly 50-strong crowd – and one that kept coming up – was Telford's A&E provision.
Under current plans, the A&E at Princess Royal Hospital will be downgraded to an A&E Local, offering services for a limited time.
Emergency care will instead go to Shrewsbury or further afield, and planned care will be largely dealt with at Telford.
The change will bring funding of £312 million to the county, but critics say the money will not make up for the issues caused by losing an A&E.
Mr Janke, for the Lib Dems, was given first chance at the subject.
"We are asking for a full review of what's happened with regards Future Fit," he said.
He said the Liberal Democrats would pledge 1p on income tax to pay an extra £7 billion each year for the NHS and social care.
"It's totally unacceptable and a waste of money that the Women and Children's Unit has to be moved to Shrewsbury because we can't have a 24-hour consultant led service at the hospital," said Mr Janke.
"I believe the policy that we're putting forward nationally and the review we're asking for locally will go a long way to making sure we keep 24 hour consultant led services at Princess Royal Hospital."
Miss Roberts, also for the Lib Dems, said that services had to be looked at across the county.
"Our idea is not to say that there has to be a compromise at one place or the other," she said.
"Ultimately you're looking at A&E care at one place and planned care at the other. That's just not good enough.
"We shouldn't be having a war against Shrewsbury about whose life is more important."
She said more money needed to be given to services.
Mr Dawes, meanwhile, said the Green Party would stop Future Fit.
"It's not the whole answer," he said. "But it's a damn good start.
"When A&E services don't work it's not a matter of inconvenience, it's a matter of people probably dying as a result of the failure of that service.
"Green Party's policy is to increase spending gradually on the NHS, to bring it up to the average in northern Europe. Under 10 years of Conservative, we cut the NHS spending in real terms to a level which is well below what it is in the average in northern Europe.
"Basically what we need is more money into the NHS."
Ms Allan, for the Conservatives, said: "We can all agree we've had six years of hospital management trying to come up with a solution to what we have now, which is not good enough. Nobody in this room thinks the A&E provision we have is good enough, but neither is some of the other provision.
"We are forgetting about the fact we have difficulties with accessing GPs and we are forgetting about the baby deaths scandal. We've all been fighting over the A&E, but we mustn't forget we've got incompetent management running Future Fit. We're finding out more every day."
She said Future Fit cannot go ahead without proper management to understand the needs of the area.
"We have got a rapidly growing population in Telford, widening health inequalities and a far greater need," she added.
"We need our fair share of the money, but we also need a better quality management to complete this and deal with some of the huge challenges."
Mrs Gilman, for Labour, said: "The NHS and the hospital is one of the key issues in this election. It can't all be left at the foot of management. There is a government who are able to stop Future Fit.
"This could have been stopped, it would have been stopped by a Labour government, and it will be stopped if you get a Labour government. Only Labour is guaranteeing from the top of their party that both places will keep 24/7 A&E, but more importantly our Women and Children's Centre."
A member of the audience asked if it was right that parents needed to have a whip-round for classroom essentials.
Mr Pritchard, speaking first, said: "It isn't right. That's why Boris Johnson has announced the biggest investment in schools that I've seen. How can that be paid for? Like all services, with a strong economy.
"What we do know is that every single time Labour has been in power, they have left the country in a virtual bankruptcy."
Mr Pritchard was stopped by the woman who raised the question and was asked to stick to the subject after talking about Venezuela, Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's fiscal policy.
"I'll answer your question in my way," he said when challenged. "Madam, if you'd like to answer your own question, then I can just shut up, but I would like to answer it in my way.
"What we've seen with Boris Johnson is we can have public services that are run efficiently and effectively. I don't think that's right, but it's been going on through both Labour and Conservative governments, and I don't think that's right. That's why we need a strong economy to pay for a strong education."
Miss Roberts said: "It's not right at all. I live in Brookside and we've seen the impact that poverty has on children in regards to uniforms, stationary, breakfast and meals.
"There's a problem. Liberal Democrats will ensure there is £10 billion extra into schools, and will ensure there are 20,000 more teachers. That doesn't really get to it, it's about families, deprivation and child poverty. These are bigger issues in Telford than we'd like to admit. Those are the issues we need to be talking about."
Mr Harrison said: "It's appalling what happening with child poverty in this country. The fact that the biggest growth industry is food banks says it all really."
After being accused of not answering the question, Mr Harrison said he was being victim to some "partisan heckling".
"The issue is about funding," he said. "The issue is about cuts. It's cuts across the board. Clearly cuts are having an impact. Children are growing up in poverty, their parents are unable to afford to subsidise what is meant to be a national school system, the taxpayer needs to put more money in and that is what Labour will do. We will properly resource the school system."
Mr Dawes said: "It isn't right. It is driving inequality in our society.
"This drift to funding school by asking parents to subsidise them is all about privatisation of our education system."
TV Licences for the over 75s
With a primarily older audience, the issue of TV Licences was an important one.
Under current plans, free TV Licences would be scrapped for over 75s.
Mrs Gilman said: "You vote Labour, you will get free TV Licences for the over 75s.
"We know that these people tell us the television is their company, it's their way of being connected to the outside world. We will not take that away from them. We won't take away their bus pass either."
Mr Janke said: "The Government, not the BBC, should be responsible. If elected, I would ensure whatever Government is elected would stick to their promises to abolish TV Licences for the over 75s."
Mr Dawes said: "When people get to the age where they're pensioners, they can choose how they spend their money. That means decent amount of money to make their own life choices. If we make pensions to a decent standard of living, they can make the choices. Whether they spend it on a TV Licence or a meal out, that is what I think we need to think again about."
Ms Allan: "People are aware that the BBC reneged on its charter agreement with the Government. It's disgraceful that reneged on that before an election.
"I would like to see a Conservative Government look at the charter and whether it's delivering value for money, and I'm not sure it is."
Impact of tax policies on pensions
The candidates were asked about the impact of their party's tax policies on pensions.
Mr Dawes, answering first, said: "It depends on the income of the person. I make no secret of that.
"In general it involves a great deal more public spending and that means an increase of tax.
"Higher income people would pay more. If you're a pensioner on a basic level pension, you'd be better off. But if you've got investments which mean you're earning £100,000, you'll be worse off. I make no apology for that."
Mr Pritchard said: "We need to get Brexit done, because if we don't we'll have more dither and delay.
"We are going to have a triple lock, which will mean pensions will rise by 2.5 per cent per year. We're going to put an extra £1 billion into adult social care."
Mr Harrison said: "We will have the triple lock. It's important equity is brought back into pensions.
"We're also going to bring back winter fuel allowance. We are committed to justice for the Waspi Women.
"Pensioners earning over £80,000 may pay some more tax, but otherwise you won't."
Mr Janke said: "We need to adequately fund the NHS. There's no escaping the fact we've got an ageing population.
"You will pay an extra one per cent of income tax if you're over the threshold. That is what is needed."
Plugging the deficit in adult social care
The candidates were asked how they would plug the deficit in adult social care.
Miss Roberts said: "We will raise income tax, but I think one of the issues that's impacting social care is Brexit."
She said Brexit was impacting the number of EU carers coming over.
It was important to fund the NHS and ensure there is integration of services, she said.
Mr Harrison: "We calculate there's been £8 billion cut in the adult social care budget.
"The whole care system needs reviewing. It's been kicked down by successive governments for too long. We're just not solving the problem."
Ms Allan said: "All parties need to take responsibility for this, because there is insufficient work going on right now. It will only get worse. It is a time bomb."
Mr Dawes said: "We're all in agreement on this one. We have it in our manifesto, but I agree with Lucy. We need to start working together."
Defence, Carers and Sight Loss
The candidates were asked questions about defence within the area and the impact it has on jobs, how candidates would improve lives of those with sight loss and how they would support unpaid carers.
Mr Pritchard said the area was very dependent on defence. He said Cosford and Donnington bases had thrived and that he was grateful for everything they do. Mr Janke, who was in the armed forces, warned that some investments in defence could dry up if we leave the EU.
Mr Harrison said the Labour party was committed to renewing Trident and also committed to the care of veterans.
Mr Dawes said the Green Party would scrap Trident. "Why spend money on equipment you could never use if you're a human being," he said.
Soldiers are underpaid and not respected enough, he added.
Sight loss services in the area are not good enough, a member of the audience said, adding that there is only one nurse to help those suffering with sight loss.
All candidates said they were shocked by the figure. Ms Allan blamed the Labour-run Telford & Wrekin Council, while Mrs Gilman said councils needed more funding so they could improve adult social care.
Candidates all agreed that unpaid carers were not appreciated enough.
Ms Allan said that a light must be shone on the issue, while Miss Roberts said more needed to be done to support carers.
Mr Harrison, who is a carer, said there had been a huge reduction in the adult social care budget, and that criteria needs to be made fairer. He said there's a postcode lottery.
There was a short discussion about hospital transport, in which candidates agreed more needed to be done.
The Conservatives said there had been issues with public transport, especially trains, and also hospital parking charges.
Mr Dawes said tackling climate change would include building a good public transport network.
Mrs Gilman said improvements were needed to buses and that hospital parking charges would be scrapped under Labour.
Mr Harrison said public transport is expensive and more investment was needed. "We need to lose our love affair with the motorcar," he said.
Miss Roberts said she wanted to see businesses take more responsibility for public transportation for their staff. She said she was in talks with Telford College to help children and adults into further education who may otherwise struggle due to of lack of access to transport.
The topic segued into the more general topic of climate change.
Mrs Gilman said: "We are past the point of doing little things and expecting things to change. We are heading for a catastrophe.
"We need to do more to encourage people to recycle and re-use, encourage people not to put things in the bin. Some things can be re-used.
"Everybody has got to do a little bit, but we've got to understand that once we've done that little bit we've got to do another and another. We have to look at how we live our lives and ultimately how that impacts on the environment."
Mr Janke said the area's Liberal Democrats had been working with local groups on the environment, and nationally the group would plant 60 million trees.
"In Government we're looking at reviewing business rates for schools that are having to pay for their recycling," added Mr Janke.
"This is an emergency. The more we tackle climate change locally and nationally, the better planet we will leave for our children."
Ms Allan said: "One of the things I really enjoy doing is going into primary schools and talking to children on this subject. It's amazing how well informed they are.
"I'm not so keen on councils passing motions and then not really doing anything. We'd like to see more encouragement for litter picks and using less plastic."
Mr Dawes said: "Litter picks are not going to deal with climate change, locally, nationally or internationally. There's no such thing as a local reaction to climate change. We have to work internationally.
"We need to end fossil fuel use. We have to do that quickly."