Pupils grill parliamentary candidates

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:54 05 June 2015

Jamie Hall (Conservative), David Derbyshire (Green Party), Ian Kealey (UKIP), Dr Greg Chambers (Labour) and Marcus Kravis (Lib Dem) with students and question master Headteacher Chris Wade.

Jamie Hall (Conservative), David Derbyshire (Green Party), Ian Kealey (UKIP), Dr Greg Chambers (Labour) and Marcus Kravis (Lib Dem) with students and question master Headteacher Chris Wade.

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Pupils, teachers and parents quizzed North Somerset's parliamentary candidates on key issues at a hustings debate at Nailsea School.

The event was chaired by headteacher Chris Wade who posed the questions to Jamie Hall (representing Liam Fox) for the Conservative Party, David Derbyshire from the Green Party, Greg Chambers from the Labour Party, Marcus Kravis from the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party’s Ian Kealey.

Question: What are political parties offering young voters?

Greg Chambers (GM): In conjunction with education, we are going to create quality apprenticeships with employers. We are going to offer a technical baccalaureate and get people to keep studying maths and English until they are 18. We will have a job guarantee for people who have been unemployed for a year and get people into training rather than on benefits. We are also going to introduce voting for 16-year-olds.

Marcus Kravis (MK): We are going to introduce voting for 16-year-olds. A young person’s discount card will give discounted bus fares for students but we are also looking at making it a general discount for other services as well. We also want to raise the income tax threshold to £12,500, which will benefit young people.

Ian Kealey (IK): We are going to scrap tuition fees in a lot of key subjects – science, technology, maths and medicine, which will help the NHS. We are going to have a really meaningful apprenticeship scheme to make sure they are set up to what industries need and make it more technological so people are geared up for a lifetime of work.

Jamie Hall (JH): We want to help people to get on the property ladder. We’ve got a help-to-buy scheme offering people a top-up on ISAs, so if you have £200 in an ISA we will it top up with £50. We’ve made several changes to education which have had a positive impact. We’ve also made a commitment for 270,000 new school places.

David Derbyshire (DD): We would increase investment in young people’s services such as youth clubs and youth councils. We would lower the voting age to 16 and make higher education free. We’d go back to how things were where you got a grant and tuition was free. We’d end exploitation from unpaid internships and make renting affordable and end low-wage job culture.

Question: Last week David Cameron pledged the opening of 500 new free schools. Please explain why the money for these comes from money used to fund state schools. And how can schools like ours survive in the current climate?

JH: I don’t think it’s an either or. We can have them both – free schools have made a great contribution to our education system over the past five years. We want to make more free schools and state schools like this one. We have had some tough times and funding may have been cut in certain areas because we inherited a complete mess. We want to make sure free schools stay.

IK: We are the only party advocating introduction of grammar schools. I’m concerned about young people’s opportunities. If you don’t have sufficient funds to send your child to an independent school they won’t get the same opportunities for advancement in later life. We are the only party who wants to address this. Only 7 per cent of children go to independent schools but they get about 50 per cent of all the best jobs and it’s not right.

DD: I think in the current system the curriculum bogs teachers down and undermines professionalism and creativity. 40 per cent of new teachers quit within five years. Schools need to be fit for children and young adults, not the other way around. We want to give control of schools back to local authorities. We want to reintroduce a fully comprehensive system including free schools and raise capital funding to pre-2010. We would increase taxes to do that.

MK: We’ve promised to put £2.5billion into schools through the pupil premium. The problem with free schools is it comes from the LEA budget so schools that aren’t free schools suffer. We want to extend free school meals to all primary children. We have put education right at the top of our priorities.

GC: We want to protect the education budget to age 19, to raise with inflation. Free schools are letting schools be set up independent of local authority. Portishead has not got enough primary schools because they are not planning it properly. There is over-provision in some places and under-provision in others. I’m not in agreement of complete Government control of everything, but we need some planning. I think we need to completely rethink schools and the curriculum. Children need to learn how to re-skills themselves because we are in the information age.

Question: With only one in five MPs being women, what is your party doing to promote gender equality?

DD: We’ve had more men in the past parliament than there have ever been women since the first woman was elected. A lot of current practicies in parliament work against gender equality which is something I’d like changed. We want more job-shares for men and women. The Green Party has a policy of trying to get gender equality as far as possible in all our elections. We’ve got 38 per cent women, the highest of any political party.

JH: We’ve got less than 38 per cent, but if you look at the cabinet this is probably the best it’s been in terms of female representatives. We have Theresa May, Penny Mordaunt, Nicky Morgan. We need to do more. I’m not pretending there’s a perfect solution, but we will keep working towards these things and having women in the frontline.

MK: LibDems have been trying very hard with this for quite some time. 100 per cent of our MEPs are women. We’ve also got a leadership programme to encourage potential parliamentary candidates from under-represented groups. There’s an awful lot of work going into this. Our party president is also a woman.

GC: The Labour Party has quite a good history of this. It introduced all-women shortlists. Attitudes are very sexist and we need to do soemthing to change that and I think all-women shortlists is a good start.

IK: It’s not necessary to balance things out. We’ve got local female candidates. If we accelerate the promotion of women it’s demeaning to them because you are saying ‘you’re not quite good enough but we’ll promote you anyway’. We’ve not found a need to have women accelerated.

Question: Women are being paid less, getting less jobs and university places. At the moment I don’t care about how many women are in Government, I care about equal progress and the same pay and the same opportunities as men. What are you going to do?

MK: As LibDems, we strive to get rid of any inequality. I find it hard to comprehend how it can be there.

IK: We believe in equality. If there is inequality we’ll have to put it right. All I can say is that we’re doing pretty well, we’ve got quite a few MEPs who are women.

Question: I have to pay £900 a month in childcare, which is a massive disincentive to go back to work. If you are not addressing those fundamentals you’re really not doing much to allow women to get to that position because they are not able to go back into the workplace.

DD: We’ve made a commitment to increase the amount of free childcare through early years so parents of either sex shouldn’t have to worry about that because the provision is there.

JH: We will be giving 30 hours of childcare free because we understand that a working mum wants to know their child is safe. This is definitely a good starting point.

Question: What’s your party doing about alternative and renewable energy resources?

DD: One of the key things in our manifesto is to promote renewable energy, to develop wind power, solar power and tidal power. We feel that’s absolutely critical if we are to avoid climate change causing irreparable damage to the way of life we enjoy today. We’d insulate homes right across the UK, creating jobs and reducing the need for power generation.

GC: We should be putting solar panels on as many houses as possible and legislate to get carbon out of electricity supply. We need to invest in micro-renewable technologies.

JH: We have started really investing in renewable energy. Solar panels on schools has been big over the past five years.

MK: We’ve done the green investment bank and the green deal. Our work on green renewables is nothing short of relentless. An awful lot has been done. We’re trying to get £100billion of private investment into renewable energy.

IK: We are open-minded and whatever works we’ll go for. We should have a diverse supply. We are interested in renewables, we are also interested in nuclear and we will explore fracking with safeguards. We’ve got to look at all the other sources as well.

Question: What will your party do to ensure the future of creative industries?

IK: Arts is very important. We are just reeling from big economic shocks that happened a few years ago, the country is trying to get itself back on its financial feet. The first priority has got to be economy and that’s why UKIP would give priority to what’s best for the economy. We’d love to pump money into other areas like the NHS and arts but we can’t do as much spending with this as we would like to until the economy is stronger.

DD: We think UKIP’s rat race of developing the economy all the time and growth is unsustainable. The government is not paying for university tuition and universities are all but privatised with teaching staff under increasing pressure to generate revenue and bring in students to make more money. The quality of teaching is suffering. We favour free tuition to support students to study whatever they want to study – creative arts, games, films, technology.

GC: Computer games and music are two of our biggest exports – we are world famous for it. We should teach children to type before they start writing at school. It’s important to be able to reskill and we want to invest in adult education as well.

MK: I don’t think anyone could accuse us of not supporting the arts. We are making sure entry to museums is kept free and supporting growth in creative industries.

JH: Growth in creative industries is important and there has been a time where science and maths were very good in this country. I think we have had a drop and now when creative subjects are doing very well, STEM subjects aren’t doing quite as well, so to bring up STEM to a reasonable level we have to start pumping funding into them. Creative arts are still being supported by the Conservatives but we’ve still got to fund STEM.

The audience was asked who they would vote for following the hustings and the Green Party won with 45 per cent of vote.

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