General Election 2017: South Cambs candidates get a grilling at Barrington hustings

Susan van de Ven (Lib Dem), Dan Greef (Lab), SImon Saggers (Green), and Heidi Allen (Con) before th

Susan van de Ven (Lib Dem), Dan Greef (Lab), SImon Saggers (Green), and Heidi Allen (Con) before the debate. - Credit: Archant

The parliamentary candidates vying for your vote to represent South Cambs in Parliament in next week’s General Election took to the stage in a hustings event in Barrington yesterday evening.

Dan Greef addressing the audience.

Dan Greef addressing the audience. - Credit: Archant

It was clear from all four candidates – Conservative Heidi Allen, Dan Greef of Labour, The Green Party’s Simon Saggers and Liberal Democrat Susan van de Ven – who chatted and posed for photos together before the start, that it was going to be civilised affair on the green outside The Royal Oak pub despite the candidates differing views.

The hustings was put back a week because of the terror attack in Manchester, which was addressed by Mr Greef who said: “As we know it was an horrific attack and we’ve had to put back these proceedings, and that was right and I want to thank all the candidates for coming together and saying whatever they do to us democracy continues.”

Julian Clover from Cambridge 105fm chaired the debate and The Royal Oak’s landlord Tom Canning asked the candidates the first question, what are you going to do to protect pubs?

Mr Saggers said: “I grew up in Bassingbourn and there used to be loads of pubs now there are two.

“Pubs should be part of every community, they are more than a busininess, and one of the big problems in South Cambs we have is that communities don’t exist in the same way anymore.

“Pubs should be given tax relief in a different way if its delivering a genuine community asset.”

The candidates were all getting on well at the hustings event.

The candidates were all getting on well at the hustings event. - Credit: Archant

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Mr Greef said: “Public houses do have public spaces we should encourage communities to use those public spaces, it would be fantastic for the Government to use them in some way and give monetary incentives to pubs to do that.”

Mrs Allen - who used to run a pub – said: “ The Goverment is already offering rate relief protection for pubs because thats a massive part of their expenditure, keeping duty low on alcohol and I would want to keep and eye on the tenancy companies as they make it very difficult for landlords to eke out a living.”

Mrs van de Ven said that Brexit would impact small and medium businesses including pubs as “we are so inextrictably linked with Europe through out economy and our society”

And that was the start of Brexit dominating the evening, seeping into conversation at any given opportunity.

The next audience question was how the UK workforce would be skilled-up to replace the overseas migrant labour when there are planned cuts to the education budget.

Mrs Allen responded: “Everyone knows how much we rely on skilled labour, we can’t upskill overnight.

Heidi Allen answering audience questions.

Heidi Allen answering audience questions. - Credit: Archant

“Our education system is not broken – there are more children in good and outstanding schools than there have ever been.

“At school level funding is not being cut, but in South Cambs we have been underfunded, we are looking at a funding formula and if the Conservatives return to power we will go back to that formula to ensure children in Cambridgeshire receive as much as children in the rest of the country.

Mr Greef said: “local authority cuts have hit our region massively hard, meaning schools are suffering even before we go into negiotations where we will lose workers from overseas, and at the moment we are not replacing them.

Green candidate Mr Saggers, who is a governor at Bassingbourn Village College, responded: “Our schools are good schools but to maintain them as good schools we need to maintain them. If the tories get in they will make £3m cuts and BVC is looking at serious deficit.”

Mrs van de Ven said: “We need to be mindful of teacher recruitment and retention.

“We are an integrated part of the world, the UK has skills we export elsewhere, other countries have skills we need, I completely reject the premise immigration is a bad thing.”

Susan van de Ven putting her points across.

Susan van de Ven putting her points across. - Credit: Archant

The next audience member to ask a question quipped that he was pleased to see Heidi Allen hadn’t followed the Prime Minister’s example and has turned up tonight, and he asked if Theresa May was able to deliver on Brexit.

Green candidate Mr Saggers said: “We would without doubt give the British people the final say in the Brexit negiotations in a referendum with a clear choice – We either take the EU deal or if we don’t agree with it we remain in the EU.

Lib Dem Susan van de Ven said: “Brexit is a word that has enetered our vocabulary, but I don’t think we really understand it.”

“These changes shouldn’t happen on an in out majority, it needs something like a of a two-thirds majority, a period to reflect and understand, the questions come after the decision, then another resounding vote with a two-thirds majority.

“It’s very emotional to some people, but I would challenge anyone to be an expert on Brexit, it’s irresponsible to be doing someone so quickly that is so harmful. “I have spent the past year talking to local businesses in South Cambs, and I haven’t heard anyone who runs a business, a school or a farm saying this is going to help me – they’re saying we have got to do our best, but we have real problems on our hands.”

Labour’s Dan Greef commented that this is the most important devision for a gerenation, its going to affect the children who arent born yet.

The candidates await their next question.

The candidates await their next question. - Credit: Archant

He added: “I fundamentally disagree with a second referendum, a democratic decison was made I don’t agree with but it’s democratic.

“Parliament should be the place where leadership is shown in our country, it’s the MPs who should decide on a free vote to set a deal for this country.

Vying to be re-selected, Conservative Heidi Allen said: “Every man, woman, child and business in this country needs us to do our best for them, I was a remainer, but we can’t ignore the democratic will of the people.

“Parliament does need to have a say on the deal, and I weas one of 11 Tory MPs who pushed goverment to giving parliament a vote on the deal and we will have that vote.

In South Cambs we do have a part to play, our contituency contributes positively to the UK tax coffers and the deal will only work for the UK if it works for us and its a very powerful card to play, if Iam re-elected im not going waste precious time resisting, im going to make the best of it.”

The next question was on the PM’s leadership in regards to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Simon Saggers putting his points across at the South Cambs hustings event.

Simon Saggers putting his points across at the South Cambs hustings event. - Credit: Archant

Mr Saggers said: “Obviously as a Green I have nothing but fear for Trump and what he’s trying to do. Theresa May believes nothing needs to be done and that sums up Tory attitude to the environment.”

Mr Greef echoed this: “We have to work with America in a progressive way but we also need to say to our friend sometime and say you’ve got this really wrong. D

“Theresa May should have said a lot more and signed the declaration to say this is disgraceful.”

Heidi Allen, however said Mrs May did the right thing: “Theresa May wasn’t the only person not to sign the declaration. There are different ways of dealing with people. I find having conversations with people, talking to ministers, getting in there and making them understand behind the scenes what the issues are is more effective and powerful – and given that he is an interesting character is much more effective long term.”

Susan added: “As a dual UK/US citizen im not very happy at the moment, I think secret private conversations are not showing leadership. Climate change is not something which haoppens within national borders we need to collaborate internationally.”

The questions then moved on to housing, and the NHS.

The Royal Oak in Barrington.

The Royal Oak in Barrington. - Credit: Archant

An audience member said: “At the moment our villages are blighted with planning applications that are not in the local plan and will benefit no one but property developers we should have a planning system that prevents that from happening.

Mrs Allen, who said thought she’s never be so grateful to talk about planning after all the Brexit talk, said that before the election was called she was working with other MPs on the idea that where youre an area of positive growth, you’ll be given a break in being part of the five year land supply – and she said that if she’s relected she’ll carry on with that.

Mr Greef said: “Services are woefully behind developments, and people like you and I are forced out of the market, we’re not all millionaires, we’re not all business people – we’re a mixture of everyone and housing should be there for everyone as well.”

Mrs van de Ven said: “The planning department at the council is under unbelievable pressure, local councils can’t function properly and we are not getting the level of affrodable housing that we desperately need.”

Finally the NHS was brought up much to the delight of the audience, namely what the candidates would do to keep it.

Mrs van de Ven said: “The Liberal Democrats has proposed a penny on income tax to provide emergency funding to keep the NHS from collapse, we have to keep health and social care and not means test it, we need to keep our EU work force, and protect them.”

Mr Saggers said that privatisation is the NHS’s biggest problem right now and that they would reppeal the Health and Social Care Act and replace it with a properly funded syste,

Mr Greef said: “Our public services are being are being cut up.”

“And with Brexit I worry we’d have Trumpcare as well.

“This country came out of one of the worst disasters in 1945, and three years later we said were going to build an NHS and were going to do it again now. M

Mrs Allen commented: “There’s more of us and were living longer so we have to get smarter with things like obesity and smoking.

“People turning up at A&E when they don’t need to, or cancelling appointments with their GP.

“We have to stop wasting services, our CCG Addenbrookes and county council are working as a team, and would much rather find a way to be more efficent and work as a team so we don’t waste our precious NHS.”

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