Here Nerissa Warner-O’Neill, Conservative candidate for Preston, answers your questions…Advertisement
1. In Preston town centre there are office blocks full of public sector workers at Lancs County Council, HM Revenue & Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions. Most political parties are proposing public sector cuts. So what would you do to protect their jobs and also not lose their spending power that is important for many town centre businesses?
We cannot pretend that times are not tough and that difficult decisions will not have to be made. By freezing public sector pay for all workers (except the one million lowest paid) a year we can save the equivalent of 100,000 jobs. The biggest threat to jobs, whether in the Private or Public Sector is Labour’s proposed tax on jobs. Each of these departments will be required to fund the increase in employers national insurance but by finding savings in the budgets of these departments, equivalent to just £1 in every £100 we can stop this tax.
2. I would like to know if the fuel tax is going to stay at the present HIGH rate or will it be coming down, if it came down it would help the small businesses, which in turn would help in the economic recovery.
The price of fuel is crippling at the moment. We are consulting on a ‘fair fuel stabiliser’ which will mean that tax will go down when prices go up and up when they go down. This will help families and businesses by creating more consistency in prices at the pump and allow for long term budget planning.
3. How will you improve the public transport system in Preston & encourage people to leave their cars at home? Wouldn’t a tram system be a good idea as the roads are already clogged? And if so how would you implement it?
Preston’s roads are at capacity and become gridlocked at the slightest problem. If I am elected I will work with all stakeholders to investigate innovative, cost effective solutions for Preston. I think that something can be done to make Bluebell Way park and ride work for Preston by relieving pressure on parking either at the hospital or on parking for students resident in Preston. I think the proposals for the regeneration of the tram system are very interesting and have great potential. At present there are claims that this can be done through private investment. We have to be realistic that there is likely to be very little public money available to pay for this so, if it is to be successful, at least in the short term, it will need to rely on this private money.
4. I am a UCLan graduate. Due to their being no cultural sector to speak of in employment terms in this town, I am having to leave Preston to pursue a career. My experience is typical in that I am one of thousands of UCLan graduates who would be happy to remain here and contribute to a growing, vibrant city but for whom there are no realistic employment opportunities to enable this. Isn’t it ironic that at a time when the Council wants to promote and develop Preston as the North West’s Third City, it seems not to have occurred to them that they have a resource in terms of skills and employability on their doorstep in the form of UCLan which is being utterly ignored? What would the candidates do to reverse this situation in real terms and how and when would they do it (and beyond simply talking about a ‘vision’ for graduate retention which I’ve often heard spouted at public sector meetings and buffets yet which has come to absolutely nothing in the real world up to this point)?
I was really impressed by the work undertaken by UCLAN Futures to support graduates in their search for employment and Northern Lights (one of the leading incubation units in the country) in the work they do in helping start up businesses. We do need to stimulate the jobs market in Preston (and the wider country); avoiding Labour’s tax on jobs and giving tax breaks to new companies on the first ten jobs they create will help in this. I also passionately believe that Preston is well positioned to be the M4 corridor of the north west. As the city at the centre of the country in transport terms with great universities on our doorstep we can make our city the employment hub of our region. Because we need to start making things again and boost manufacturing and the value of our exports we need to make sure that hi tech start ups are adequately financed and we will refocus R&D tax credits to this.
5. If the Tithebarn redevelopment doesn’t go ahead what will you do to bring in funding for the city to improve on existing buildings and help businesses in the city centre?
Tithebarn will be good for our city and good for our region and I really hope that it will become a reality, despite the delays that have been forced on this project. If, however, the project does not go ahead it is important that investment is still attracted into our city through a number of smaller developments. I will work closely with Preston City Council and groups such as Preston Vision and give support where needed and act as a champion for our city on the national stage.
6. Walking my son to school in a morning the pavements are full of dog muck, glass and litter. It looks horrible & is dangerous. How will you clean up Preston?
I sat in on the Preston City Council budget meeting earlier this year and I was pleased that the Conservative administration has found the funds to deal with important issue of dog fouling. If you do see an area suffering from broken glass and litter please do report the ‘grot spot’ to Preston City Council so that it can be dealt with. But these issues go deeper, many of these problems arise from antisocial behaviour and from people who feel no need to engage with society. By cutting down on drink and drugs abuse, supporting the family and community as the bedrocks of society we can start to tackle these problems from the root rather than just apply sticking plasters.
7. If your 16 year old niece/nephew came to you and asked for your advice as to whether they should study for a Media Studies A Level, what would your advice be?
I have always advised my nieces and nephews to base their a level choices around their strengths, and that will allow them to pursue the job they will enjoy most in later life and the career which is most likely to provide them with sustainable employment. I know two people who have had real success in the media, one studied a vocational course at a highly regarded regional theatre, the other studied archaeology at a leading university, neither took a media studies A level and I think that there are many other A level options that will allow students to pursue a career in the media while providing a rigorous grounding in hard, transferable skills.
8. Proposed Death Tax – When will all pensioners in need of care be treated the same regardless of how much money they have, or whether they own a property. Consider the following scenario…Two people in the same job earning the same money all their adult life. One chooses to buy a house and save some money. The other decides he wants to rent a property and spend any spare cash he has, maybe on foreign holidays flash cars or whatever. Maybe the one buying the house and saving a bit has had to make sacrifices to do this. Why, when care is needed, does the one with the money and the property have to fund his own care, whilst the other person, who has had a whale of a time spending all he has earned, then have the state pay for all his needs? Where is the justice in that?
There is no justice at all and we need to look at this situation as a matter of urgency. No one should have to sell their home or destroy their savings to pay for their care. It will not be possible to provide this care for free but we would put in place an insurance based system where, on retirement, people could pay an insurance sum of £8,000 which would cover all residential care to the end of life. This is a large sum but could be covered out of the lump sum pension payment received on retirement or paid for in instalments in the years leading to 65. For those with assets below the current means test limit this sum would not apply and care would continue to be provided for free. Of course we will keep a review on the system to see if it can be improved.
9. Which candidates actually really welcomes students? Ones I’ve spoken to give me the impression we’re not welcome in Preston?
UCLAN is one of the largest employers in Preston and students bring great levels of investment to our city. Of course there will be certain levels of town/gown tension from time to time, it is inevitable but I know that the student union are doing their best, together with the city council, to reduce friction between students and residents. Without the students and without UCLAN Preston would be a poorer place, financially and culturally.
10. How will you improve employment opportunities for young people in the city of Preston? Many are leaving school or college to find there is no work & no hope.
Young people today have been betrayed by the wasteful policies of the Labour party. The best thing we can do to improve the employment prospects for young people is to get our economy moving again and to support businesses that create the jobs that people need. At the moment very few schools have access to proper careers advice and therefore many young people miss out on good quality careers advice and by funding an extra 10,000 university places and 100,000 additional training places and apprenticeships each year we will provide real opportunities.
11. When are the public going to be told the extent of public money spent on duplicated, or unnecessary jobs? Do we need to have 67 quangos, employing 28000 officials, spending £3,157,000,000 a year in one government department… i.e. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (DEFRA) The Food Standards Agency (FSA) includes 37 committees, such as ‘The Advisory Body for the Delivery of Official Controls’, ‘The Food Standards Sampling Coordination Working Group’. Which party will make a commitment to reduce the above?
No we do not need that many quangos. A Conservative government will set out plans to reduce the administrative costs of Whitehall bureaucracy and quangos by at least one third. This would reduce government spending by £3 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament, or by more than £7 billion over the Parliament. We will require quangos and central government bodies to publish detailed breakdowns on their spending in local authority areas. We will also publish online the names and salaries of all central government and quango managers earning over £150,000 per year. In addition we will publish detailed organograms, staff numbers, salaries, expenses and job descriptions of departments and quangos, of the 35,000 most senior civil servants at Grade 7 and above (excluding names) (Grade 7 has a mean salary of £49,290 in March 2009). This will allow the public to examine in an open and transparent way the structure of public bodies, the lines of responsibility and overall staffing levels.
12. How will you improve the health and mental well being of people in Preston?
The NHS is our top priority and we will make sure that investment rises in real terms, but that does not mean that savings cannot be made, they will be sent back to our frontline health services. We will end the use of political targets in hospitals and instead allow our doctors and nurses to concentrate on clinical outcomes. We will also end the postcode lottery on drugs and ensure that every patient has access to the drugs they need. The growth in hospital infections is appalling, it is crazy that our patients are more likely to get an infection in hospital now than 100 years ago, earlier this year a friend of mine contracted MRSA while in the Royal Preston, it is simply not good enough. More single rooms will allow us to control the spread of infection and end the scandal of mixed sex wards.
At the moment mental health services intervene too late and we need to focus on increasing early intervention and establish a health at work scheme through local networks of business organisations. Mental health patients do not have a great involvement in their treatment, by giving responsibility for patient budgets to GPs and introducing a per patient funding system, this will make patients feel more involved and therefore more likely to be satisfied with their treatment. It should be easier for Mental Health Foundation Trusts to work with independent welfare to work providers and employers to ensure that those who our out of work or are at risk get all the help they need and to provide better in work mental health support.
13. It has been reported in the local media that the housing market is picking up. How will young people and first time buyers ever get a foot on the housing ladder? How will you improve accessibility to affordable housing in Preston and shorten waiting lists for social housing?
While it is good news that the local housing market is picking up it does make life very difficult for young people and first time buyers. Conservative plans call for a permanent increase in the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 so that 9 out of 10 first time buyers will not have to pay this extra expense on their purchase. Labour made a similar sounding promise but while they would only provide this break for 2 years, our increase is permanent. This on its own is not enough, we will extend shared ownership schemes allowing people on lower incomes to own part of their home. If you are a tenant in social housing with a record of good behaviour for five years you will be rewarded with a 10% equity share that can be cashed in when you want to move up the housing ladder. Councils that build more homes will be rewarded by being allowed to keep more of the proceeds from council tax with an extra incentive for affordable housing and local communities will be able to club together to form Local Housing trusts to build homes for local people that protect the individual character of their neighbourhoods. These incentives will really work to encourage and stimulate the affordable housing market in Preston and increase the number of social housing lets available for rent.
14. Many people reading Blog Preston would like to see more sports facilities (Olympic sized swimming pool) & creative industries (workshops/improved museums/libraries/public art) in Preston. How can will you encourage that to happen?
Preston has a pretty impressive cultural offer, The Harris, The Museum of Lancashire, The Ribble Steam Railway, The Queen’s Lancashire Museum, The Guild Hall and Charter Theatre, the Preston Playhouse, the leisure centres; even without the National Football Museum the offer is extensive and I really hope that we can find a deal to allow us to keep the Football Museum. Of course I would very much like to see this offer extended even further but, realistically, at the moment funds are very tight. One real change that will have an effect on the funding available for improvements of this type will be to reform the National Lottery to make it independent of Government once more and maximise the amount of funding available to arts, sport, heritage and the voluntary sector. Preston would then be able to submit a request for investment.
15. The Surestart Children’s Centres in Preston provide a lifeline & essential support to families with young children in the city. Will you continue to support and build on all the work already put in place over the past 13 years & if so how will you do that?
Sure Start centres here in Preston perform a very important role in the lives of families and I was really impressed by the commitment of the staff that I met when I visited the Preston West Centre. To allow the Sure Start centres around our city to help those families who most need their assistance we will provide an extra 4,200 Sure Start health visitors nationwide.