Ahead of next week’s General Election the Gazette asked all the candidates standing in North Devon for their thoughts on some of the area’s key issues.
Here's what Steve Cotten (Independent), Robbie Mack (Green), Finola ONeill (Labour), Selaine Saxby (Conservative) and Alex White (Liberal Democrats) had to say:
What do you think are the three most important issues that need to be tackled?
Steve Cotten (SC): The first is having a genuine representative for the people of North Devon in Parliament, someone who will voice the opinions and concerns of all members of our society and take them to parliament and act on them. The second is hospital and school funding. Unless we fix the funding resources for these them they will only continue going backwards. The third is farming. Farmers are under increasing pressure to survive in a global market. Better ways of getting the farm subsidies to the farmers who farm need to be addressed. Not only are our farmers producing some of the best products in the world, they are keeping our environment to a standard that most can only envy.
Robbie Mack (RM): Cuts and privatisation impacting our health service. Hospitals, GPs, dentists all suffering from short staffing. Inappropriate development causing congestion and impacting sites of wildlife and conservation. The effects of climate change on our vulnerable area, from floods and extreme weather.
Finola ONeill (FON): The NHS: This is the last chance for our NHS, without a Labour government it'll be gone by the next election. The Environment: Our planet is in crisis, we have a decade for all systems to change. Poverty: 40 per cent of Ilfracombe's children are living in poverty and people are dying from homelessness.
Selaine Saxby (SS): Health - we need to find a way to fill the vacancies in our excellent local health service. Education - our schools educate our future and it is vital that funding is increased to our schools in North Devon. Infrastructure - our road network needs a comprehensive strategy that links to our house building and national investment in our trunk road network.
Alex White (AW): Investment in (1) our schools, (2) NHS and social care and (3) tackling the climate emergency. North Devon has been left behind without a fair deal, I'll fight for better services that local people deserve.
How can we help our hardworking teachers give the best possible education to children?
RM: Increase funding by at least £4billion per year, reversing years of cuts. Funding would reduce class sizes down to under 20 in the long term. Address historic underfunding by levelling up all areas of the country.
FON: Involve them in planning the education services, fund them properly and end the constant paperwork, bureaucracy and SATs tying up valuable teaching time and massively stressing out our children. Trust your professionals, constant measurement does not improve quality, it's a fallacy.
SS: To find ways to further reduce administration so teachers can concentrate on the needs of the individual students in the classroom. As a teacher, to increase spending on SEN in schools to enable students to get the support they need and I would like to see it become easier for parents to access Education Health Care Plans for their children, which also gives extra funds to the schools they attend.
AW: An extra £10billion a year for schools. Recruit 20,000 more teachers nationally. Raise the starting salary for teachers to £30k and increase all teachers' pay by three per cent a year. Free professional development for 50 hours a year.
SC: We can only help our hard working teachers if we listen to their needs and act on them. Funding to the correct level is paramount, and without it the schools can only continue to struggle.
How would you fix adult social care and how would you pay for it?
FON: Provide free personal care for the elderly, saving money by reducing hospital admissions (way more costly). Bring it back into public ownership, saving the money draining into private companies. Any shortfall from small increases to tax of the top five per cent.
SS: Government needs to act, to work with those who are experts in this field and not be scared of tackling this issue which has been neglected for too long. I agreed with the analysis of The Health Foundation that we need to stabilise the current system; improve access to care; provide social protection against care costs; see the capped cost model as a flexible approach to reform and explore a range of options for raising revenue - there is no easy solution to this issue, but we need to tackle it, particularly here in North Devon.
AW: We will put a penny on income tax to raise an extra £35 billion for the NHS and social care. This money will relive the crisis in social care by tackling the urgent workforce shortages and investing in mental health services.
SC: The senior citizens of North Devon deserve the best possible care available, with more homes with direct funding from the government
RM: Provide an additional £4.5bn a year to fund councils to provide free social care to people over 65 who need support in their homes.
Explore how free care at home could be extended to everyone who needs it, regardless of age.
What idea would you suggest to reduce social isolation?
SS: Our society has changed and families are now scattered across the globe. I would like to see more social groups in our small rural and coastal communities that replicate initiatives such as Spare Chair Sunday where families can invite neighbours who are alone to join them for a Sunday roast. Working alongside with charities such as Age UK to understand what each community needs is also vital. In Instow I have been instrumental in starting to set up a new residents group that is planning its first social event for all the village in January.
AW: North Devon does not get a fair deal which has increased social isolation. We need to have a thriving rural economy, a digitally connected countryside and a North Devon where everyone is able to get around.
SC: We need better bus services in rural areas, more resources to rural communities and more local participation in rural events.
RM: Invest in affordable public transport and better options for cycling and walking. Better connect rural communities through reliable broadband and mobile internet. Encourage community initiatives to support individuals left behind, e.g. elderly and young parents.
FON: Restoring public transport especially buses will link people up including the disabled. Cafes in local GP surgeries, supporting local pubs and keeping them open, encourage local gardening clubs and shared allotment areas and supporting the local Environmental groups that are bringing people together.
What taxation should there be, if any, to pay for better local services?
AW: Local services are a real investment in our future; we need to increase budgets and not cut them. Corporations (like Amazon and Google) need to pay their fair share of tax by cutting capital gains tax allowances and increasing corporation tax.
SC: None - we already pay enough council tax. That said all second homes should pay three times as much.
RM: Simplify income tax, ending injustice where people who work for their incomes are taxed more highly than those whose income is derived from wealth. Eradicate tax avoidance by removing loopholes, ensuring the wealthiest pay their fair share.
FON: Funding provided by ending the massive draining of resources by private companies who are unaccountable and profiting while providing an awful service. Removing the copious bureaucracy will also assist. The remainder from slightly higher taxation of the richest five per cent.
SS: UK tax revenue is at an all time high, but all services do need paying for. Locally the issue I would like to see looked at as a way of raising additional revenue is taxation on empty homes and virtually unused second homes in North Devon. The situation I see in Instow is replicated in many parts of North Devon where property prices are inflated because of the number of properties that are empty for the majority of the year. The people who own those properties in my mind should contribute far more to our local services.
What's your favourite film and why?
SC: A Matter of Life and Death with David Niven and Kim Hunter. I'm a romantic at heart.
RM: The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). It is definitely stereotypical of its time and budget, but I love the simplicity of the characters. The effects of a dropped bottle on a tribal society create a funny but symbolic narrative.
FON: Pulp Fiction, because I'm like Winston Wolf, I fix problems, let me fix the problems of North Devon for you all.
SS: Particularly at this time of year Love Actually springs to mind. Politicians are human beings too, and it does rather highlight this and something I hope can be restored to our politics. The abuse so many MPs have endured, and the aggressive social media I have seen already since being selected is entirely unnecessary. I hope our 2019 Christmases here in North Devon can have a polite and happy movie-style ending!
AW: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - I'll let you decide which candidate is which!