Election 2015 Q&A: MP Harvey hoping for sixth-straight election success

North Devon MP Nick Harvey

North Devon MP Nick Harvey - Credit: Archant

North Devon MP Nick Harvey on what he has achieved in his 22 years as an MP - and what he still hopes to accomplish beyond May

How long have you been in politics?

I have been North Devon’s MP for 22 years and was involved in student politics some years before that.

Why have you decided to stand for election?

I want to continue standing up for North Devon in Parliament. In Government the Lib Dems have delivered much to promote economic growth and deliver fairness, and in North Devon this has meant a tax cut of £800 to almost 30,000 local working people – while taking 5,500 out of tax completely, thanks to an increase in the personal tax allowance. There have also been 3,000 new apprenticeships locally since 2010. These are proud achievements, but I want to go further. I am a local campaigner with a national reputation and the experienced voice that North Devon needs to get a fairer deal in Westminster.

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What are the major issues facing North Devon between 2015-20?

The tough economic climate has had a huge impact on many aspects of life in North Devon. North Devon District Council has seen annual cuts to its slice of government grant, stretching local services to crisis point. Safeguarding frontline services that people rely on is going to be of paramount importance throughout the next Parliament when – regardless of the colour of government in power – hard choices will still have to be made under further austerity.

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We have serious pockets of rural poverty and there is a huge shortage of housing that local people can afford. Improving North Devon’s connectivity, strengthening our transport links and addressing the state of our roads will also be critical. Investment in the A303 is extremely welcome but North Devon will only reap the benefits of these improvements if similar focus is given to the North Devon Link Road, which is the real gateway for North Devon’s residents and businesses to the rest of the country.

What would you like to see done to combat these?

North Devon’s economic development is key to recovery. I would like to see North Devon’s businesses grow and expand and get their teeth into international markets – we have a thriving manufacturing industry and it’s vital we secure funding and support from the Government to bring about progress. In this Parliament getting Assisted Areas status (another designation of funding for businesses and growth) was a huge achievement and we can do more to build on this.

There is a wholly unjust funding bias towards urban areas in the current formulas used to calculate how much money local councils get, which leaves North Devon residents on average £153 worse off – per head – than their urban counterparts, despite paying far higher council tax. We need to see an urgent change in the underlying formula, rather than piecemeal attempts each year to throw money in for rural areas.

How would your party deliver on this for the people of North Devon?

By lobbying Ministers and keeping up the pressure on the Government to recognise the potential of our area, and keeping North Devon on the agenda. I would work with MPs across the political divide – as I do at the moment on the South West Transport APPG, the Rural Fair Share Campaign and the F40 fairer school funding campaign, amongst others – to secure key gains.

How much pressure do you think local services will come under should spending cuts continue? Can local authorities cope with these?

The current situation is untenable and it will only get more difficult for local authorities to make ends meet over the next few years of pressure on budgets. People are seeing their services erode around them and I have opposed some truly intolerable cuts to care homes and day centres which would affect some of the most vulnerable North Devonians. Of course all local authorities are feeling the squeeze, but it is unacceptable that rural areas are being unfairly penalised because of bias in the way council funding is calculated towards urban areas. North Devon residents get £86 less per head than Plymouth residents in council funding, but pay an average of £127 more in Council Tax. I am vice chair of a group of cross-party MPs who have been lobbying the Government to sort this out once and for all, and I will continue to do so as a matter of immediate priority.

Do you support or oppose further housing and renewable energy developments in the constituency? Why?

While I recognise that North Devon needs more housing, it is vital that new developments are appropriate, proportionate and sensitive to the local community and the environment. North Devon’s planning department needs a greater say in how many houses are approved rather than having terms dictated from Whitehall, and I have been calling on the Government to rectify this and make local authorities more accountable. When it comes to renewable energy, North Devon is rich in resources – particularly in respect of marine and tidal energy. I have been pressing for a rebalancing of Government subsidies away from onshore windpower, which have been inflated for years, and towards tidal and wave power. Trials of the Seaflow turbine off the coast of Lynmouth 9 years ago doubly exceeded expectations and I want to see his potential harnessed once more, but it requires much more robust financial support from the Government to make it happen, which should begin in 2017.

How confident are you of a successful election campaign for your party, both locally and nationally?

This will be an incredibly tough fight for Lib Dems across the country as our national vote share is clearly going to come down from the 23 per cent we achieved in 2010. We will pay the price for stepping up to the plate and going into Government at a time of economic crisis, sharing the burden of making unpalatable decisions. But I would doubt predictions of our complete electoral wipeout across the country – the Lib Dems are capable of holding on to many seats. North Devon will as always be a tough fight, but one I am very much ready for.

In one sentence, what would you pledge to offer to the people of North Devon should you be elected?

Politicians of all colours will be bandying big statements around in the coming months but my mission is very simple: I want to continue the fight for rural equality, put our area on the map and stand up for North Devon’s communities and people, whether they live in the town or in rural areas, and whether they be rich or poor.

Why should people give you their vote?

I have lived in North Devon for 25 years and brought up a family here – this area is my home and I feel passionately about ensuring it gets a fair deal. From securing funding for local businesses via Assisted Areas and the Regional Growth Fund, to safeguarding our local NHS and blocking the Tories’ damaging regional pay proposals, I have a proven track record of navigating the jungle of Westminster politics and forging the cross-party connections needed to deliver change for our area.

What would you say to anyone thinking about not voting in May?

I would say it is wrong to abandon your opportunity to play a part in the democratic process in North Devon. Change comes about through the smallest of actions and while one vote amongst thousands may not seem significant, it is a start – and it is your right to exercise. It is worth getting involved if you want to have a say about the kind of government you want to see in Westminster and the voice you want to see representing North Devon.

Away from politics, give us a quirky fact about yourself?

On a trip to Beijing some years ago I was travelling in a cycle rickshaw when the driver suddenly became ill and keeled over. I had to commandeer the rickshaw to cycle him to the nearest hospital. The streets were empty on a Sunday morning but those who saw a 6’3” western tourist peddling and elderly Chinese man away looked quite astonished by the sight! The rickshaw driver made a miraculous recovery when we reached our destination, and to this day I’ve never been certain whether it was his regular ‘party piece’.

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