HUSTINGS ROUNDUP: Torridge election hopefuls answer your questions

Join the Torridge election candidates tonight from 7pm-9pm on the Gazette website.

Join the Torridge election candidates tonight from 7pm-9pm on the Gazette website. - Credit: Archant

Read a round up of the Torridge and West Devon election candidates’ responses to our live online hustings.

Torridge and West Devon Green Party general election candidate Cathrine Simmons answers your questio

Torridge and West Devon Green Party general election candidate Cathrine Simmons answers your questions in the Gazette office on Wednesday night. Other candidates logged onto the live feed from home. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

The North Devon Gazette hosted another online hustings on Wednesday night (which you can view here), this time grilling the Torridge and West Devon election candidates on the issues that matter to you.

As with last week’s debate between the North Devon candidates, readers submitted their questions beforehand and on the night, and we put the candidates on the spot with topics covering everything from community hospital closures to the minimum wage.

You can view the full debate on the Gazette website under our dedicated election section, but here is a quick look at what the candidates had to say.

Torridge and West Devon Green Party general election candidate Cathrine Simmons answers your questio

Torridge and West Devon Green Party general election candidate Cathrine Simmons answers your questions in the Gazette office on Wednesday night. Other candidates logged onto the live feed from home. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

The single most important issue facing Torridge

DS: Torridge and West Devon is a deprived area with poor pay, expensive housing, poor infrastructure and suffers from serious under funding from central government, particularly in health, education and transport.

CS: Low wages is the biggest problem. We need interesting well paid jobs to keep youngsters in the area.

GC: The economic future of our local businesses, families, young people and communities.

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PD: The distance from London means we need to make our voice heard particularly in respect to affordable housing, health and transport infrastructure.

On superfast broadband

PD: Government funding has been sporadic and areas of Torridge and West Devon have been poorly treated considering we rely on tourism and many people work from home, this will be one of my top priortiies.

CS: Local responses to the problem is the answer. Forget about the BT contract organised by DDC. Go to a satellite provider. This has been done in Peters Marland - the dish is on the church tower and the 20 or so households are now getting higher broadband speeds at a much cheaper rate than other large providers.

GC: The Government has given £28million for broadband in Devon and Cornwall. Connecting Devon and Somerset has achieved real progress but it is true that some rural areas are very hard to reach and the process for developing alternatives has not been as effective as it should have been.

DS: The rolling out of superfast broadband across the rural areas of Torridge and West Devon is essential for the future economic prosperity of the constituency.

On HS2 and local public transport

DS: UKIP is opposed to HS2. The money would be much better spent on infrastructure in the rural areas, for instance dualling the North Devon link road, upgrading and enhancements to the vital rail link to Barnstaple and bringing the railway back to Tavistock.

CS: The green party is against the expensive HS2 project especially at this time of austerity. It will not help the South West which needs better connectivity. Cash should be put into creating a north Dartmoor line.

GC: HS2 is a project that will help to modernise our rail infra-structure and increase the connectivity between north and south. However, the Government has announced the dualling of the A303, and is examining new rail links, including via Okehampton, to Plymouth and beyond. The Link Road is also scheduled for major improvement. For the first time in many years we are being listened to at national level and we have a window of opportunity to achieve real progress.

MS: Whilst I do not oppose HS2 outright, I think it’s abundantly clear that historically our region has suffered from chronic underinvestment in transport infrastrcuture.

PD: Following the closure of the line at Dawlish, the repercussions were enormous for the South West. This showed a heavy reliance on public transport and how urgent funding is required to create an alternative route for bigger, and better trains.

On community hospital bed closures

CS: As a member of STITCH, the campaigning group to try to save Torrington Community Hospital, I have a learnt a lot about this subject. We collected many patient stories of poor care, but it made no difference - they still would not open the hospital. Now they are closing hospitals all over Devon it is no wonder that there is bed blocking. The Clinical Commissioning Group which replaced the Primary Care Trust has been a disaster.

GC: Torrington hospital’s beds have closed but there is a strong desire to see the hospital thrive and remain open offering new services. In the meantime, we must fight to protect our other community hospitals.

DS: Cottage hospitals are vital in rural areas, particularly to care for those discharged from the main hospital.

PD: We have an above average ageing population leading to additional pressures on the system. I would like the Government to recognise this and allocate additional health funding that follows the elderly population around the country. This could save Torrington’s community hospital.

MS: Labour will integrate health and social care comprehensively, scrap the hated top down reorganisation we were promised would never happen and have a costed ‘Time to Care’ plan to help prevent the bed blocking we have seen under this government.

On a proposed £8 minimum wage (Labour) harming small businesses

DS: I do not support the proposal by Labour of plucking a figure of £8 out of the air and expecting struggling businesses to be able to pay it. The minimum wage should be increased in line with the RPI.

CS: The Green Party would like a living wage rather than a minimum wage.

PD: The Liberal Democrats are giving real money back into people’s pockets by cutting income tax . Over 25 million people have had an £800 tax cut and over three million people have been taken out of income tax altogether.

MS: In this constituency today, too many people do a hard day’s work but are still living in poverty or dependent on in-work benefits. We will increase the National Minimum Wage to £8 an hour by the end of the next Parliament.

GC: The minimum wage is £6.70. We are not far off the £8 figure now and will probably reach very close to it anyway in the next five years. The wage is recommended by an independent commission and the Government accepted its recommendation. I would like to see progress in raising this gradually towards a living wage.

On zero-hours contracts

GC: Only where people want them and provided they are not abusive by being exclusive and not allowing people to seek other employment. The Government has legislated to prevent abuses.

PD: Under flexible employment legislation we introduced last year, anyone on a zero hours contract who has 26 weeks of continuous employment can request to work more regular hours.

CS: It is wrong that people are on zero hours contracts.

MS: In a minority of cases, zero hours contracts are a choice, but more often than not they are exploitative.

DS: I believe in a blanket ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. After a year on a zero hours contract a worker should be entitled to demand a transfer to a fixed hours contract or permanent post. The spread of zero hours contracts is yet another symptom of the over supply of labour for working class jobs because of open door immigration from the EU.

On MPs having second jobs

DS: I have pledged, if elected, I will not undertake any other employment because I believe that representing Torridge and West Devon adequately is a full time occupation.

PD: Torridge and West Devon needs a full-time MP, especially because of its geography. I’m not cynical enough to wish to be a professional MP for any reason other than serving my constituency.

CS: I would be a full-time MP. I would not want to share my time. Torridge and West Devon would become my main responsibility and I know I would enjoy serving this wonderful community.

GC: I will continue to work 50 hours a week for this constituency. But I don’t believe that it is good for parliament to have only professional politicians. The Committee on Standards in Public Life has repeatedly pleaded for those who like me continue to practice a profession while maintaining their overriding priority to their constituency.

MS: Not only have I promised to be a full-time MP, I have promised to donate an increase in MPs’ pay to local good causes.

On housing prices, help for first-time buyers and possible repossessions

PD: Prices are now so high that many working young people are unable to save enough for a deposit despite earning enough to meet future mortgage repayments.

GC: This is not a handout but a hand up to self responsibility and we want to make property owning available to many more people who aspire to own their own home.

CS: There is no doubt that housing in Torridge and West Devon is unaffordable. We need more social housing with reasonable rent so people have a chance to save. It was a big mistake to sell off council housing.

MS: If home ownership is to be a realistic aspiration for young people in Torridge and West Devon, and if rents are to be affordable, then we need a step change in the scale of house building in this country.

DS: Without a serious policy from central government on providing affordable and social housing throughout the country, young people in the current economic situation will always struggle to get on the property ladder.

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