Save Our Sidmouth

DCC elections in just 2 days’ time (Thursday 2nd May). Last night’s hustings were helpful.

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Polling Day for the Devon County Council elections  is on Thursday 2nd May,  from 7 am to 10 pm.  Votes will be counted on the morning of Friday 3rd May, starting at 9.30 or 10 am.

So, many thanks go to the Vision Group for Sidmouth, for arranging the question time with candidates for the Sidmouth/ Sidford Division last night at Kennaway House, and of course to the three (out of four) candidates who attended. Labour candidate, Judy Blackwell, had kindly agreed that the meeting could go ahead, though unable to be present herself.

Stuart Hughes (Conservative), Martin Gammell (Liberal  Democrat) and Lawrie Brownlee (UKIP) were quizzed on such matters as  changes in healthcare provision; uneven funding for education; policy on tourism; on sustainability; and on countryside and planning.

The following is an overview, rather than a comprehensive report.

The first question, put by Miriam Brown, set the standard for those that followed. Here’s the gist:

More and more healthcare provision will be commissioned from private companies such as Virgin, whose primary responsibility by law is to their shareholders. What priorities will you demand from the NEW Devon Healthcare and Wellbeing Board, to enable local monitoring of these services, and effective penalty clauses in contracts with Health and Social Care Providers?

Also, who will appoint people on these boards, and to whom will they be answerable? Patients’ voices should be heard! ‘

All candidates expressed their concern about these issues, with the two current District Councillors, Cllrs Hughes and Gammell, giving illustrations of their experience of monitoring Care Homes under the old system, which revealed some dire conditions since remedied. Cllr Hughes, who is also a County Councillor, cited the County’s considerable investment in several existing Care Homes.

Jean Twibell wanted to know what candidates thought County’s role should be regarding Tourism. Martin Gammell said there are “too many tourists” in Devon. They create too many low paid jobs in hotels and restaurants. Devon should be prioritising instead apprenticeships, leading to skilled, better-paid,  year-round employment. Stuart Hughes, however,  pointed out the value to Devon’s economy, of high-profile events such as the Tour of Britain, starting this October in Sidmouth. Bradley Wiggins’ participation would certainly put Devon on the national and international tourist map.

A later question by Jeremy Woodward, on candidates’ policy on Sustainability, provoked an intervention by Green Party representative , Emily McIvor, who was dismayed to hear no mention from candidates  of how to deal with the climate change conditions Devon is facing. Cllr  Hughes listed the carbon and economic savings by the County’s recent reduction in street lighting, and by the introduction of LED lights. Lawrie Brownlee  mentioned his belief that climate change is happening, but is not man-made.

Another issue regarding the environment, relating to the proposal for a business park at Sidford Fields, was raised by Jackie Green of the East Devon Alliance. She asked candidates to say why they had or had not signed the EDA Charter (a pledge to conserve our countryside while supporting appropriate development), which all DCC candidates had been invited to do. Lawrie Brownlee and Stuart Hughes explained why they had already endorsed it. Martin Gammell said he had not seen it, but would consider on receiving it. The Charter has been resent to him this morning. Details here, as a reminder Charter of the East Devon Alliance  (For a list of signatories so far, go to April 28 post at http://sidmouthindependentnews.wordpress.com)

Regarding Jo Frith’s question about uneven funding for education, Lawrie Brownlee argued in favour of  grammar schools; Martin Gammell, for high standards for all levels of education; and Stuart Hughes regretted the closure of small schools in Devon, and the ‘creaming’ of high-powered pupils by prestigious grammar schools.

Following this successful initiative by VgS, no doubt  the 2015 elections will see similar successful  hustings throughout the District!

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