Five of the six people vying to be Wrekin’s next MP met at Telford College of Arts and technology yesterday, where they faced questions posed by some of its young students.
Present at the debate was Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who has taken the seat in three elections and Labour’s Dylan Harrison from Newport who has based his campaign around the fight to protect hospital services.
Also appearing was Ukip candidate Denis Allen, a Wellington Town Councillor who previously contested the Telford constituency, fellow councillor Pat McCarthy representing the Green party and independent candidate Fay Easton, a local entrepreneur who has crowdfunded her campaign and is the only independent to stand in the election in Shropshire.
Absent from the debate was Liberal Democrat candidate Rod Keyes, who will also be contesting the seat on June 8.
The Wrekin constituency covers a horseshoe-shaped patch, with much of the northern edge of Telford, including Donnington and Wellington, plus neighbouring towns of Shifnal, Newport and Albrighton.
Dozens of students attended the hustings, where candidates answered questions on a number of topics presented by students, from healthcare to tuition fees.
Opening the event, Graham Guest, the new principal of the college, on Haybridge Road in Wellington, right inside the Wrekin Constituency urged the young students to use their votes.
He said: “This gives you an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates, their policies and what will happen if they win, how you will monitor their performance.
“The other thing about it is that it is nationally known that, unfortunately, young people don’t vote, which is a sad thing.”
But college students seemed enthused about politics, many saying that ahead of the debate that they have been researching local issues and policies of different political parties.
Dozens of enthusiastic pupils attended the debate, posing questions on matters that were of interest to them.
And they weren’t afraid to challenge candidates on their answers, making for lively discussion at points.
The first question faced by candidates was about whether car insurance for young people should be capped, and what they will do to help more young people get into employment.
They also faced questions about what they would do to support education in the region, their thoughts on university tuition fees and also on healthcare in Shropshire.
Students also asked what would MPs do to support their local hospital.
For Mr Harrison, it is an issue which has been close to the heart of his campaign.
He said: “This has been the centre of my campaign, I am fighting to protect the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford because if our A&E goes to Shrewsbury our hospital will lose all the linked services that go with that.
“In addition Telford is the largest population in Shropshire, and it is also the industrial heart of Shropshire, so it makes no sense to move everything to Shrewsbury in our view.
“Also, Telford is the poorest part of our county, and poverty and ill health are linked together so we need those services here.”
Mr McCarthy said it is an urgent and “misunderstood crisis” which is part of the wider consequences of the Conservative Government’s austerity measures.
He added: “If you adopt me as your Green MP, I will not enter a beauty contest between the benefits of siting the A&E in Telford or Shrewsbury but will demand that both hospitals A&E remain and that existing services are expanded not contracted to suit our growing and ageing population.”
Mr Pritchard probed Mr Harrison on his role within the Primary Care Trust during his answer and said: “I will continue to fight for hospital services in Telford.
“The fact is that the Conservative party position on the hospital is clear. My job as representative for the Wrekin if re-elected, is to fight for the A&E and the Women and Children’s unit at the PRH, I will leave it to other candidates in other parts of the county to fight for their area.
“My responsibility if elected is to represent, you, your parents and your grandparents and to fight for this local area.”
Mr Allen said there was a need to keep both hospitals but to make them both more efficient. He said: “The health service has suffered for years for politicians and bureaucrats wanting more and more.
“Lets keep both hospitals, lets have a check into them, what they are up to and make them more efficient.”
Ms Easton said: “All the manifestos and parties in 2015 said they would support their local hospital, that was two years ago and we find ourselves in a worse situation.
“There are many complicated answers to this, one is that, no it doesn’t make sense in any way to take away vital services from a population is that growing and if I was in parliament I would be voting with whichever party is going to extend that.
“I’m calling for people to vote locally, vote for hope, vote for niceness, vote locally help other people local, get our local economy back, fix our local towns, let’s stop point scoring in politics and get things fixed.”
Who said young people aren’t interested in politics?
For many students at Telford College of Arts and Technology it will be the first time they have a chance to vote – and many were determined to find out more in order to make an informed choice.
Georgia Bailey, 18, from Admaston is a level three childcare students. She has registered for the first time and is trying to learn more about local issues.
She said “Having a vote gives you a chance to take part in what is going to happen in the future. I think it is important to use your vote because if you don’t vote, you can’t really complain when things go wrong.”
She said she is still not sure about who she is going to vote for, but said she is most likely to be swayed by policies.
She said: “It is more about what they are going to do for me in the future, and for the area. I came to the hustings to get more information on which parties are standing.”
Becca Williams, 19, is from Ketley. She is also studying level three childcare. For her, this will be her second vote, after taking part in the EU referendum last year.
She said: “Last year I watched my parents do it and did a bit of research and that helped me decide how to vote. I’ve been watching the news and reading newspapers ahead of the General Election. I’m not really sure who to vote for, but I think after the hustings I may have an idea. I’ve been looking at the national issues and locally. The big things for me are terrorism and better national security.”
Ashleigh Roberts, 20, from Trench has never voted before and said she has still been deciding whether to register. She studies health and social care level three at TCAT.
She said: “Even though I’ve been at the age where I could vote, I don’t think I’ve understood enough of it to know who to vote for. I want to see what is going on and try to understand more about it then look to register for this election.”
She said she has been particularly following the ongoing discussion on the future of hospital services and is concerned about how it will affect her in the future.
Stuart Roberts, 18, who studies one of the college’s automotive courses and lives in Brookside posed a question to candidates at the hustings. It is the first time he is of age to vote.
He said: “I have been trying to read a bit about each party and lean about their campaigns. I am mostly interested in local issues, things that will affect young people. I think lots of young people don’t vote because they don’t think it will affect them.”
Lindsey Ellis from Hadley, studies level three computing at TCAT. She will be 18 on Friday and registered to vote at the earliest opportunity..
She said: “It is important to vote because it gives you a say what is happening in the country. If I am to vote, I want to make sure I vote for the most suitable person. I already have an idea of who I am going to vote for because of what they are doing locally.”
She is keen to hear more about party stances on leaving the EU, saying she thinks it needs to be negotiated quickly so people in Britain know what is happening and don’t have to wait to long to see the results.
Sitting next to her was classmate Matthew Nock, 19, who will be voting for the second time, after taking part in the EU Referendum.
He said: “It is important to listen to parties because sometimes they say things and do something different. I’ve been reading about the issues and also researching the parties online. I have an idea about how I am voting, but I want to find out as much as I can about the candidates.”