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As the day of the General Election looms ever larger, the four parliamentary candidates for Hereford and South Herefordshire were given the opportunity to answer questions put by members of the public at the Hustings held at the John Kyrle High School on Friday evening. The Hustings, chaired by the Reverend Sarah Jones was organized by Churches Together on behalf of Ross residents and those who live within the constituency.

The four candidates present were Jesse Norman, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Sarah Carr, Philipa Roberts of the Labour party and Valentine Smith of the UKIP who each replied in turn to the questions asked. After introducing the four candidates, the question time began.

The first question put to the panel was: >>>

A final word from the parliamentary candidates at Friday's pre general election hustings in Ross.

'Herefordshire receives only 1/3 per capita income from National Government, compared to marginal urban authorities. What will you do to bring the money spent on rural counties like Herefordshire to the level spent on urban areas?'

Valentine Smith put the argument that if we left the EU, Government would have more money and would be able to direct more funding to the areas where it is needed most.
Sarah Carr's view is that it is largely down to the individual MP to fight for funding for the area.
Philippa Roberts told the audience that the government had created a Commission for Rural Areas and had a long history of supporting people in need, wherever they might be. She added that the majority of Herefordshire residents are satisfied with where they live.
Jesse Norman has extensively studied the figures for Herefordshire, comparing them to those of other counties and has published a book on his findings. He said that Ross-on-Wye alone had been under funded by 11million over five years. 'Think of all we could do with that,' he said. Jesse felt that residents should be able to look to an MP who has genuine influence, who can argue the case properly for the county to grow.

Question two was regarding village schools which may be under threat of closure. Proposals to close or merge several schools in the county were put forward in January 2009, causing uproar around the region. All candidates were against the proposals.

Jesse Norman told of how he immediately set up to co-ordinate individual schools responses. He said that the worst aspect of these types of proposal is how they set villages against each other, where they need to co-operate with each other. They same applies to the closure of village shops and pubs. Sarah Carr said she actively campaigned against the proposals when they were sprung upon the public without warning or consultation. She is also part of a campaign, 'Hands up for Herefordshire' who have taken a petition to Vernon Coaker, MP to try to get fairer funding.
Philippa Roberts' view is that the problem is likely to return again, later this year and needs to be prevented from happening. The proposed closures are largely due to falling numbers of pupils in the schools as there is a lack of affordable housing to keep young working people and their families in the area.
Valentine Smith added that every school closed down is an environmental disaster and destroys the structure of village life. The extra travel to a school in a neighbouring village is an extra expense families as well as being environmentally wrong. Schools are a place to get an education and should not be measured in pounds and pence.

Nuclear deterrent was the subject of the third question which was, 'Do we still need a nuclear deterrent when we are trying to ensure that no more countries develop such weapons and when the money spent could be used to fund services and benefits?

Sarah Carr answered that although the Lib Dems are not a uni-lateralist party, they would like to see less weapons in the world. She said that we are no longer in a Cold War situation and that the like for like replacement of Trident would cost the country, which is in a terrible financial mess, 100 billion.
Valentine Smith actually disagrees with the UKIP policy on this matter and is concerned about the amount of cash it is intended to spend. He thinks it wise to keep a deterrent as it keeps our place at the top table of the security counsel, enabling to voice our opinion in steps to keep the world safe. He hopes that the work President Obama is doing to maintain seemingly cordial relations with Russia will get us to the situation where we don't have to spend 100 billion.
Jesse Norman said that everybody wants to see the numbers of nuclear weapons to fall, if we can achieve this. He said it is unfair to be trying to hold on to weapons whilst preventing other countries from doing so. Where he would support a retention of a nuclear deterrent, whether it would be an extension of Trident or a like for like replacement needs some serious discussion.
Philippa Roberts' view is that if you have a nuclear deterrent, you have to be prepared to use it . There is a big decision to be made on the issue and not just the cost. Are we on the security Counsel because of our past position or because of how we want to be seen by the rest of the world?


Valentine Smith UK Independent Party, Philippa Roberts, Labour, Sarah Jones Ross Parish Church, Gordon Palmer, Ross Baptist Church, Sarah Carr, Liberal Democrat Party and Jesse Norman, Conservative on Friday evening.

On the subject of care of the elderly, the fourth question was, 'What concrete proposals do you have for developing and funding care for our ageing population?'

Jesse Norman said that this is a huge problem which will only get worse over the next 20 years, with the cost of social care escalating radically. He said that many people are angry that they have paid tax all their working life, have put all their savings into their home, only to have to sell it to fund their care. He said that an innovative solution by the Conservatives suggests that all who are able to should make a single social payment towards their care.
Philippa Roberts said that the irony of the NHS is that we now live longer. The proposal by the Conservatives would be all well and good if people could afford it, however, she thought that around 80% of the population would not be able to.
Sarah Carr said that the Lib Dem policy is to provide free personal care for the elderly. It is wrong that people should have to sell their houses to pay for care. She said that this important issue goes beyond party politics and that a cross party Commission, along with health experts etc. should be set up to work the problem out together.
Valentine Smith said there is a growing discontent with this issue. Those who work in the public sector will get a reasonably good pension, but many working in the private sector won't. He agreed that a cross party commission is a good idea and also suggested a scheme where a percentage of people's earning must go into a pension.

Another question keenly responded to was 'Do you see immigration to the UK as a problem, threat or opportunity? How could the situation be improved?.

Philippa Roberts answered that since 1997, over 2 million jobs have been created in our economy, with less than 4,000 British people entering the jobs market. Had we not had people coming to work in the country, we could have had 1.6 million jobs left unfilled, which would have been very damaging for the economy. She added that the government brought in a points system which is the same as the Australian system, so now people are only allowed into the country if it is to take a job that can't actually be filled by somebody here.
Sarah Carr said it depends on where you live as to whether immigration is a problem, threat or opportunity. The key thing is to make sure that where you have immigrants, whether coming to work on a farm or as a dentist that you have enough public services to cater for them.
Valentine Smith said that there are two sides to the story; a good side and a bad side. It is one thing to bring people over to this country to work, but if we can't properly look after them or house them or give them the education and quality of life they need, we are starting to get it wrong. He also said that there should be a limit. We cannot take all of the people who want to come here.
Jesse Norman said that there is obviously a problem with immigration, which has doubled over the last 13 years. We know why people come. They come for jobs, for our wonderful values and great British openness and culture. They also come because the benefits system encourages them to. He said that a points system is needed and a cap, so we can control numbers. We also need more border police to avoid illegal immigration.

Question five was 'Does being part of the EU really benefit Britain?'

Jesse Norman felt the benefits were increasingly less. He was concerned about our loss of parity in the EU which should be more about trade and economy and less about political interference and loss of sovereignty.
Sarah Carr said that millions of jobs in the UK are dependant on our relationship with Europe. We have to look at that before anything is further done, however, the Lib Dems believe reform in Europe is absolutely necessary.
Valentine Smith and the UKIP do not want to be part of the EU.
Philippa Roberts said that the EU came about because Europe couldn't face any more world wars. They couldn't face the fighting and the catastrophe that we'd had by not working together, so we came together as a trading block to bring about closer relations. She said many people enjoy the freedom of being able to drive across the borders in Europe without having to worry about their passports. She added that if we become isolated from Europe we would become weaker, Europe is leading the way on climate change and together, as a block we can have a real impact on global issues.

Due to lack of space the last two questions have been omitted here, however, at the end of the event, all candidates were given a short time in which to say why they feel people should vote for them. This footage can be seen in the video above.

Friday evening's Ross hustings was well attended.
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