Candidates for port quizzed in hustings event

Hustings in Fleetwood (from left): Eric Ollerenshaw, Father Paul Benfield, Robin Long and Cat Smith.
Hustings in Fleetwood (from left): Eric Ollerenshaw, Father Paul Benfield, Robin Long and Cat Smith.
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Who will be the best choice for Fleetwood - and the country - as voters go to the polls this Thursday?

Fleetwood voters are set to make their mark in a General Election many regard as one of the most important in years.

At a hustings event at the town’s St Nicholas’ Church on Monday night, the Lancaster and Fleetwood candidates were quizzed about issues including BREXIT, the town’s rail link, roads, funding for education, the NHS and care for the elderly.

Labour’s Cat Smith, Conservative Eric Ollerenshaw and the LibDem’s Robin Long were at the hustings event, chaired by St Nicholas vicar, Father Paul Benfield.

The Green Party candidate, Rebecca Novell, had been due to join them but later sent a message that her car had broken down.

Around 40 residents were at the event.

TRANSPORT

Facing questions about transport, Cat Smith re-stated her pledge that Labour would invest £20 million over five years to revive Fleetwood’s railway.

She said: “Fleetwood has a track and work is already starting, thanks to a group called the Poulton and Wyre Railway Society.

“Re-instating the link will be game changer for Fleetwood and open it up to the region.”

Mr Ollerenshaw said it would be more-cost effective if Fleetwood could follow the example of a new plan in Doncaster where a tram-train is being proposed, and said: “My idea would be to bring around the tram to Poulton in a circular loop.”

Mr Long said only the other two candidates only thought these were good ideas. He would prefer to look properly to see if the ideas worked before committing masses of money.

EDUCATION

Ms Smith attacked the Tory plans on the Schools National Funding Formula, saying every Fleetwood school would be stripped of funds for staff and also spending per pupil in a patently unfair system - and Labour would reverse the cuts.

She added: “You can’t get an A level in Fleetwood today - education needs to be at the forefront of the UK.”

Mr Ollerenshaw, a former teacher, said the idea was to level the playing field between what was spent in London and schools in Lancashire.

Mr Long stated: “Don’t vote Tory, vote Lib Dem, we will reverse the cuts and end the one per cent cap on teachers’ pay.”

The candidates clashed on plans for school meals, with the Conservatives planning to end free school meals for all and instead use means testing so only the less well off get them.

Cat Smith said: “We want to make sure every child gets a full school meal - you can’t learn on an empty stomach.

“For some children, a free school meal is the only meal they get.”

Mr Ollerenshaw said: “It will not be an end to all free schools meals - it will be means tested and that is fairer. This will save one-and-a-half billion pounds which can be spent elsewhere in education.

“I do agree, though, that the teachers’ cap does need to be looked at.”

Mr Long added: “The Tories want free school breakfasts instead of free school meals and that is not really the same.”

He said this would mean half a boiled egg and a few Cornflakes.

BREXIT

Eric Ollerenshaw said; “Britain’s exit from the EU needs to be negotiated properly and I believe Theresa May can deliver that.

“She will lead the country into those negotiations and allow us to restore our borders and our fishing grounds and build on the greatness of our country.

“It needs a tough person and Theresa may is the right person to get the right decision on how we exit.”

Bur Robin Long, who said his party was pro-European, said: “Once the terms have been negotiated the people should decide, we don’t have to accept the deal and should get a second referendum.

“Would you trust Theresa May, who changes her mind all the time?

“She’s not even got the courage to debate on TV, how is she going to have a debate with 27 other countries?”

Cat Smith said: “I voted to remain but I accepted the result as part of living in a democracy, and I agreed to vote to trigger Article 50 so we could fight for the best deal.

“It is no longer about if we leave now, but how we leave and what sort of country we want to live in.

“The Tories have been reckless and put jobs at risk.

“When it comes to negotiations Labour would have Keir Starmer, a qualified lawyer, and Emily Thornbury, also a lawyer.

“I know who I’d rather have on my side in those negotations.”

The evening ended when Fr Benfield wished all the candidates well.