General Election 2019: Do Welwyn Hatfield’s candidates stand up to scrutiny?

Welwyn Hatfield parliamentary candidates left to right: Rosie Newbigging for Labour, Oliver Sayers f

Welwyn Hatfield parliamentary candidates left to right: Rosie Newbigging for Labour, Oliver Sayers for the Greens, Grant Shapps for the Conservatives and Paul Zukowskyj for the Liberal Democrats. Picture: Supplied by all the candidates respectively. - Credit: Archant

The Welwyn Hatfield Times has sat down with each of the borough’s four General Election candidates to discuss some of the key issues ahead of the vote tomorrow.

Labour's Rosie Newbigging, Oliver Sayers for the Green Party, Conservative Grant Shapps, and Paul Zukowskyj, for the Liberal Democrats, are each making you promises through their party's manifestos.

The Conservatives are promising around £20.5 billion additional funding for the NHS in England by 2023-24 and Labour and the Lib Dems want to put £5.5bn on top of that. And the Greens want £6bn each year in total until 2030.

But Labour's Ms Newbigging said the East and North Herts NHS Trust is already bursting at the seams with some of the longest A&E and cancer waiting times in the country.

Mr Shapps said the NHS budget had been ring fenced during the period of financial cuts but the money the Conservatives are talking about is more realistic. "When you talk to people on the doors [in Welwyn Hatfield] and unprompted people say the money [in Labour's manifesto] is huge," he said.

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"We've spent ages trying to get out of a whole and they want to put us right back in it.

"I think that's the big choice in this election."

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Lib Dem Herts county and Welwyn Hatfield borough councillor Mr Zukowskyj said: "One of the things when you look at the actual statistics is that they are treating more people than they have ever done.

"It's not the system is not delivering, it's because the demographics are against us - people are getting older and they are presenting more and more complex problems."

Mr Shapps agreed, also citing Full Fact, which said there are more doctors and nurses than in 2010 - under Labour.

Mr Zukowskyj added that the Lib Dem's penny on income tax for the NHS' budget was an honest way to pay for it.

Ms Newbigging, when questioned how she would pay for the funding, said: "There are quite a few people earning over 80,000 a year, but there are many who will not be earning that over several years and that's what our manifesto is about - the many not the few."

But Mr Zukowskyj said social care is the biggest issue. He said he knows as a councillor that half of Hertfordshire County Council's budget is on adult social care - with £12 million spent in his area of South Hatfield.

"It needs to change. I see problems and issues often of a disjoint between adult and health social care," he said.

Ms Newbigging said another way of paying for health - and free personal social care, TV licenses and winter fuel allowances - was corporation tax increases and going after those that are not paying tax at the moment.

The money brought in by corporation tax increased due to a Conservative tax cut - according to Mr Shapps - so Labour's plans will not work he believes.

All candidates agree that Welwyn Garden City's Urgent Care Centre at the New QEII should remain open at night, which is the NHS East and North Herts Clinical Commissioning Group's (CCG) decision and not for the Government.

Mr Zukowskyj and Mr Shapps were both adamant that questioning the data with the CCG was the way to go about it.

Mr Shapps said: "I would carry on proving the facts [..and] I would pile pressure on them from above to keep it open."

And he agrees that Welwyn Hatfield needs a full district hospital along with Ms Newbigging - who said she would campaign for that if elected and continue putting people pressure on the CCG.

She also said we need to look at signage - which is an issue the CCG identified for the lack of use at night - because people do not know there is a service there.

"I'm in a position to lead the community and support the community [as the parliamentary candidate] and I have tried to use what agency I have to stop it," she said.

According to Ms Newbigging, by 2020 and since 2015 £614 per pupil will have been cut per pupil at Onslow St Audrey's School, £573 at Ridgeway Academy, and £801 per pupil at Oaklands Primary School.

Mr Zukowskyj said extra spending was only achievable through the remain bonus and stopping Brexit. He said: "We can spend £10 billion a year more on schools and recruit 20,000 more teachers to give every child the skills they need to succeed in life."

Mr Shapps said if we don't honour the referendum this is undemocratic and people in Welwyn Hatfield - who voted remain - know this.

He said one option for the trade deal would be to keep most standards the same with the EU on exports.

"The reason the Canada [trade deal] took several years is they have completely different standards and we are perfectly aligned," he said.

Ms Newbigging said since the People's Vote mass demonstrations they will put the vote back to the people and will argue for closer alignment.

"But personally, if I'm the MP for Welwyn Hatfield, I would campaign for remain."

The Green's Mr Sayers said Brexit is a distraction when we have 10 years left to address climate change and hopes a second referendum will solve it. "It is too important an issue to shy away from and go about our daily lives and the damage that is being done to the planet we all depend on."

And, though he thinks it's unlikely he will get elected, he said it's about sending a message to Government that green issues matter and should be done in a fair way.

He personally uses an energy supplier that only uses renewable resources - which is slightly more expensive - food from his Hatfield vegan café is plant based and they have reclaimed wood and minimised plastic containers.

The Greens have the most ambitious plans for the environment, with a net zero emissions ambition by 2030, Labour is a close second with a commitment to the 2030s, Lib Dems are going for 2045 and Conservatives are putting it at 2050.

Mr Zukowskyj - who said he would make the environment a deal breaker when voting in Parliament - agrees the 2045 date for net zero emissions is not ambitious enough, but they can go further.

He points to his success at preventing the New Barnfield incinerator along with help from the community, Labour borough councillors and the Conservative candidate Mr Shapps.

He also cited the failure of Government to mandate recycling options for all homes as a key failure. "One thing [the Lib Dems] have introduced on the council is a motion for all flats to have recycling," he said.

Labour's Ms Newbigging says she is confident 100,000 homes a year is achievable - despite assertions from the Lib Dems and Conservatives that it's not - and says this will involve up-skilling the workforce. "It will take time and we already have a lot of skilled workers within the UK and the construction industry will have to strong rights," she said.

"And we will rely on people coming from other parts of the European Union."

In 2017-18, 14 council homes were built in Welwyn Hatfield but there are 2,286 people on the waiting list. "At this rate, it would take 163 years to find a home just for those people already on the waiting list!" she added.

Mr Shapps said it used to be 4,000 on the waiting list for homes and if you are smart with where the new homes go this can be solved.

"Last year we built more homes than in the 13 years thanks to some of our planning reforms," he said.

Mr Shapps said he has also worked hard on unlocking money via Network Rail to rebuild the footbridge at Welwyn Garden City railway station and regenerate Hatfield town centre.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that both the Conservatives and Labour do not have a credible manifesto.

Labour's Ms Newbigging strongly disagrees and says that the money that will be raised through a percentage increase on top earners will be substantial, along with raises on corporation tax and going after those companies and individuals with their money in tax havens.

"That will raise £80 billion and we will borrow for the green industrial revolution," she said. "[Interest rates] have been relatively static for a long time and I haven't heard anything from the Bank of England's Mark Carney about changing that."

Conservative Mr Shapps says that if we do tax more then the money the Government raises from taxation will be lower.

"We're collecting more money from a busier economy," he said.

And he dismissed the idea that spending more on public services will necessarily them better. "I don't agree the quality of services is how much you spend on it," he said. "You might be able to do more for less."

"And the test is after a Conservative five year government, would debt be a smaller proportion of GDP or less?

"And we are saying under our plans that would be a yes."

But Ms Newbigging said growing the economy is good if done in a fair way and cited their plans for electric charging points, more wind farms and building that would help create these jobs.

"We want people to have good secure employment with good workers right.

"We will abolish zero-hour contracts," Ms Newbigging said.

"We want to create a thriving economy in Welwyn Hatfield."

You can look at all the manifestos below:

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