In the weeks leading up to the General Election on June 8th, your Executive Officers are sitting down with the candidates for Member of Parliament in Cambridge and Chelmsford.
Vicky Ford, Conservative Party candidate for Chelmsford, talks to Kat Younger about her plans for the future.
KY: What’s your political stance on resourcing the NHS?
VF: So first of all, my own personal background is that I come from a big NHS family; my parents were doctors, my husband’s a doctor; the NHS is in my bones. The Conservative party has put the money into the NHS that the NHS has asked for. It’s a continual issue because of course people are living longer and we need more expensive treatments. It’s fantastic that we can cure so many people with cancer; we’ve got the best outcomes now ever, but we need to make sure we’re continually assessing how [the NHS] is resourced.
So nationally, in the Conservative party manifesto that was announced yesterday, there was an increase in the NHS funding, I think it was 8 billion over the period, which is going to be a real terms increase. For me it’s important that that money is also very well spent but that patient care comes first.
"The NHS is in my bones"
Locally, it’s important that people understand what is happening at Broomfield. In all the options that they’re consulting on, the 24 hour A&E stays. There’s been discussions, some people have been reading stories about how it’s being downgraded - that is not happening. Twenty four hour consultant led receiving ambulance stays and I want to make sure it stays. I do see that for some very specialist cases, you want to go to the specialist service so that’s why if you want to see a heart surgeon you’re taken to Basildon.
They may need to think about how we’re going to need specialist OB/GYN - so really difficult births or child issues - that may need to happen so I think it’s good that they are considering how best to deliver the mid Essex provision, but every decision has to put the patients first not the money first so it’s patient led.
Trust me by my record, one of the jobs I’ve done as an MEP was making sure that we got the EU funding for science and research and a key part of that, that I delivered, was the priority on health and within that a key part for me that I pushed very hard was the research for neurodegenerative related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, especially because finding better treatment for those is really important for long term adult care.
KY: What’s your vision for improving mental health support in Chelmsford?
VF: The Conservative manifesto has set out a clear principle for Theresa May. She’s very committed to it, you may have heard her talk about changing the law on mental health to make sure that you’re properly treated. At school level every school would have a mental health [professional] to identify and make sure each school has a single point of contact. I think it’s over 11 billion we’ve put into mental health recently to make sure it’s properly funded. It’s fundamental that we have a single point of contact at each school so cases are seen and you have experts trained in every school to absolutely make sure that mental health is not treated as a second class health issue.
KY: how would you ensure that student housing is affordable and of good quality
VF: That’s a really important issue - so I know there’s been some plans to increase student housing, especially in Chelmsford. To date if you want to get affordable housing it has to come as part of a bigger planning proposal so the developer building a larger development, say around Cambridge or Chelmsford, build private houses and social houses together, which takes time.
"The new proposals from the Conservative Party, which I think are very clever, will allow the local community, through the local council, to take out a community mortgage to build new housing for social or affordable housing."
The new proposals from the Conservative Party, which I think are very clever, will allow the local community, through the local council, to take out a community mortgage to build new housing for social housing or for affordable housing. Then, when you’ve rented it for at least ten years, you would have the right to buy. This is so you don’t get that situation, you get that affordable housing and then immediately it is just bought - that’s not good at keeping those houses in the system but if you have been paying rent for a reasonable period of time you have the right to buy. That goes into then allowing the student population to do the same, I would have thought it would be quite sensible to allow the universities to borrow up front against the future rents, but make sure it’s affordable.
KY: What steps would you take to make public transport more affordable option for students?
VF: How unaffordable is it at the moment?
KY: A lot of it comes down to Park and Ride prices as there currently isn’t very much in the way of discounts for students.
VF: There is the advantage that the Cambridge campus is walkable from the station and there is good cycling provision from Cambridge as well, which is helpful providing you live close.
KY: I would say that’s more of a Cambridge thing, for Chelmsford specifically I don’t see as many people using bikes.
VF: Yes but they’re coming in by train and then at least it’s walkable to campus. Is there more of a national issue in terms of student rates on the trains?
KY: I don’t know about the national picture I’m just more into the local issue
VF: I think that the trains are unaffordable, that’s something we’d have to lobby for on a national level with a national strategy. I would like - I don’t want to dodge the question because I don’t know what the answer is - but what I would like to understand from the university where the affordability issues come from. If it’s coming on the train prices, does it come from talking to the franchise holders? Does it come from a national strategy into the franchise holders? If it’s to do with buses - I have had that complaint - that the buses are extremely expensive, we could open up the discussions through the council as well. I believe on the train issue in Chelmsford there’s a very good working relationship with all the MPs up the train line, which I would want to join in now. It’s similar issue with Suffolk University in Ipswich, Colchester as well, so whether or not there’s a collective need along the train line I’d be happy to look at that. I’d work with colleagues to see if they could negotiate something there and on the buses I think this is something I’d like to work on as well.
KY: What would you do to support international students to study in the UK?
VF: First of all, I believe that international students coming to our universities help our universities be stronger, more vibrant, exciting, dynamic and we need to continue to have that. Reassuring EU students is a key priority; I’ve spoken to the negotiators for the EU negotiations from both the UK and the EU on the issues of citizens’ rights and I do believe there’s a desire from both sides to get this resolved very quickly. It’s important that it gets resolved to give clarity to the people who will be applying next autumn for courses. I played a key part in getting that clarity last autumn and I would look to do the same this autumn so anyone looking to do a course in 2018 knows what their obligations would be. It’s important that we continue to make our universities affordable compared to other universities for EU students as well.
"Reassuring EU students is a key priority."
In terms of migration policy going forward, as the Conservative Party, we do want to control our migration policy but international students, in my view, are not to be included within migration figures. A lot of work has been done on universities and colleges that were not offering proper courses; that has been done and resolved and I believe that people coming now to UK universities are genuine students and make our universities better, richer, more diverse places to be, culturally richer not just wealthier financially - culturally richer- and we need to keep it. I also believe it’s in our interests for British students to keep doing university exchanges with other universities as well. I would be very keen in Brexit negotiations to have Erasmus training programmes not just for students but for apprenticeships as well, so you can go and get those in-work training programmes because sharing knowledge makes us all better. That’s something that I’ve been discussing with colleagues across Europe and I believe we’ll be able to keep that.
KY: Why do you think yourself and your political party are the best option for students to vote for in Chelmsford?
VF: That’s absolutely the key question! So first of all, think about why we’re having this election now. It is because we’re about to go into these very complicated decisions - as an MEP I see how complicated they’re going to be - I do also think that they are resolvable issues provided we have the right negotiating team. I voted remain but we have to honour the referendum. That means we have to get the details right - I’ve been working with Theresa May and the team to prepare for the talks and I want to be there to help. Me and my team want to deliver a solution to the Brexit talks that works, especially for universities. Science, research and collaboration has been a key passion of mine for seven years - I want to keep it in terms for students.
"I voted remain but we have to honour the referendum."
I think it’s important to have a strong economy in order to be able to deliver everything else, healthcare, education, housing, transport. We’ve all been talking about how we need to have a strong economy, and for me only the Conservative Party can deliver a strong economy because we’ve always put the interests of having a stable, forward looking, competitive, science-led, innovative economy first. I’m very pleased that in our manifesto we’ve got a chapter on the economy but also a forward looking competitive-friendly, digital-friendly, tech-friendly side of the economy too.
Three personal skills I hope to bring as a Member of Parliament: one, the knowledge of EU negotiations and the knowledge to make sure we consider the needs of Chelmsford. Two, coming from a big NHS family I love public services and will always defend public services. Three, we need infrastructure. This city has changed very, very rapidly and infrastructure needs to be delivered. We’ve got lovely plans on paper and they need to happen in reality. I’ve got loads of years’ experience raising money for infrastructure - it’s what I did before politics, it’s what I’ve done as a politician. There are infrastructure projects across the east of England and I want to help get those plans turned into reality.