What Guildford General Election candidates think of town's most important issues including environment and NHS

The six candidates on stage
-Credit: (Image: Surrey Live)

On Thursday, June 6, the first of the Guildford hustings was held. Six candidates were subjected to a Question Time style event answering questions from the audience on a series of topics.

Put on by the Guildford Dragon, and moderated by its editor, Martin Giles, the panel was made up of representatives from the Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Peace, and Reform parties. All were represented by their Guildford candidate apart from Reform's Graham Drage, candidate for Godalming & Ash who stood in for Guildford’s Reform UK candidate Dennis Saunders.

While the event went on for more than two hours, here is a summary of their responses to some of the issues most important to Guildford voters.

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1. Environment: What will you do to ensure that this next parliament steps up to the challenge?

The first question of the night was on the environment, and what the candidates would do to protect the climate.

The Greens answered first with Sam Peters focusing on not just the environmental impacts of his policies, but also the knock-on effects he said they would have. As an example of this, he brought up an insulation drive for homes, which he said would also help cut fuel bills, end fuel poverty and help with health issues that come from cold homes, saving the NHS money.

Speaking second, Conservative Angela Richardson said she was proud of the record of the Government and the country in lowering emissions. She said the Conservatives would still meet the 2050 Net Zero target but did not want to force anyone to change car or boiler as the country comes out of a cost of living crisis. She spoke about the importance of investing in offshore wind and nuclear power as well as on her own record in backing a solar farm at Blackwell farm.

Speaking for Reform, Graham Drage said that decarbonization policy needed to be rational, with cost proportional to risk. He said Net Zero was not affordable or rational and that Net Zero was a gamble. He said that renewables aren’t cheaper and that the country needed to use the energy that it had, advocating for fast-tracking licences for North Sea gas and oil.

Zoe Franklin, Liberal Democrats, highlighted that the party wanted 80% of energy to be green by 2030, saying it would be financially better, more reliable and allow the country to stand on its own. She also said a reliance on cars needed to be addressed by tackling problems with the public transport system. Franklin also spoke about restoring the country’s natural habitat saying that we could not continue down the path we are currently on.

John Morris, Peace Party, said the Government needed to get to work on stopping greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere and can afford to do what needs to be done. He said that private enterprise could not be left to deal with climate, meaning that public ownership would be necessary for some of the solutions.

Sarah Gillinson, Labour, said that her party would take decisive action on climate with Great British Energy, a publicly owned company that would invest in clean power on behalf of the British people. She also said the policy would lower energy bills, create jobs and increase the country’s energy security. Gilison also spoke about her party’s plans to insulate more homes and to regulate the building of sustainable new housing and the extraction of fossil fuels.

2. Defence: Is an increase in defence spending to 2.5% of GDP going to be enough given the global security situation?

Labour spoke first here. Sarah Gillinson said that defence spending was critical and that her party aspired to hit 2.5% spending as soon as possible while sticking to its fiscal rules. She said the Labour Party had also committed to a strategic security and defence review to work out where the money is currently going, and where it should go in the future.

Angela Richardson said that the Conservatives have committed to 2.5%. She said it was important to recognise the global security situation as it is, and that the Government is moving as quickly as it could afford to. She added that it was important to ensure people were properly equipped and that technology was up to date.

Sam Peters, Green, said the first thing to focus on should be diplomacy, saying he found the Conservative’s and Labour’s attitude to Gaza disappointing. He said the Greens wanted an immediate ceasefire, an end to weapons sales to Israel, prosecutions for war crimes, targeted sanctions and the return of all hostages and political prisoners.

Graham Drage, Reform, said his party proposed to increase defence spending to 2.5% by year three and then 3% within six years. He also said the party proposed a pay review across the armed forces, an armed forces justice bill and a new department for veterans. He said that he was worried that without an effective defence deterrent, the UK would end up having to spend much more.

John Morris, Peace Party, said that defence meant going to war if necessary and that he was totally against that. He said we should be aiming to spend nothing on the military at all.

Zoe Franklin, Liberal Democrat said that defence was not just about things we can see. She said she was concerned we were not investing enough in cyber research and defence. She also spoke about supporting people within the armed forces when it came to housing and mental health.

The column can be seen from a bridge over the Wey
A view from the River Wey -Credit:Surrey Live

3. Water: How can we fix water companies?

The focus of this question tended to be both on water outages that were experienced in November last year, as well as sewage.

Speaking first, Zoe Franklin spoke about making companies like Thames Water a public benefit company, with environmental experts on the board. She also said her party would get rid of OFWAT and bring in a new regulator which she said would have more teeth.

Next Angela Richardson, Conservative, said her party has invested £56 billion into environmental improvements to reduce storm overflows, as well as increased the monitoring of these. She said they were also trying to strengthen OFWAT, as well as raise accountability for water companies.

Sam Peters, Green says he is regularly involved in testing river water in Guildford. He said his party proposed taking water back into public ownership, and that the country could afford to do this like they had with Northern Rock.

John Morris, Peace Party, said the Government should run public services such as water supply and disposal. He said this means that water companies should be taken back into public ownership.

Graham Drage, Reform, said utilities had been under-invested in and suffered from a lack of joined up thinking. Mr Drage said Reform is proposing a new model for public utilities bringing 50% of them into public ownership with the other half to be owned by UK pension funds.

Sarah Gillinson, Labour, said that loosened regulation was to blame for any problems with water quality. She said that this was a matter of national policy, which Labour would be in a position to shape. Ms Gilinson said that Labour would put water companies in special measures, and make water bosses criminally liable for repeated pollution.

The High Street in Guildford
The High Street in Guildford -Credit:SurreyLive - Grahame Larter

4. Economy: What will you do to help local businesses?

Speaking first Graham Drage, Reform, said that businesses were under pressure from high tax rates, red tape, energy costs, skills shortages and a Government that wasn’t listening. He said his party proposed smart tax cuts, raising corporation tax thresholds and reducing the main corporation tax rate to 15% by year five.

Among other tax policies, he also said his party wanted to abolish business rates for the high street, and replace this with an online delivery tax at 4% for large multinational companies.

Zoe Franklin, Liberal Democrat, said that her job as MP would be to act as a voice for Guildford. She told audiences she thought that after the election a Labour Government was likely, but that in Guildford itself was a straight fight between Lib Dems and the Conservatives. With this in mind, she said change was needed in the form of a Liberal Democrat MP.

Franklin said the high street needed to evolve as shopping habits had changed. Among other policies she said that the burden of business rates needed to move from the tenants to the owner of the building.

Responding to this, Angela Richardson Conservative said that she and her party had supported local businesses through the pandemic. She said she thought Guildford was not a two horse race, with Greens and Labour posessing strong candidates.

For businesses, she said that the Autumn Statement made the biggest business tax cut in modern history permanent and that her party was bringing National Insurance down. She also said dealing with high car parking costs was essential and that Lib Dem MP could not hold a Lib Dem council to account.

Sarah Gillinson, Labour, said that she was fighting for every vote, and that Labour would deliver change. She said a Labour Government and MP would create economic stability and install cast iron fiscal rules. She agreed that business rates were not fit for purpose and said they should be replaced with a business property taxation scheme. She also said that tackling anti-social behaviour was important as well as bringing in a community right to buy.

Sam Peters said that it was Green Party policy to localise economies. He said the Green Party tax policy was to ensure billionaires and larger companies were paying their fair share of tax. Peters also told the audience it was important to focus on public transport and active travel, ensuring that cyclists felt safe while impacting the pollution and atmosphere of the town centre.

John Morris, Peace Party, said the important thing for an MP to do would be to listen to what local needs are and then badger the Government until those needs are met. He said the Government could afford to help.

Royal Surrey County Hospital
Royal Surrey County Hospital is one of six main hospitals in the county -Credit:Surrey Advertiser

5. Health: How would you restore the NHS?

Sarah Gillinson, Labour, focused on the long and short term. In the short term, she said Labour had pledged to provide 40,000 more appointments a week. In the long term, she said the NHS needed to move to be more preventative by increasing public health spending at the grassroots level and experimenting with neighbourhood health hubs that would bring specialists together.

Graham Drage, Reform, said that the NHS was dealing with an effectiveness problem rather than a funding one. He said Reform was proposing allowing front line NHS and social care staff to pay zero tax for three years to help with retention and recruitment. He also said it was important to use the independent healthcare capacity and would give tax relief to those who could take advantage of private health insurance which he said would relieve pressure on the rest of the system.

John Morris, Peace Party, said that as a public service the NHS should be fully supported by the Government, and that money that goes in should not go into the hands of private companies.

Zoe Franklin, Liberal Democrat, said there should not be different levels of healthcare. She said recruitment of 8,000 new GPs was crucial and the Liberal Democrats wanted everyone to get an appointment within 7 days. She said it was important to invest in helping people live healthy lives so they need less support, and that more needed to be done with mental health.

Angela Richardson, Conservative, said her party had invested in the NHS, including £4.6 billion into mental health since 2018/19. She said in the most recent budget there was money for innovation and AI, and she had been reassured this would be ring fenced to bring the NHS up to date.

Sam Peters, Green, said that much of his policies would have knock on health effects such as cutting air pollution or insulating housing. He said the Green Party was committed to reversing NHS privatisation and bringing essential dentistry back fully under the NHS. He also brought up NHS staff pay, saying they needed a pay raise. He said community based initiatives and mobile clinics could be used to address health disparities.

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