Posted by: iangilbert | October 17, 2011

Two ‘Eds are better than one

Last week I represented my party at a ‘Question Time’ style event with local schoolchildren kindly hosted by South Essex College and organised by Southend Youth Council. I was able to engage in a good-natured debate about politics with the leaders of the other political groups on Southend Council. As you might expect, tuition fees was a major issue and the most controversial amongst the panelists. I gave my personal view, which is that it’s right that students who benefit from university education should make a contribution to it, but the level of £9,000 a year being implemented by the current government is absolutely ridiculous.

Interestingly enough Nigel Holdcroft, Conservative Leader, said he would like to abolish tuition fees altogether and pay for it by scaling back the amount of university education available in the country. He has a point that university education should not be the be-all and end-all and there should be other routes to success. However I did point out that this flies in the face of the council’s strategy for an educational hub based around the expanding University of Essex, and the Tories’ political strategy to claim credit for it.

The young people who took part in the debate were also very keen to ask us about our plans for the future of Southend. There was broad agreement that the development of Southend Airport was one of the most positive developments for the local economy. I pointed to public transport and housing as two areas that we really need urgent improvement on.

After finishing the Question Time at the college I literally sprinted off to a waiting car to go to Southend East station. This is not something I do often!

The reason that I was in such as rush was that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were meeting us there after their highly successful visit to Futures School. They were there to meet young apprentices and speak about the difficulty that young people have finding work at the moment. According to the latest figures 8.6% of 16-19 year-olds in Southend are not in employment, education or training. This is a worrying statistic and a I fear that it will get worse as the economy stalls.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls went to Futures to launch a five-point plan for growth – you can see more about it here.  On top of the official visit to Futures, my colleague Judy McMahon was able to organise an impromptu meet and greet with staff and students at Southend Adult Community College on the station platform. Both students and staff were genuinely pleased to meet national politicians and to be able to tell them their concerns first-hand. It was great that the two Eds were able to make time for them.

However, exciting as it was to meet the party leader, I made sure I delivered the last of my letters reminding local residents to have their say on the residents’ parking scheme being proposed for certain roads in Victoria Ward. Initial indications suggest that the response rate is high, but inevitably some survey forms go astray so I’ve fielded a fair number of calls and emails from local residents keen to have their voice heard.

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