Candidates face off at Gayton hustings event

Election Hustings at the Jubilee Hall Gayton, Mike Knights chairing the debate (centre) ANL-150415-085658009

Election Hustings at the Jubilee Hall Gayton, Mike Knights chairing the debate (centre) ANL-150415-085658009

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Election hopefuls clashed over issues including immigration, the economy and policing during a hustings session in Gayton on Tuesday night.

Around 30 people attended the hustings held at the village’s Jubilee Hall, which aimed to give residents the chance to question both their Parliamentary and borough council candidates ahead of the May 7 polls.

Responding to the opening question on local unemployment rates, UKIP’s North West Norfolk candidate Toby Coke said workers’ wages were being “driven down” by the current levels of immigration into Britain and warned: “It is simply not sustainable.”

But Conservative Alistair Beales, who is contesting the Gayton borough council ward, pointed out that UKIP’s latest election backer, the Earl of Leicester, had admitted employing foreign staff himself when he announced his support for the party last week.

He also argued foreign workers were vital to the farming industry because British youngsters were increasingly unwilling to work on the land.

He said: “You can’t blame them for that, but the job still has to be done.”

Labour’s Jo Rust also pointed out the number of British residents living overseas and the large numbers of health professionals being recruited by Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

As discussion turned to wider economic issues, Mrs Rust and the Green Party’s Michael de Whalley set out their parties’ proposals for an £8 minimum wage and £10 living wage respectively.

Mrs Rust said: “What’s important is that employment is well-paid so people can spend in local shops.”

They, along with Mr Coke, also pledged to vote to scrap the so-called “bedroom tax” if they are elected.

And there was criticism on all sides of the government’s economic record, with UKIP council candidate David Costin claiming ministers had not cut spending “hard enough” during their time in office.

But Mr Beales said the government’s record of halving the country’s economic deficit was broadly similar to what had been proposed by former chancellor Alistair Darling, who he dubbed “the last grown-up Labour politician” ahead of the 2010 election.

There were also demands for action over flooding and speeding issues in the village, as one resident lamented the lack of police activity along the B1145 which runs through Gayton.

Mr Coke, who is chairman of Norfolk County Council’s environment, development and transport committee, said the parish partnership programme, through which the authority joins forces with parishes to fund road safety measures such as flashing signs which warn drivers of speed limits, had been effective.

But he admitted: “You cannot deal with the lunatic element.”

Mr Beales said he had regularly liaised with police over traffic issues as both a parish and borough councillor, including helping to secure the installation of speed gates at the entrances to the village.

But Green council candidate Nigel Walker said speed cameras may offer a “more draconian solution” than flashing signs, while re-designing roads may be another option.

He said: “We’re keen to keep traffic on the roads as calm as possible and reduce speeds wherever possible.”

The meeting was chaired by Mike Knights, vice-chairman of the King’s Lynn Without Incineration (KLWIN) campaign group, who himself stood as an independent candidate in district council elections four years ago.

Although all three of the candidates who are contesting the Gayton borough council ward were on the panel, two of the five candidates for the North West Norfolk Parliamentary constituency were not present.

Conservative candidate Henry Bellingham said he was not attending the session, which was organised by local UKIP activists, as it was not an official hustings event.

Meanwhile, apologies were given on behalf of the Liberal Democrats’ candidate Hugh Lanham, who is recovering after recent eye surgery.