Preston FM’s County Council elections debate

Making my way hastily to Preston’s Disability Information Services Centre (DISC) on Church Street, fearing I was late, I arrived to rows of empty chairs at Preston FM’s elections debate. It appears the MP’s expenses scandal is impacting on local politics as well as on a national level.

We had a brief introduction that had each of the candidates, Geoff Driver (Conservative), Tom Burns (Labour), Matt Tomlinson (Labour) and Bill Winlow (Liberal Democrat), explaining what a councillor did. All except Winlow are already councillors and are seeking re-election. The basis of what a county councillor does is that they represent the people of Lancashire who elect them, solve problems, manage budgets and sit in lots of meetings.

And so, the first question during a question time to candidates from the main parties (no UKIP, BNP, raving loonies here), is the expenses scandal impacting on the June 4th elections and how do we solve it?

All the candidates agreed (this happened a lot throughout the debate) that it was ridiculous what was happening at Westminister and that local politics was being affected by it as people were mistrustful of all politicians. Interestingly, as raised by Tomlinson, local councillors have had to publish expenses (they can only claim for travel and a work allowance if it’s more than four hours) online and in council media since approximately 2000 and are subject to very strict rules about expenses.

So, local politicians apparently are far more trustworthy than their national counterparts.

On the subject of apathy, Geoff Driver made the point that everyone should vote.

He said: “I often say when out canvassing, even if people aren’t going to vote for me they should vote. If people stay at home on June 4th then they could end up with someone representing them who doesn’t represent them. So please, everyone vote.”

The one question that raised the biggest debate amongst the candidates was about Lancashire Vision. The council run newspaper currently costs £350,000 (according to Geoff Driver) or £800,000 (according to Bill Winlow) and there are 10 issues produced a year.

The discussion about vision came about over a question asked about how much the local media is to blame for apathy amongst the electorate. The panel all agreed that in desparate times media become more desparate to sell papers and so follow any sniff of a story.

But, with local and regional council media being attached by local media as competition it was interesting to hear the position of the three parties:

– Geoff Driver would reduce the number of issues of Vision to twice a year

– Bill Winlow would scrap it completely

– Tom Burns and Matt Tomlinson both defended it as being a valuable public service and good value for money

Apart from that, the general concencous was that whoever is elected will work hard, answer their phone to local residents but they can’t do much as their hands are tightly bound by central government over what they can and can’t do.

Richard Lace, station manager of Preston FM, said: “Despite the disappointing audience turnout we are pleased with how it went and thanks to the candidates for giving up their time to take part. Hopefully the programme will help our listeners make their minds up before the elections next week.”

Listen to the debate online

or you can listen on 103.2 Preston FM on the following days and times:

Saturday 30th May, 9am

Sunday 31st May, 1pm and 6pm approx (after the Mr Planemaker’s Flying Machine omnibus)

Tuesday 2nd June, 9pm

Find out more about the elections and all the candidates standing

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