AFTER 13 years of Labour the voters of Hastings elected the Conservative Amber Rudd at last year’s General Election.
Ms Rudd swept to power amid a raft of promises. She vowed to fight for improved transport links, lobby for a fairer deal for the town’s fishermen and said she was determined to help stimulate the local economy by attracting new jobs to 1066 Country.
But, having had 100 days to settle into her new job, the Observer asked its readers to send in questions for Ms Rudd.
Here is a selection of the best:
Q. In what way have you managed to improve the constituency’s problems of road and rail connections to date? And how do you think you will manage to improve the transport situation during this Government?
A. I am committed to improving our road and rail links. Since being elected as MP:
- Have repeatedly raised our problem in the House of Commons
- Have submitted petition regarding maintaining our Cannon Street line to the minister. It appears secure for now but that could change and I will stay vigilant to oppose any reduction.
- Am working closely with our rail action group, SHRIMP, attending meetings and listening to issues.
- Have had regular meetings with Southern, SouthEastern and Network Rail holding them to account,
- Have proposed timetable changes to increase the number of fast trains from Hastings
But, I believe that the answer lies with longer franchises in order to encourage substantial capital investment. This SouthEastern franchise expires in 2014. That is our opportunity for real change, investment and finally faster rail links
I am also working with East Sussex County Council and the Department of Transport to get our bid for the link road funding back up the list of projects that can be done. I have not given up on this at all.
Q. What do you think were Michael Foster’s greatest achievements? What would you consider to be your biggest achievements over the past year? What are your priorities for the next four years?
A. Michael was an excellent constituency MP but I believe that the last Labour Government made huge mistakes and left this country with a staggering problem in the form of the huge deficit.
Today we are celebrating the funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to rebuild the pier. Along with other town activists this is something I have been fighting for.
Recently we welcomed Saga to Hastings with the creation of 800 new jobs. I am not taking credit for either of these important developments. We have all pulled hard in the same direction to achieve these results, but these are two of the most important events for Hastings which have happened since I became an MP and I have assisted with.
I am also focused on getting a fairer deal for our fishermen. We are on our way to achieving this although there is still a lot of work to be done.
After four years I would like to see employment and wages up. No more sick man of East Sussex for Hastings, but a town where employment and wages have moved closer into line with the rest of the south east.
Q. How will, if at all, will the number of police officers on the street in Hastings be affected by proposed cuts in Sussex police numbers?
A. There is no indication that there will be any cuts to police numbers in Hastings. I am hugely impressed by our local police officers and PCSOs who work so hard to keep crime down in our community.
Q. Will there be any ward closures at the Conquest, in particular the maternity ward closure that was proposed last year?
A. I have already been vigilant in opposing any ward closures or attempts to reduce our full service maternity unit. I have held a debate with the minister in the House of Commons on this subject to make the point.
If any changes are proposed, I will be in the campaign frontline.
Q. Just before the election the banks were blamed for the downfall of the economy and were bailed out with £179 billion, now we are told the banks are not as bad as we thought. So why are normal people still suffering?
A. The banks must be better regulated to stop this happening again. And in the meantime we have an annual bank levy to help recoup some of the bail out cost.
People are suffering because there is less money to go round. We can blame the bankers and the last government for their overspending creating the deficit. It makes me angry, it was so irresponsible. But I believe that this government’s focus on growth and reform will lead to improvements in our society for the benefit of all.
Q. With the proposed cuts to rail links and the cancellation of new road links, together with cuts in the public sector, leading to more unemployed people in the area, is there anything you can now do to encourage new business here?
A. Yes! We can continue to make sure that everyone realises what a great place Hastings is to live and work.
There are no cuts to rail links at the moment and I am determined to get improvements. I have not given up on improved road links and will continue to press government for these. Employment in Hastings has not been falling against the figure for this time last year, despite public sector cuts.
We are an ideal town for new business growth in the private sector and I will be doing my best to remind everyone of that. In the meantime I have chaired two new business competitions in Hastings with prizes of £5,000 for each winning entrepreneur to help with new business start ups. New private sector growth is critical to Hastings’ regeneration.
Q. Isn’t the notion of Big Society just a cover for the cuts?
A. No, the reason for the cuts is the deficit. That is a fact. The Big Society is a genuine effort to encourage more community activity to support our neighbours and ourselves.
Don’t be so cynical and get involved! Many of your neighbours already are.
Q. You voted for tuition fees but said you were “surprised” at the potentially high cost of studying in the town from next year. Why - wasn’t this inevitable if places of higher education are able to set fees of up to £9,000?
A. No it wasn’t inevitable. What was inevitable was that we had to take action following the report commissioned by the Labour Government calling for an increase in University fees.
What we need to do is to make sure there is sufficient support from students from poor families not to be put off by these fees. And we need to communicate the reality, which is that they only start paying these fees back when they earn over £21,000 per year.
I want to encourage as many students as possible to continue their studies.
Q. How much time do you spend in Hastings during the week?
A. Like all MPs my job is on London, representing the constituency in the House of Commons Monday to Thursday. So that’s where I am, doing the job that I was sent to do during the week.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge you face in convincing people to back you again at the polls next time round, and do you fear a backlash locally over Government cuts?
A. I think that I will win people’s backing by the evidence of what I have achieved for the town. I believe I can do that. Not on my own, but with a Government that helps people get back into jobs, that supports the vulnerable, and reforms public services. We need these changes in Hastings. I hope that the people of Hastings will look at the outcomes from this Government for our town and judge me on that at the next General Election.
Q. What one thing would you change about Hastings if money was no object?
A. The road and rail links. You can’t buy better education, or better welfare programs, for that you need a government that is determined to reform, as this one is. But only investment can relieve our transport problems.
So if money were no object I’d have a fast rail link to London and a dualled A21. One hour to London – imagine what we could achieve.
So there you have it. The readers put Ms Rudd on the spot and the MP is still confident Hastings will not be left behind by the rest of the south east and that the regeneration starting by her New Labour predecessor will continue over the coming years.
Let us know what you think of her answers by writing to us at email@example.com - or join the debate online at www.hastingobserver.co.uk.
And, if you have any questions for Ms Rudd, the Tory is holding a public meeting on Saturday, May 21 at the town hall in Queens Road between 2pm and 4pm.
There she will report back on her activities in Westminster and answer any further questions.
All are welcome.