What difference do you feel the pupil premium will make to children from the poorest backgrounds?
A huge amount. It is something I am incredibly passionate about.
All the evidence shows that the earlier you help to stop children falling behind in class the better their life chances. It could mean smaller class sizes, catch up classes or one-to-one tuition for the children that need it the most, and it’s up to the school to decide how best to use it, not some minister in Whitehall.
But it won’t just help the poorest children, it will help all their classmates too. Fewer children falling behind means less disruption in classes and a better education for every pupil.
What would your message be to the families in Solihull who are struggling to get by?
That Liberal Democrats know how tough times are, which is why we are giving real help.
Last year we gave basic rate taxpayers a £200 tax cut by raising the point at which you start paying Income Tax, with another £130 tax cut this May. We’ve ensured the most generous rise in the state pension for a generation. And for young people who are struggling to find work, which is a huge problem that has been growing since 2004, we are bringing the Youth Contract. That’s a £1bn commitment that gives every 18 to 24-year-old the opportunity to earn or learn.
These are policies that the Liberal Democrats are delivering in the Coalition Government and they will make a big difference to people’s lives.
Will a cap in benefits not make it harder for many families at the bottom of the pile?
It’s important to remember the cap is at £26,000, which is equivalent to the take home pay of someone earning £35,000.
I think it’s fair that people receiving benefits don’t get more than thousands and thousands of families get when they go out and work. As a Liberal Democrat I support the principle of the cap.
We think the right thing to do is to make sure that transitional arrangements are in place to make sure that there isn’t too hard an impact on the families, and particularly children, who will be immediately affected when it comes into force.
In view of comments from trade unions, has the Government gone far enough in curbing executive pay?
Just this week, Vince Cable announced some really important measures to curb out-of-control executive pay – the most comprehensive reform of the way directors’ pay is governed in almost a decade.
We cannot accept executive pay rising five times faster than that of the average worker and Liberal Democrats are determined to act. Under Labour executive pay rose from being 47 times that of that average worker, to 120 times.
It’s not government’s role to micro-manage company pay but there are things we can do to address what is a clear market failure.
The NHS reforms continue to attract a great deal of criticism from within the medical profession. Are the Lib Dems right to continue to go against their warnings?
Obviously, we take the views of the medical profession very seriously, that’s why the Liberal Democrats fought to make big changes to the reforms. Liberal Democrats believe the NHS must always be universal, based on need and free at the point of use.
We’ve made lots of important changes to the original plans in response to concerns from professionals and others, but to highlight just three: we’ve ensured there are no special favours for the private sector; that the pace of change has been slowed down to ensure changes are not rushed into and people only take on extra responsibilities when they are able to; and that the NHS remains properly accountable, both nationally and locally.
Many Solihull residents still have grave concerns about HS2, can the business case justify the immense disruption for many ordinary people?
I understand people’s concerns, but I am convinced high speed rail will be great for Solihull, the Midlands and the whole country.
For too long we have had an economy that relied on financial services in the City of London and neglected huge swathes of the country. Liberal Democrats are determined to rebalance our economy so that the whole country benefits and high speed rail will help us do just that.
A nearby high speed link to London will make Solihull a better place to start businesses and create jobs and a more attractive place to invest.