Image: Ana Clara Paniago / The Boar

Interview: Matt Western, Labour candidate for Warwick and Leamington

The Boar interviewed Matt Western, the Labour candidate for Warwick and Leamington in the upcoming General Election.

The Boar: The constituency of Warwick and Leamington Spa chose to remain in the EU by a majority of 58%, despite the country’s overall decision. How would you ensure that the residents’ wishes are maintained during Brexit negotiations, and how would you prevent ideological divisions from forming within the local community?

Matt Western: “It is clear that not only did 58% of local people vote to remain but also that, nationally, a good many people came to realise, post the Referendum, that much of the information presented to them ahead of the vote had been neither factual nor true. I think it is terrible that so many senior politicians played with the interpretation of reality, abused public trust, and have left many feeling cheated by the outcome.

I voted to remain but recognise the decision that was made. However, it was a blunt one which included neither the parameters for leaving nor terms for negotiation. Quite simply, referenda are far from ideal methods for such important decisions and it was a poor, self-serving manifesto promise from the Conservatives in 2015 which led to this.

If elected to represent this community, I would work to ensure that the matter of Brexit is communicated regularly to constituents through briefings to local media and regular meetings in the community.

I would seek to draw the community together through proposals that best satisfy the views of this community in developing an acceptable outcome. I will ensure everyone understands the process and impact of leaving and represent the local majority. And it is important that the EU Nationals already living here are accepted and allowed to continue to live here. To that end I will make the case for their continued residency.”

Current statistics suggest that one in four people suffer from mental health problems during their lifetime, with students reporting to be particularly vulnerable. Given the financial and social crises facing the NHS, how would you ensure adequate provisions were made to support this proportion of the population and, if so, what would they be?

“Having had much support and help in political campaigning locally from Warwick University students, they have made me well aware of the wide range of mental health problems students can suffer from; some special ones too compared to the population as a whole.

Students tell me that key to helping is that there is a culture where it is OK to talk about issues without stigma or shame. To do this requires full support of initiatives that do something about this, increasing general awareness and creating easy routes to appropriate care and interventions. Staff and students have great insights into what helps and what is needed and I am keen to support initiatives that tap into this.

Having said that, the Tory cuts to mental health services are scandalous and I have campaigned with health staff locally to fight the cuts to such mental health services. In particular, people often need immediate help in crisis and it is unreasonable to expect the mental health charities and voluntary services alone to provide the help that is needed.

People need to have access to proper support and to be fully involved in advising what services are needed and where. Early intervention is often key but is too often the first casualty of government cuts.

As I have already been doing, as your MP I will fight back to restore services, raise the issue of the needs of different parts of our community and, most importantly, I support the Health and Care Commission’s aim of restoring equality between physical and mental health service provision.”

The local bus services have largely failed to meet the demands placed upon it by both students and local residents, continuing to raise prices above the rate of inflation whilst failing to increase the volume or reliability of services to meet demands. What would you do to improve the state of public transport within the constituency, both for students and local residents?

“You must have heard about my bus pass petition, no? Myself and fellow Labour councillors gained almost a thousand (hand-written!) signatures from the student community.

I started the petition several months ago, following some casework with a member of the student community back in October and then another piece of casework again last January.

I’m pressing for Stagecoach to reverse their terms and conditions concerning lost bus passes; you now have to pay a proportion of the full replacement value depending upon when you lose it. Until October last year, in the event of loss you simply would pay £26 to replace it.

Additionally, and more critically, I am urging for Stagecoach to introduce an Oyster-type chipped card, so that if you lose your pass and report it, Stagecoach can then replace it for a nominal administration fee. Believe me, this will make a huge difference to local bus travel.

As it happens, I have already done a considerable amount for long-term residents by improving the route of the Number 67 bus in South Leamington, ensuring that they have a better service and this has led to fewer tensions between bus commuter groups. In fact, I’ve had that route improved twice in the last 24 months.

The chipped cards that I am proposing will bring big benefits to bus travel in the constituency; I will explain more about this in the coming weeks. I will also update you on my negotiations with Stagecoach. This is all work that I am doing as an active local Councillor serving the student community.”

Despite a clear and distinct issue with homelessness within towns such as Leamington Spa, significant cuts have been made to homelessness shelters and support services in the area. Is this justifiable? And if not, what can be done to alleviate the situation?

“The existing situation is shameful. Labour will commit to building low-cost housing units to satisfy this desperate need as part of a wider program for much needed affordable and social housing in our community – there is a current waiting list of approximately 2,500.

Last September, I called on local policy makers to recognize the crisis that is unfolding here in Leamington. In the last ten months alone, Leamington Winter Support’s Night Shelter (a local homelessness charity) has recorded 254 separate visitors. Additionally, there are an estimated 50-70 people sleeping rough in the area with many more sofa-surfing etc.

At the County Council, I was part of the Labour opposition to the huge cuts being proposed by the Conservative administration. In fact, it was Labour that sought to moderate the cuts with the highest budget proposal for this service area.

More widely, Labour is already pressing for more meaningful support from Councils to support the people and organisations working in homelessness (such as the Warwick District Council) to look at their own housing and property portfolio to see what accommodation can be provided at reduced cost or rent-free, both temporarily and in the medium-term.

This means planning, housing and property departments must work together pro-actively to re-use property rather than responding to commercial or “market” needs. More communication between the Warwick District and County councils’ services is also needed.”

A large proportion of students reside within Leamington Spa and the surrounding area, and there’s been a upsurge in student housing and rental properties in recent years to accommodate. This has caused some concern with the local residents, who view it as something of a takeover and worry it could affect their own rent costs. How would you intend to balance the demands of students with those of the local residents?

“Labour was the party that first sought to bring some sense to a runaway market that boasted of little regulation. What was surprising was how little interest there was in this over four years ago from the ruling Conservatives on the District Council.

I first wrote of the need to introduce greater regulation in order to protect both the student community from rogue landlords but also ensure that we maintained the sustainable, balanced communities needed to ensure good quality services are viable.

I think the long-term residents feel much more positive to the student community in the past year or two as a result of interventions made by myself, other Labour and other party Councillors. There was a sense among long-term residents’ that their views were not being heard by Council officers, and this had led to considerable frustration and exasperation.

I encouraged the long-term residents to work together, to form a group (South Leamington Area Residents, or SoLAR) to ensure their views were better heard by Council Officers and to open up a dialogue with the Officers at the SU and at the University in general. This is now happening and is in everyone’s interests.

At the same time, Labour councillors are working to develop a full housing strategy, of which this is only a part. We have encouraged a Student Housing Strategy which is in development.

I have also asked to meet with the Vice-Chancellor to discuss this as part of a wider agenda, as I believe the University has responsibility too in this area. In fact, I had a brief conversation with Stuart Croft during the #1DayWithoutUs on campus in February, which we both attended.”

Listen to his interview with RaW here.

Read our other interviews with candidates for Warwick and Leamington:

In case you missed it: here’s our guide to the General Election!

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