Image: Ana Clara Paniago / The Boar

Interview: Jim Cunningham, Labour candidate for Coventry South

The Boar interviewed Jim Cunningham, the Labour candidate for Coventry South in the upcoming General Election.

The Boar: Times Higher Education have recently announced that the University of Warwick is the 17th most international university in the world. How would you take these students into account when looking at Brexit negotiations, especially considering the possible decrease in international students in the coming years?

Jim Cunningham: “I believe that a number of things must clarified at the earliest opportunity: The first priority must be that status of those students currently enrolled at universities, the status of staff currently based across universities and that the preservation of research income is safeguarded. 

It must also not be the case that, following the result of the eventual plan put forward that United Kingdom universities must not lose out in the long-run. This means that barriers must not be placed in front of EEA students who wish to study in the UK, that the ability of universities to recruit staff from across Europe is not impeded and that universities can still access the funds and collaboration currently presented through Europe-wide research programmes such as Horizon 2020. 

These issues are vital in ensuring that our universities remain as competitive as possible moving forwards and if I am re-elected, I will continue to act in their defence wherever possible – not least because of the two universities, Warwick and Coventry, located within Coventry South. I have previously raised this and other connected issues multiple times in Parliament since the referendum including directly with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis.”

Current statistics suggest that 1 in 4 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?

“At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto that pledged to give mental health the same priority as physical health, and this remains one of the Labour Party’s top priorities. More needs to be done to ensure that services needed by people with mental health problems are in place and patients get the help and support that they need. I also recognise the incredible NHS staff, who with determination, professionalism and compassion who have been working incredibly hard often in difficult circumstances. 

Under the last Conservative Government, we have seen the lowest five year growth in public spending on health since the 1950’s, and the last Labour Government has a much better record of investing in the NHS, and health services than the last Conservative Government, and the Coalition Government before them.

I have previously supported greater investment in the NHS, especially with regards to mental health services. I have also supported carers for individuals with mental health problems in Coventry, and have called on the Government to recognise the vitally important role they have, and to increase support for Carers.

If I am re-elected, I will continue to campaign for greater investment for the NHS, and Labour has pledged to give NHS workers a pay rise of more than 1%, and to increase the number of front line NHS staff, which will help tackle the current workforce shortages in the NHS. These measures, combined with greater investment in the NHS, will help to combat the current crisis surrounding health care, and will provide greater support for those suffering with mental health problems.”

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?

I appreciate the importance of affordable and reliable public transport and I whilst I welcomed the Bus Services Bill, which received Royal Assent on the 27th April 2017, and is therefore now law. However, I do not believe this law goes far enough in empowering local authorities to make real decisions about the shape of services in their area. 

There is no one-size-fits-all model for running bus services. I believe that removing the profit incentive from operations can allow a greater focus on the social and economic purpose of bus services, meaning buses can better cater for the social or business needs of a particular area. I also note municipal bus companies provide some of the best services in the country.

Given the success of existing municipal bus companies, local authorities may judge that the municipal model is best suited for their area and may wish to attempt to replicate that success. I believe that local authorities that wish to pursue this model should be allowed to do so and that local communities should be able to take control of their buses. I also support the need for a wider strategy to put the public back into buses and to deliver affordable, greener, and accessible transport.

I have consistently supported Opposition amendments to overturn the ban on municipal bus companies, and to allow local authorities to set up new publicly owned companies to provide local bus services. Unfortunately, however, the Conservative Government rejected these amendments.

Local communities must have the power to make bus operators provide the services that local people need. I will continue to press for the option of municipal operation to be preserved and I am fully committed to campaigning to overturn the ban if I am re-elected.

Last August, it was revealed that Coventry would resettle the largest number of Syrian refugees in the country. What is your stance on the current refugee crisis, given the amount of work that the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre does and the support from the university?

“In Coventry we currently have 39 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children in the care of the local authority.  In accordance with the National Transfer Scheme, in which Coventry is playing it’s full part, 0.07% of our child population equates to 53 young people.  In addition to the 39 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children in the care of the local authority we continue to support a further 26 young people in accordance with Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 who have since left care.

Between September 2016 and January 2017, 24 Dublin III children arrived in the city, of which 12 became looked after as they were unable to be reconciled with family. Two children came to the city under the Dubs Amendment. Whilst I am pleased that Coventry is fulfilling its obligations, I do still believe that more can, and should, be done.

I have previously spoken on numerous occasions in the House of Commons on this issue, and I have tabled several Written Parliamentary Questions with regards to Government policy on unaccompanied children seeking asylum, as well as writing to Theresa May asking her to reverse the Government decision to drop the Dubs Scheme. Alongside this, I recently met with the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb to urge him to ensure that all children, irrespective of their asylum status receive a full and fair education, and access to maintenance loans and help with the costs of being in full-time education.

As this crisis continues we must continue to fulfill not only our legal but our moral obligations, and I can assure you that I will continue to follow this matter very carefully throughout the General Election because I believe it is of the utmost importance, and I can assure that if I am re-elected I will continue to press the new Government into action as soon as possible, and if a Labour Government is elected, we have pledged to resume the Dubs Scheme to help as many vulnerable children from across the world as we can.”

Coventry has been named the most dangerous city in the UK and the 7th most dangerous city in Europe. What would you put in place to combat this and to make sure students feel safe?

The last Labour Government introduced 17,000 new police officers and 16,000 new PCSO’s on to the streets, which reduced crime levels nationally. Under the current Conservative Government, there are 20,000 less police officers nationally, with 1,762 officers being cut from the West Midlands police, which combined with rising crime levels, means that our communities are under-policed. The Tories have also refused to rule out further cuts to police forces if they are re-elected.

If a Labour Government is elected, they will fund an extra 10,000 police officers across England and Wales. If I am re-elected, I will continue to campaign for a strong, fully staffed police force that engages with the public, and has a detailed local knowledge which will keep all the communities, including students, in Coventry South safe.”

Read our other interviews with candidates in Coventry South:

Aimee Challenor, Green Party

Greg Judge, Liberal Democrats 

We have also contacted the other parties in Coventry South.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.