FERRY fares, a fixed link, education and budget cuts were on the agenda at an Isle of Wight election hustings last night (Thursday).
Hosted by Vectis Radio and held at the Apollo Theatre, Newport, the panel comprised Julia Baker-Smith (Island Independent), Nicholas Belfitt (Lib Dem), Vix Lowthion (Green), Daryll Pitcher (UKIP) and Dave Stewart (Con).
Labour candidate Geoff Lumley was due to take part but walked out before the debate started, accusing Vectis Radio of bias after he was not been asked to prepare an opening statement as other candidates had.
Miss Lowthion and Cllr Pitcher said they had not been asked either, but were happy to participate nonetheless.
Current council leader Cllr Stewart called for strong leadership and clear decision making - telling the audience of largely opposition supporters 'you people might not like it' - and said the council should work with the government, not 'bash' it.
He was accused of 'doing the government's dirty work' by Miss Lowthion, who said the Greens worked well with other parties to promote their policies. Cllr Baker-Smith and Mr Belfitt said the council should stand up for the Island and challenge the government.
Cllr Pitcher called for greater innovation in technology and manufacturing, and in public services to attract the best doctors, teachers and social workers, and Miss Lowthion said greater infrastructure investment was needed. Council-owned land could be given to forward thinking developers, she said.
Taking issue with Cllr Stewart's appeal not to talk the Island down, as it was 'a great place to live and work,' Mr Belfitt said young people felt differently. He said they lacked opportunities on the Island, that schools lagged behind those on the mainland and were not good enough.
Cllr Stewart praised Island teachers, prompting Miss Lowthion to ask: "Why are you making them redundant then?"
Cllrs Baker-Smith and Pitcher said there should be a fixed link feasibility study, providing there was no cost to the council, while Cllr Stewart and Miss Lowthion said it was the need for a fixed link, and its impact, that should be considered first.
Repeating calls for the council to invest in Red Funnel, Cllr Baker-Smith said profits should stay on the Island rather than line the pockets of venture capitalists. MP Andrew Turner's transport adviser Nick Finney said from the public gallery it was 'ludicrous,' and asked how the council would influence ferry fares and timetables.
Criticising Cllrs Stewart and Baker-Smith for rehashing arguments about the Tory takeover at County Hall, Mr Belfitt called for change. "We have seen here what's wrong with the council, with everyone fighting each other," he said.