Conservative candidate for Milton Keynes South Iain Stewart and his Labour opponent Andrew Pakes, with candidates for Milton Keynes North, Labour’s Emily Darlington and Paul Graham of the Liberal Democrats, spoke in front of a large audience of MKBLP members, businesspeople, college students and staff.
All speakers pledged to support Milton Keynes’ growth and prosperity. Mr Stewart said that could best be done by sticking to the Conservative/Coalition economic recovery plan without which essential services could not be expanded.
For the Lib-Dems, Mr Graham said that his party has economic credibility and would seek a fairer sharing of the burden in bringing the deficit down.
Labour candidate Andrew Pakes said Milton Keynes was a place of economic opportunity but it should not be built on low paid unskilled insecure jobs while his party colleague Emily Darlington urged support for the 80% of SME businesses in Milton Keynes which employed ten people or less.
Mark Lancaster, the Conservative candidate in Milton Keynes North, and the Liberal Democrats’ Milton Keynes South candidate Lisa Smith were unable to attend the forum, held at Milton Keynes College’s Business & Leadership Centre and chaired by the college’s deputy principal Nick Isles.
During questions there was consensus on the role further and higher education should play locally to improve workers’ skills; that meeting the housing needs, particularly of young people including students, was a complex challenge; and that infrastructure must come before further development across the city.
On the issue of whether an EU referendum would be good or bad for UK and Milton Keynes business, answers divided along more predictable lines.
Mr Stewart said negotiations and a vote on returning to a ‘Common Market’ relationship could settle things for a generation and were needed quickly.
Emily Darlington said a referendum was a serious distraction for businesses that dealt not just with local markets but across Europe and worldwide.
Mr Pakes said he could not think of a single question around securing sustainable recovery, jobs and increased productivity that would be answered by coming out of Europe or a referendum.
Mr Graham said he was not sure a referendum would settle things for a generation and a vote on a renegotiated package could still continue to damage business for years.
Closing the event, Milton Keynes College principal and chief executive Dr Julie Mills said: “It has been fascinating to hear views on really important topics. We have candidates who are passionate about and committed to Milton Keynes.”
MKBLP chair Dr Philip Smith said the model of key people talking about key issues affecting Milton Keynes could be repeated beyond the election.