CANDIDATES standing in the Glastonbury and Somerton constituency have laid out how they would improve the lives of local people if they are elected on July 4.

The new Glastonbury and Somerton constituency includes the titular towns along with Bruton, Castle Cary, Somerton, Wincanton and the surrounding villages.

All five candidates standing in the constituency assembled at All Saints Church in Langport on Wednesday evening (June 12) for a hustings event, attended by more than 50 local residents.

Under the watchful eye of moderator Sean Dromgoole, the chairman of Langport Town Council, each candidate made their case for being elected before answering a series of questions submitted in advance.

Here’s seven things we learned from these hustings:

1. Improving health services is a key priority for all candidates

Two separate questions were asked on local health services – one about access to NHS dentists, and one about the lack of GPs in many local surgeries.

Sarah Dyke (Liberal Democrat) said: “We would guarantee access to an NHS dentist for everyone needing emergency care. We would find money from billionaires and big banks to pay for this – and we’ve called for a windfall tax.”

Jon Cousins (Green) said: “We’re going to put £50bn a year into the NHS and make sure everyone can see a dentist. I currently have two fillings that need attention and I can’t find a dentist.”

Tom Carter (Reform UK) said it was extortionate for dentists to charge up to £250 for an extraction, stating: “We would like to see the number of training places increased. It’s really important to offer tax breaks to those who can afford to pay private, to take the pressure off the NHS.”

Faye Purbrick (Conservative) said her party would increase payments to dentists to encourage them to take on NHS patients, adding: “If you need an emergency appointment, please call 111. They have had capacity since November and they are prioritising children.”

Hal Hooberman (Labour) said the dental crisis was “a post-2010 problem”, adding : “We will make 700,000 emergency appointments a year, including 100,000 for children and tooth-brushing schemes in schools.”

2. Fixing adult social care is crucial – but it must be a national solution

Gerard Tucker asked the candidates about how they would tackle the funding of children’s and adult’s social care, in light of ongoing financial pressures on Somerset Council.

Mr Carter responded: “This needs to be a national response rather than something which falls on the shoulders of the council. No-one want to come and work in care because of the rotas they have to work and the pay isn’t good enough.”

Mr Hooberman called for the government to give a long-term financial settlement to councils, arguing: “This very much comes down to neglect from central government since 2010.”

Mr Cousins said: “The lack of increases in council tax by the Conservatives on the council has left us with no money to pay for care. The council should be running care homes, not private companies who want to make a profit.”

Ms Dyke called for a review of the fair funding formula for care, adding; “The government is robbing communities of their powers – we’re having to do more, and are getting less. This is a national problem and it needs a national solution.”

Ms Furbrick said: “We’ve got to spend your money properly. It doesn’t work when councils try to run these services directly.”

3. Tackling climate change must go hand in hand with food security

A representative from the Somerset Wildlife Trust asked: “The climate and ecological emergency is by far the greatest threat we face. How will you keep focus on this if elected?”

Mr Cousins referenced the recent floods in Shepton Mallet, stating: “We have to make tackling climate change a focus of every local community. I will strive to support every community trying to mitigate things.”

Ms Purbrick praised the work of the Somerset Rivers Authority, saying: “I want to see solar panels going on our rooftops, not our fields, so we can use them for food production or to slow down water. We need to work with nature and not against it – but we also need to work with the economy, and not against it.”

Mr Carter said: “For me, I want to see our food production increase so we meet 70 per cent of our needs. We need to get in a position where we have food and energy security, and that means the nuclear option.”

Mr Hooberman said: “The climate crisis and our wildlife is not being talked about enough at this election. We will create three new national forests and ban bee-killing pesticides.”

Ms Dyke said: “As a farmer’s daughter, I know how important it is that our farmers are allowed to farm – but they need to balance with the environment. We will take the bold action that is needed to combat climate change.”

4. More work is needed to support farmers in the aftermath of Brexit

The candidates were asked about how farmers could meet their environmental duties while struggling under the replacement of the common agricultural policy (CAP) following Brexit.

Mr Carter said: “We need to allow farmers to negotiate a fair contract with the supermarkets – that imbalance is unfair. As citizens, we can buy local and we can buy British, and drive home the message that food production is one of the most important things we can do as a country.”

Ms Purbrick said her party would provide additional funding for farmers, adding: “I want to buy high quality food from this country, and we are putting a legal target on how much of our food is produced here.”

Mr Cousins referenced the regenerative farming centre being created in Glastonbury as part of the £23.6m town deal, adding: “Buying local and buying British is a very important message. Community-based agriculture can involve people in food being produced locally.”

Ms Dyke said her own family had suffered in the aftermath of Brexit, stating: “British farmers were promised levels of funding would be maintained, but there has been a botched transition to the new systems. We will raise the farming budget by £1bn a year to supercharge the transition to environmentally sustainable farming, and fix the government’s broken visa system so we can get the workers to pick our crops.”

Mr Hooberman added: “Farmers have been clobbered and taken for granted for too long. We can do our bit by buying local.”

5. Demand for a new railway station is very high

The candidates were asked about whether they would support a new railway station in either Langport or Somerton – something for which the Langport Transport Group has lobbied for several years.

Mr Cousins said: “If Rishi Sunak lived in either place, you’d already have a station. It comes down to political will.”

Mr Hooberman quipped: “It does come down to political will – though if Rishi lives here, he’d have a helipad.”

Mr Carter added: “It comes down to local campaigning and political will.”

Ms Dyke waxed lyrical about her support for the railway station in parliament, stating: “I have already got a track record of pushing this government, and I will make sure we get the transport infrastructure we need.”

Ms Purbrick said: “If I am elected, I will push the transport secretary to move forward with this. We need a decision – we must either move forward or find another solution.”

6. There are differing views on how to improve local education

The candidates were asked what they would do to improve local schools, especially when it came to the recruitment and retention of teachers.

Mr Hooberman said: “Teachers are overworked, underfunded and under-resourced. There needs to be an increase in funding and training places, and we need to treat them with the respect they deserve.”

Ms Purbrick said: “We need to find ways to attract teachers with bonus payments for the most needed subjects. Retention is about giving schools the ability to shape what they need.”

Mr Cousins said: “Teachers and doctors are not respected in their jobs. I want us to support our teachers so they don’t have to strike for better pay.”

Ms Dyke said teacher training should be more adequately funded, stating: “The Tories have woefully underfunded both schools and local authorities, and they fail to grasp the scale of the damage they have caused.”

Mr Carter took a different approach, arguing: “There has been a general decline in student behaviour and the respect shown for teachers. There needs to be a short, sharp shock in terms of discipline – we need to double the number of pupil referral units.”

7. Housing has to be a big focus for the next government

The candidates were asked what their main priority for the constituency would be, regardless of who ended up forming the next government.

Mr Cousins said: “The number one issue is that there is nowhere to live. We need new housing, not just giving Taylor Wimpey carte blanche but the homes that people actually need.”

Mr Carter said: “We need more housing. We can fast-track brownfield sites and build modular homes at a fraction of the price.”

Ms Dyke said: “I’ve had families living in Travelodges because there is nowhere for them to live. We need to reform our planning system so we can build the right homes in the right places.”

Mr Hooberman said: “It’s hard to pick priorities because of how much of a state we are in. We need council houses built across the county – so many people aren’t thinking about buying houses.”

Ms Purbrick said solving the housing crisis had to go hand in hand with better-paid jobs,  arguing: “”We’ve got businesses that are crying out for skills – we need to ensure we’re creating well-paid jobs in the area.”

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