Tuesday, 6 June 2017

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Kirsty Allan

Kirsty Allan is the Liberal Democrat candidate, vying for the Hampstead and Kilburn parliamentary seat in the upcoming election. She has previously worked for Lynne Featherstone, the former MP and Minister of State at the Home Office, as well as a fundraiser for the Lib Dems and press director for Normal Lamb's (MP) leadership bid. We caught up with the candidate to ask her views on some of the pressing matters for students and young people in this country.

With the election on the horizon, what would you change about education in the area if you were elected? The Lib Dems have said they are against the Tories’ policy on grammar schools. What are your views on grammar schools? Should the state system be selective or completely comprehensive, or is there a happy medium?
I would like to see our schools properly funded. Ring-fencing the schools budget but not up-rating it as we have seen under the Tories actually means that education funding is falling year on year as inflation grows and that's unacceptable. It's been said many times but education is the silver bullet on so many social issues so making sure our teachers and kids have the resources they need couldn't be more important.

My view is that state education should not be selective. I am incredibly disappointed that the Conservatives are diverting funds into their grammar schools project when our existing schools are so under-resourced. As I've said, many of our current schools are underfunded and need serious investment to bring the buildings up to standard. That money should be going towards giving our teachers the resources they need to provide an excellent education. Additionally, we know that grammar schools tend to favour those from a more affluent background to the disadvantage of those from poorer backgrounds. That's simply not fair. All our children are entitled to a great education, no matter their resources. That is what state education is all about.

Your party has also said that full-time education should not just be about passing exams. What does this mean doing for you?
School needs to be about more than just knowing how to do well in an exam. We need to be preparing our children with life and social skills as well and giving them a well rounded education should include those skills. So much about the world after school including finding a job depends on other factors than just exam results - skills such as organisation, public speaking, a good knowledge of IT and interpersonal skills among others.

Since the Tories took over in 2015 you've worked in the National Audit Office, scrutinising public spending. Did anything strike you as a big waste of money in your time? Or was there not enough being spent? Do you think the Government's current approach to mental health, especially as it concerns young people, is sufficient? What would you change beyond increasing funding?
There is consistently not enough money being invested in our health and social care services, and particularly not enough money in mental health provision. The Lib Dems will add another £1billion for mental health care as part of £6billion of funding for the NHS through putting a penny on income tax. £5million of this would be ring-fenced as dedicated funding for mental health services in Camden, as part of a £20million package of extra NHS funding across the borough. There also needs to be parity in the way that mental health patients are treated. At the moment, physical health is still seen as the priority and yet 1 in 3 people will suffer from poor mental health in their lifetime. We must make sure they are being treated with the same level of importance as if they had a physical condition.

This past week Tim Farron came out and said that he was pro-LGBT rights, and believed the Gay Marriage Act didn't go far enough. What are your views on teaching about LGBT relationships?
I personally think that all children should be learning about relationships generally and that includes LGBT. What we learn in school helps us come to conclusions about what is normal and what's not. What are we saying by ignoring LGBT relationships? By teaching about relationships of all kinds - both mixed sex and same sex - we are telling our young LGBT students that their relationships are just as valued and valid as any others and, to my mind, that is exactly as it should be.

Do you think there is enough done to raise political awareness in schools?
No, and I personally believe that all students should be taught about voting and democracy. We see again and again that young people, once they reach voting age, simply do not vote in the same numbers as other generations and yet decisions are being made about their futures. If young people voted, then they political landscape of the UK would change entirely!

Schools budgets, especially in inner-London are being slashed. What will you do to reverse this damage if elected?
My party has announced that we will invest nearly £7bn more in schools and colleges over the next parliament. The funding would reverse cuts to frontline school and college budgets, protect per pupil funding in real terms and ensure no school loses out from the National FundingFormula.

Over the course of the parliament, we have committed to: protect per pupil funding in real terms in schools (£3.3bn), protect further education per pupil funding in real terms (£660m), ensure no school loses out from the National Funding Formula (£1.26bn), protect the pupil premium in real terms (£415m), invest in continuous professional development for teachers (£165m)

What are your thoughts on the voting age in Britain?
I believe that those aged 16 - 18 should be allowed to vote. After all, we are making decisions about their future.

In coalition, the Lib Dems were partly responsible for the tripling of tuition fees. If elected, what would you do with tuition fees? Why should students trust Liberal Democrat candidates?
Both Labour and the Conservatives supported higher fees, and as we did not win the General Election we could not deliver our promise. Scrapping fees was a commitment we made with the best of intentions but we broke our promise on tuition fees and that rightly provoked a lot of anger, because many people felt let down by the party that has always put principles above politics. We made a mistake committing to a policy that, in coalition, we weren't able to deliver. We've been honest in owning up to that. The punishment we took at the last elections was a bitter pill to swallow, but the message was heard loud and clear.

Unlike others, we don't take people's trust for granted, we know that trust has to be earned, and we've worked hard to restore that by fighting to make our society work for everyone, whether it's protecting the NHS, making sure children get the best possible education, or standing up against the destructive effects of Brexit. Should I be elected as MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, I hope that my hard work and dedication would show how much I value the trust placed in me by my constituents.

Despite the fact that we weren't able to scrap tuition fees, we are proud that we made sure the system we got is as fair as possible – more new students and more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are now going to university backgrounds than ever before. To we want to make sure that we don't go back to a system where numbers are capped.

In the interest of impartiality, we will be interviewing as many main-party candidates as possible in the run-up to the election, to hear their views as well. Thanks must go to Ms Allan for making time for this interview.

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