Donna Jones, Conservative candidate for Portsmouth South, gives her answers to the five questions recently submitted by S&C readers to all local candidates in the 2019 election.
We recently asked S&C readers and social media followers what one question you would ask all the candidates in Portsmouth North and South in the General Election. From the many – and diverse – answers we received, we selected five questions, which we sent to all the local candidates.
To choose the top 5, we took into account the number of times questions were asked on each topic, whether questions were suitable for all candidates (i.e. some related to individual candidates, or to either Portsmouth North or South), and whether we have seen the topic or question covered in other local reporting (e.g. we didn’t include a question on Brexit for this reason).
Q1: What amendments would you make to the Gender Recognition Act to advance the rights of trans and non-binary people in the UK, and what steps will you take to ensure all public bodies serving the area comply with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 as they relate to single sex exemptions?
I feel stronger about equal rights for all. I have supported a lady who had undergone gender reassignment. Following the operation, she was refused the final part of her transformations for breast augmentation surgery. I campaigned and supported her legal challenge and eventually we had success. The effect on this persons life was immense. Many transgendered people experience real challenges in their lives and as a society, we should do all we can to provide support. I am proud of this government’s record and of the huge strides in helping the LGBT community over recent years.
Q2: The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently reported that the worst-off 10% of households have lost 7% of their income since 2019, rising to 18% among families with children. The highest earning 10% have seen their incomes fall by 4%. How will your party ensure that the social security system is fair and compassionate, and that the benefit system lifts families out of poverty – closing the vast disparity of income and wealth in our country?
The social security system should provide a path out of poverty for those able to work. It’s often overlooked, but some recent changes have facilitated that by allowing people on benefits to take short term work without signing off from the whole system. We need to concentrate on helping people into employment and with more jobs than ever and unemployment at the lowest level in more than 40 years, this government has a good record. There is still more to be done, but there has been considerable progress.
Q3: What will you do to help homeless people in Portsmouth, with particular regard to the housing shortage and cuts to services, e.g. for mental health, for trauma survivors, and for people suffering from problematic drug and alcohol use?
When I was council leader, I went out and generated £385k a year to open a year round homeless shelter; the first in the city. For years under the Lib Dems the council had only offered a shelter from Nov – Feb, the statutory minimum. I thought this was wrong and the least we should be doing is offering a bed for everyone every night. After having worked with the homeless in the city supporting them for over 18 months, I realised that in fact it often wasn’t a lack of beds that prevented someone from getting off the streets, but mental health issues. I set about working with local charities and contracting them to ensure they were offering the support that was needed to encourage homeless people to take advantage of the help that is available across the city. This is one of our achievements that I am most proud of.
Before I was leader of the council, only 40 council homes were built in 10 years. Under my Leadership we built 210 council homes in just 2 years, which puts Portsmouth amongst the best performers in the country. Nationally, the government is moving to remove the cap on Housing Revenue borrowing, which will allow local authorities to do a great deal more in future.
Q4: Portsmouth residents have told us they are unable to book a GP appointment within 3 weeks, and are referred to a walk-in service, which one resident described as ‘a stressful experience in itself’. What is your plan to improve and protect the NHS? And how will you improve public health in the city, including with regard to mental health and obesity?
I am absolutely committed to the government’s plan to take on 6,000 extra GPs. This will lead to 50 million more GP appointments across the country. I am delighted that the government is putting £58m into rebuilding the Emergency Department at QA. When the hospital was rebuilt under Labour more than a decade ago, budget constraints meant there wasn’t enough money to touch that part of the hospital and it has been a problem since then. It is now finally being sorted out. The private contract awarded by the last Labour Government at QA – the PFI contract has crippled the hospital and I am committed to ensure they have the funding required to deliver first class services.
Q5: In terms of both policy and funding, how will you improve support to Portsmouth schools, including meeting the needs of vulnerable children with Special Educational Needs?
During my time as council leader, we spent millions building extra special school places, both to replace the crumbling Victorian Harbour School at Fratton and to expand Redwood Park. We also built large numbers of primary and secondary spaces for mainstream pupils. Good quality buildings are essential if we are able to give every child the best start in life and I am glad that we were able to do so much. The government has also promised to increase direct funding to schools.