Richmond Reps Do Question Time

Richmond representatives recently debated over issues brought forward by a youth dominated audience, including the controversy of university fees, still a soft spot for the audience and panel, the doomed London house markets and votes at 16.

Chaired by young person and member of Richmond Youth Council, Annabel Widdop, last Thursday’s debate brought together Councillors Geoffrey Samuel, Lord True, Paul Hodgins of the Conservative party and Steven Knight, Leader of the Opposition of the Liberal Democrats. Those also in attendance included Nick Whitfield, head of Achieving For Children, Richmond Youth Parliament member Jack Lewis, and deputy Camille Richards.

Below is a quick summary of the debate as it happened:

Applause to welcome the panel. An audience member brings up Votes at 16. A popular recent campaign, currently at the forefront of Make Your Mark. A survey last year reported ‘72% of the public supported the action’.

MYP Jack Lewis supports the idea. He says there is a unsubstantiated fear among older demographics that “young people only vote what their parents vote.” Councillor Knight adds ‘in a survey, 60% of young people were found to vote different from their parents’.

Councillor Samuel agrees and comments that ‘the lowest percentage of votes are from 18-24 olds’. He harks back positively to the political activism of the 1960s.

Knight adds that young people ‘ought to be angry and ought to be voting’, and that because they do not, ‘[they] are the most vulnerable to cuts’. He cites freedom passes for the elderly as something that no party would dare touch due to the amount of voters of that demographic.

Samuel wants ‘more politics in the school curriculum’ to aid this. Councillor Hodgins and Deputy MYP Richards agree. Hodgins makes a finalising comment: ‘When it comes to politics, nobody is an expert. Older people aren’t experts…young people are not disadvantaged, just unengaged and therefore uninformed.’

This leads on to the next audience issue: the practicality of the curriculum. Nick Whitfield speaks for the first time of the night, ‘education needs to be personalised rather than generalised’. This echoes sentiments of esteemed educationalist Sir Ken Robinson.

Lord True agrees, adding that the ‘curriculum is overloaded’. 17 year old Lewis declares ‘instead of an emphasis on hard facts, there needs to be more flexibility and focus on skill acquisition’. Drawing from his own experience, he adds that ‘a better transition between A-Level and GCSE is needed too. Taster days need to be improved so people make better decisions.’

‘For those in Richmond’, Richards comments, ‘waytowork.org.uk is an option not often talked about’. Apprenticeships in recent years have been rising in popularity, despite the supposed stigma.

Moving onto career guidance in schools, an audience member states that ‘Richmond Youth Scrutiny Panel research concluded career guidance is inconsistent among schools.’ Until 2011, career guidance was funded nationally until severed completely and delegated to schools. Since then, it has been a low priority endeavour.

Hodgins states ‘we need to keep working on career guidance’. Knight adds ‘students need to have access to advice not just from teachers. They’re not equipped with the right tools to do so, since they all went to university themselves’. Even with a consensus among the board, Samuel concludes that improving career guidance will be, disconcertingly, ‘hopefully some point in the future’.

An audience member mentions Chelsea Football Club approaching the council to use Twickenham as a stadium. Aside from laughs and jokes from the panel, (including many shots taken at the team), Lord True quickly wraps up the topic stating ‘Chelsea actually have made no approach, and if they do, it shall be declined.’ Nods from the whole panel, stemming from complaints about disruption.

The next big topic: housing in London. The main issues being overpriced properties and the supposed ‘population limit’ we can support.

Councillor Samuel questions the maximum capacity of London and toys with the idea of London literally having no room for people to live.   Chancellor Knight takes a damp view: ‘None of you [young people] will be homeowners unless you have very rich parents.’

Lord True updates us that new houses are confirmed to built in Richmond. Lewis replies ‘building new houses are useless if they are not affordable for those who need it.’ Knight in particular seems in agreement here.

Knight concurs, stating ‘London housing prices went up 20% last year’ and warns that the capital’s billion pound economy could be heading for collapse. Lord True attributes the lack of house building to tight planning objections. ‘We have more a restrictive system than virtually any other country.’ He places blame on rampant ‘not near my house’ attitudes.

Hodgins points out that there are ‘more bedrooms than there are people’, and Liberal Democrat Knight denounces the fact that ‘golf courses use twice as much land as housing.’ He declares that we need ‘incentives for people to downsize’, so ‘larger families’ can live in aptly sized housing.

Lewis ends the topic on a positive note, saying ‘I think we need to have faith in people, we have faced overpopulation many times in history before and we can pull through’. Lord True nods his head in agreement – the common ground of two generations coming through.

True and Knight seem to have less in common about University fees however, the topic that has plagued the LibDems ever since Nick Clegg promised free tuition fees that never came in 2010. Lord True reminds the audience of this, saying ‘the party I represent at least said we would consider raising it’.

Knight quickly remarks that, ‘university in the Netherlands is a fraction of the price it is here, and it’s free in Germany’, concluding that ‘Britain is out of step with Europe’. Amidst the clear heated divide between Knight and True, Councillor Hodgins hastily wraps up, summing up his opinion on the subject and Widdop ends the night, thanking the panel.

Are there any subjects you thought weren’t touched on or points that need to be made? Comment below!

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