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Health is top for priority for two Devon candidates

Thursday, 20 June 2024 08:37

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

Cllr Jake Bonetta / Richard Foord (Image: LDRS, East Devon District Council)

Labour & Lib Dems fighting for new seat

Improving the health service is a major priority for two candidates fighting to win the new Honiton and Sidmouth seat at next month’s election.

Liberal Democrat candidate Richard Foord, who won a 2022 byelection for the former Tiverton and Honiton seat, and Labour candidate Jake Bonetta, both flag the NHS as a key area.

As an MP, Mr Foord campaigned to save Seaton’s community hospital, which has been in danger of having a redundant ward sold, while Mr Bonetta has only recently had major abdominal surgery at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital because of Crohn’s disease.

“The overriding priority for me in Honiton and Sidmouth is going to be health and social care,as it is such a massive issue to get to grips with,” Mr Foord told Radio Exe’s Devoncast podcast.

His comments came on the day Sarah Woollaston, a former GP and Conservative and independent MP, stood down as chair of NHS Devon because she said she “did not feel able to sign off on a further cut as the elastic has already stretched too far.

“It’s plain that Devon has not been given its fair share of funding for health and social care, with a lot of rural and coastal communities under-invested in, and this government has been happy to cut local health to the bone and ignore social care,” Mr Foord added.

Mr Bonetta said NHS waiting times had risen across the country under the Conservatives, but that Labour wanted to change this.

“We have had chaos for the past 14 years and we need economic stability to stimulate growth, to make Britain investable again and get NHS waiting lists down,” he said.

“We want to create 40,000 new appointments as part of our health strategy, with other priorities including a border security command to crack down on criminal cartel gangs bringing people here, a publicly-owned energy firm, a crack down on anti-social behaviour and a focus on community policing.”

He called the police enquiry offices that have been opened in towns where police stations previously closed a “gimmick”, even though these are a key focus for Conservative police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez, who recently secured her third term in the role.

Mr Foord highlighted his priority, shared by the wider Lib Dem party, of “transforming water companies and the industry with a complete overhaul”.

He continued: “Just recently, the boss of South West Water, Susan Davy, was given an additional £298,000 in shares, which is ridiculous when you consider we have just had the cryptosporidium outbreak in South Devon, and sewage dumping around our coastal waters for the last several years.”

“It’s outrageous South West Water’s remuneration committee thinks the chief executive should have an extra £300,000 and its outrageous that she should accept it.”

Ms Davy did forego the cash element of her bonus for the second year in a row, which for the 2023-24 financial year was £237,000. But her total pay jumped to £860,000 from £543,000 the previous year after the shares bonus is taken into consideration.

Mr Bonetta added that the Jurassic coast has some of the “worst-polluted beaches in the country” because of sewage spillages.

“We need to crack down on South West Water and make sure they are held to account,” he said.

“We need a holistic overview to make sure the system works for everyone, including looking at the development of new housing and ensuring the sewage system has the ability to take on the extra capacity required of it.”

Mr Foord said he did not think his byelection win in 2022 was a one-off protest vote after former Conservative MP Neil Parish stood down after admitting to watching pornography in the Commons.

“I have been demonstrating that I am a community champion and have been banging the drum for Devon,” he said.

“I was the twentieth most outspoken MP of all 650 members, making sure Devon gets its voice heard in the corridors of power.”

Mr Bonetta said that in spite of his various commitments, including being a part-time student at Exeter University, and running a food redistribution business in Honiton, he would focus solely on being an MP if elected.

“The way the Conservative government has treated our neighbourhoods, communities and people has been utterly chaotic,” he said.

“I remember the first time I got involved in politics was due to the Conservatives in Devon County Council closing down the youth clubs and me wondering why.

“What we need is change, especially as we’ve seen Rishi Sunak come out with a Corbyn-esque manifesto of unfunded promises on National Insurance, and because of the way the government has treated the economy and working people.”

Also standing for the seat are Vanessa Coxon (Independent), Hazel Exon (Party of Women), Henry Gent (Green Party), Simon Jupp (Conservative and Unionist Party) and Paul Quickenden of Reform UK.

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