GRAMMAR schools, immigration and Leigh fisheries were hot topics of debate at the Echo’s Southend West hustings.

The five parliamentary candidates met at St Saviour’s Church in Westcliff in front of an audience of about 80 members of the public to argue why they should be the constituency’s next MP.

Fighting in the blue corner for the Conservatives was Sir David Amess, who had the advantage of having represented the constituency for the previous 18 years.

In the red corner was seasoned Labour councillor Julian Ware Lane, while long-term Leigh campaigner and City worker Paul Collins represented the Liberal Democrats, flanked by Brian Otridge for UKIP and Jon Fuller for the Green Party.

Mr Ware-Lane opened by defending the previous Labour government’s record on the economy, which he said only foundered with the global financial crash. He said: “I think the Labour party has had a good record. I think one of the failures is that we haven't defended that record.”

Mr Otridge was the only one to mention the deficit all night, arguing it was clocking up at £90billion a year, and opened by saying: “Labour and the Conservatives have broken promises on EU referendums but we will give you an honest referendum.”

Mr Collins followed him by saying London commuters “make this town work,” adding: “I’m here because I believe in liberal values, I’m a Liberal Democrat, and I’m very proud of that.”

Mr Fuller, a veteran environmental campaigner who joined the Green Party in October, opened by saying: “Climate change is going to influence the lives of everyone in this room.”

Fighting for a fourth term, Sir David defended the outgoing government’s record, saying: “Since 2010, the British people have made tremendous sacrifices to try restore the British economy and that’s what is happening now.”


Academies lose out on popularity

ACADEMIES were not big winners at the hustings.

David Webb asked candidates whether they thought turning schools into academies was the most effective way of raising standards – the answer was, on the whole, a resounding “no.”

Academies were established by Tony Blair’s Labour government, making them independent from local authority control through direct Whitehall funding.

Paul Collins, a school governor, said getting academy status was not the solution, adding: “It’s another way of moving money around – you have to look at teachers and the way the school is organised.”

He said the National Union of Teachers had a plan for improving schools which he supported. Sir David Amess said any decision to become an academy was down to the governing body of the school and praised Southend's schools generally. 

Julian Ware-Lane attacked the praise, saying they were “nothing short of awful,” adding: “Academies turning schools into businesses is something I regret.”

Jon Fuller said: “We need to bring schools back under council control."

Brian Otridge said he supported the continuation of free schools.