There was more than a little unanimity shown between general election opponents at the MK Business Leaders Partnership and Milton Keynes College pre-election ‘Business Question Time’ event.
Conservative candidate for MK South Iain Stewart and his Labour opponent Andrew Pakes, with candidates for MK North, Labour’s Emily Darlington and Paul Graham of the Liberal Democrats spoke in front of a large audience of Business Leaders members, business people, college students and staff.
MK Business Leaders chairman, Dr Philip Smith opened the session.
Candidate for MK North Mark Lancaster, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Lisa Smith for MK South were unable to attend the event at MK College Business & Leadership Centre, in CMK which was chaired by College Deputy Principal Nick Isles.
In their opening and closing statements all speakers pledged to support Milton Keynes’ growth and prosperity with Mr Stewart saying that could best be done by sticking to the Conservative/Coalition economic recovery plan without which essential services could not be expanded.
Mr Graham said the Lib-Dems have economic credibility and would seek a fairer sharing of the burden in bringing the deficit down.
Mr Pakes said Milton Keynes was a place of economic opportunity but it should not be built on low paid unskilled insecure jobs while Emily Darlington urged support for the 80 per cent of MK SME businesses which employed 10 people or less.
During questions there was consensus too on the role further and higher education should play locally to improve workers’ skills; that meeting the housing needs, particularly of young people including students, was a complex challenge; and that infrastructure must come before further development across the city.
On the issue of whether an EU referendum would be good or bad for UK and Milton Keynes’ business, answers divided along more predictable lines. Iain Stewart said negotiations and a vote on returning to a ‘Common Market’ relationship could settle things for a generation and were needed quickly, Emily Darlington said a referendum was a serious distraction for businesses that dealt not justwith local markets but across Europe and worldwide.
Mr Pakes said he could not think of a single question around securing sustainable recovery, jobs and increased productivity that would be answered by coming out of Europe or a referendum.
Mr Graham said he was not sure a referendum would settle things for a generation and a vote on a renegotiated package could still continue to damage business for years.
Closing the event MK College Principal and Chief Executive Dr Julie Mills said: “It has been fascinating to hear views on really important topics. We have candidates who are passionate about and committed to Milton Keynes.”
Dr Philip Smith, chair of MK Business Leaders Partnership said the event had gone particularly well and the model of key people talking about key issues affecting Milton Keynes could be repeated beyond the election.