Election questions: Andrew Stranack, Conservative

The Croydon North by-election is on November 29, and Inside Croydon has put to candidates a set of questions. We will be putting the responses on the record, published without the artifice, interruptions and grandstanding of the usual hustings.

Andy Stranack: the caring face of Croydon Conservatives?

We hope that you will give all of these posts a read and compare the candidates’ answers on the issues that matter to you.

Here are the answers from the Conservative party’s “local” candidate (where local is adapted to mean he lives in a neighbouring constituency), Andrew Stranack.

What is your vision for Croydon?
Croydon has a lot going for it but it has been in relative decline for at least the last 20 years. The top priority has to be to reverse that decline, to bring more jobs to the town.

We need to make sure that all our schools are as good as the best. We need to improve our already very good transport links – by extending Tramlink to Crystal Palace among other things. And we need to strengthen families and remove the barriers that prevent some people from achieving their potential.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background, where you grew up and went to school and university, your work and family.
I was born at Mayday Hospital in February 1970, but I was an unexpected surprise. I’m an identical twin and my mum was not expecting that! I was christened on my first day of life as I was not expected to live through the night.

Due to lack of oxygen at birth I suffer from Cerebral Palsy. At the age of five I was told I would never walk. Thanks to the amazing work of staff in the NHS I was walking by the age of seven. I went to Elmhurst school in Croydon, followed by Emanuel School in Wandsworth. Then went on to Bournemouth University where I gained a degree in Hospitality Management.

I started working for Croydon Council in 1992 and wrote the council’s first sports and cultural strategy and wrote a lottery bid to Sport England that was awarded £2.8 million to renovate Thornton Heath Leisure Centre.

In 1998 I started volunteering at a church-run youth club on the Monks Hill Estate. Over a couple of years I realised that the policies I was writing at the council were having little impact on the young people I was working with on the estate so in 2000 I gave up my job, sold my house and moved on to the estate.

For the next three years I trained with the church and helped set up and run a number of community services on Monks Hill.

I now help to run a charity called Ment4 based on the London Road in Croydon North that helps young people aged between 14-17 caught up in the criminal justice system and school-excluded pupils. Ment4 provides an intensive 1-2-1 mentoring service that helps the young people set life goals and turn their lives around.

How did you become involved in politics?
In 2004 a young person I was mentoring on the Monks Hill Estate got stabbed to death. It made me realise that my local work wasn’t enough – I needed to get involved in politics to change policy at a national level.

I got involved with the Conservative Heathfield ward committee, and then started to work at the Centre for Social Justice on the “Breakdown” and “Breakthrough” Britain reports. This work lead me to standing for Camberwell and Peckham (the poorest constituency in the UK) in 2010, but moving away from Croydon for a year made me realise my heart was for Croydon and its people.

What are your interests outside politics?

Wilberforce: Stranack’s role model

I have an older brother and sister as well as an identical twin, between them they have produced eight nephews and nieces who I love spending time with. I also have a large church family with over 200 friends. I love watching sport on TV including my football team Tottenham Hotspur and am an avid fan of motor sport, particularly F1.

Who would you describe as the biggest influences on your life and your political outlook
Jesus Christ and William Wilberforce respectively.

What is your favourite part of Croydon?
Thornton Heath Pool – it was such a struggle to get it built working with planners, finance, Sport England and others. I am proud that it has become a successful community hub.

What are you proudest achievements?

Why is your party relevant to the people of Croydon North?
The Conservative party has a proud history of social transformers including Wilberforce and Disraeli to Michael Gove, who is driving up school standards in our cities, and Iain Duncan Smith, who is reforming our welfare system so that it rewards people who do the right thing. It’s at its best when it speaks for people of all backgrounds who share a belief in the importance of family, hard work, aspiration to better ourselves and responsibility for others.

Do you support the incinerator?

I do think that we need to find a solution to our increasing reliance on landfill. I agree that recycling is part of that solution and it’s great to see Croydon’s Conservative council increasing recycling rates to over 45 per cent.

But there will always be items that cannot be recycled. We cannot just keep burying this material, Archbishop Lanfranc school is in desperate need of rebuilding because it was built on a landfill site! A modern energy recovery facility that uses incineration to generate energy could well be the right solution.

But we need to make sure that the emissions wouldn’t pose a threat to human health and look at the traffic implications. That is why I agree with the Mayor of London who has requested that these issues are examined in more detail. I’m happy to wait until the report is published to see what the experts recommend.

What would you do to secure the extension of the tram to Crystal Palace?
I am looking forward to reading the feasibility study that is due to be published by the end of 2012. I then hope to work with the Mayor of London to ensure that the extension to Crystal Palace is moved forward as quickly as possible.

What do you think of the performance of the local council?
Overall I think they have a good record – freezing Council Tax for the last two years and providing good quality services with ever reducing budgets, trebling the amount we recycle, closing low performing schools so that our schools are now better than the national average, start to put right Labour’s neglect of our roads.

But where I disagree with them, got example over their decision to impose disproportionate cuts on the community groups that provide supplementary education, I am prepared to say so.

Campaigning on London Road: Andy Stranack has said that immigration is one of the reasons for Britain’s economic difficulties

What could you do to deal with the huge shortage of school places in north Croydon?
It’s good that we now have a government that is focused on this issue – the last Labour government spent nearly all the education capital budget on refurbishing secondary schools (and we hardly saw a penny of that money in Croydon). I was pleased that Michael Gove committed to more funds for Croydon last week to help the Council expand existing schools and build new ones (as it has done with The Crescent in Selhurst).

With the number of children entering primary schools in Croydon increasing by 25 per cent in the past few years, we are going to need more help and we should also be encouraging free school applications. I’d love to see a Hindu-ethos school in Croydon for example.

Is it a criticism of the Conservatives that London Road traders lack their Riot Act compensation?
I think this is more to do with flawed legislation . The delays have been unacceptable and the government needs to update the law.

What would you do to save the Croydon Supplementary Education Project?
As I’ve already mentioned, I recognise that the council is facing difficult funding decisions at the moment after having its central government grant cut by such a large amount, but I believe it is wrong to cut all funds for this project. If elected I will lobby the council for funding and look for other sources of funding for the project.

Do ethnic minorities and faith groups face discrimination in Croydon?
Absolutely – not as much as there was when I was growing up but there is clear evidence for example that people with a “foreign” name have to apply for significantly more jobs than someone with equivalent qualifications with a “British” name to get an interview.

Stranack receives disability benefit himself, and has worked with Iain Duncan Smith on changing Britain’s policy on welfare benefits

Do you agree with the Croydon Central MP that one hospital A&E should be removed from south London, namely St. Helier’s A&E unit?
I do believe that health services need some consolidation across London. As I grew up with Cerebral Palsy I got some of my treatment at Mayday and some at Chairing Cross Hospital. It would have been easier if all the specialist services were in one location. The “Better Services Better Value” report was written by doctors, nurses and patients and they recommended that Croydon University Hospital not only keep its services but it should also get more senior consultant support which can only be a good thing for residents.

What would you do to protect public services?
We need to have a fundamental review of how public services are run, sometimes the voluntary sector can be the best provider. The new community rights legislation helps create a framework where different providers can create and develop services. People want quality services and want the best provider to manage them.

Ed Miliband has spoken out for decent NHS care for mental health. Do you back such an aim?
Of course. 1 in 4 people will experience problems with their mental health during their lives and the numbers are increasing. We need to understand why as well as providing better care. It’s great to see that Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central, is working so hard in parliament to get mental health discrimination wiped off the lawbooks once and for all. This vital work endorsed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and Rethink demonstrates just how influential a single MP can be.

What is the solution to Croydon’s housing crisis?
Croydon is one of the few councils in London that is currently building social housing and that has to be part of the solution. But ultimately the main problem is the difficulty obtaining a mortgage on reasonable terms coupled with the fact that for years we haven’t built enough homes.

So we need to reform the banks and we need to build more, which is why I support the council’s plans for a significant number of homes to be built in the town centre.

Should the term for abortion be shorter than 24 weeks?
My main concern is that children with disabilities can be aborted after the 24-week limit. I think that this sets a precedent at the very start of life that people with disabilities are second-class citizens. The truth is that every human being is a mixture of abilities and disabilities and we need to be honest about this fact.

Should we have a referendum on our membership of the EU?
The EU costs too much, is too bureaucratic and meddles too much in issues that could be dealt with by national governments, local government or individuals themselves. We want a fresh settlement with Europe and we will need to get the support of the British people for that fresh settlement. A referendum is the obvious way of doing that.

Have you ever been in receipt of disability benefits, and do you receive benefits now?
I currently am in receipt of Disability Living Allowance which I use to help run my car.

How do you justify the government’s current policy on assessing disability benefit recipients?
I think it is right to assess everyone’s ability to work. There is nothing more demoralising than being placed on the “scrapheap” of life. However, if people cannot work they should get generous payments. The current ATOS test needs modifying, something that Iain Duncan Smith has said will happen.

Isn’t it just ridiculous that you say that you will lobby councils to increase funding for the Upper Norwood Library when it’s your Conservative colleagues who are cutting the funding?
Residents from Lambeth, Croydon, Bromley, Southwark and Lewisham all use Upper Norwood Library. I believe that each council should contribute towards the running costs of the facility, I think that there are also a number of other sources that a community-based library could get funding from. Bottom line, the people of Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace deserve a decent library service and we need to make sure that the budget is sufficient.

Are you atypical, as a Tory who cares?
I think the Conservative party has a long tradition for being champions of social justice and caring, you only have to look at Wilberforce’s fight to abolish the slave trade, Shaftesbury’s fight to improve working conditions for the poor or the current government’s commitment to meet our obligations to the poorest people around the world despite the financial mess we are in to see this evidence.

How do you justify spending billions on a replacement for Trident?
The first priority of any government is to protect its people. In a world where a number of countries have nuclear weapons and others are trying to develop them the UK needs to keep a credible deterrent.

What things do you do with the Jubilee Church?
For a number of years I have helped the church set up a variety of community services including youth and kids clubs, relationship and parenting courses and the Croydon CAP debt advice service amongst many other projects.

Are you flattered by Labour calling you “a strong candidate”?
It’s always nice to get compliments whether for me personally or for the energetic campaign we are running. More generally, I am strong believer that though we have different views we should always treat each other with respect.

  • We’ll be posting questionnaires from other candidates over the coming days. Tomorrow: Steve Reed, Labour
  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
  • Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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