Oxford West and Abingdon: Nicola Blackwood, Conservative Party

How has the campaign been going so far & how has being in such a marginal constituency affected the campaign?
In this constituency, every vote counts. I won this seat in 2010 with a majority of just 176, and it has been an honour and a privilege to represent Oxford West & Abigndon, my home, for the past five years.
I have made sure I am running an inclusive and positive campaign; not only am I going to several hustings in every part of the constituency, organising campaign-led events, and responding personally to each and every person who writes to me, but I am also going out and speaking with residents who may not necessarily have usually engaged with politics. I’ve been to schools, GP surgeries, care homes, and have been out knocking on doors in every corner of the constituency to ensure I speak with as many people as possible. I know it is crucial I speak with students as well as pensioners, carers as well as patients, consumers as well as business owners, and everyone deserves to have their voice heard.
When I was elected this country was on the brink of bankruptcy, but now we are creating a thousand jobs per day nationally and youth unemployment has fallen by 76% in this constituency alone. I was clear from the outset that my campaign would be entirely positive, and would not only outline my record as a champion for this are but also set out a clear plan to make Oxford West & Abingdon an even better place to live, work, study and raise a family.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the scale of support we have seen throughout the campaign, whether it’s activists coming out in all weathers to canvass, deliver leaflets or people who want to plaster their homes in posters! We’ve literally had hundreds of people giving up time to take part in the local campaign over the last few months. Only a small proportion of these are what you might consider ‘traditional Conservative Party members’. Some people are coming out because we’ve worked together on a local campaign, like opposing Doric or saving Northmoor Weir, others may have got to know me through a local charity or business I have supported over the years, still others may have come to me for help in the past. And on the doorstep, more and more people are saying they have never voted Conservative before, but this time they will because they want an MP who they can trust to stand up for them regardless of party politics.
With just a matter of days to go now until May 7th, I want to continue this drive to ensure we reach out to everyone and get our message across.
What would you be able to offer Oxford West & Abingdon that other candidates can’t?
I am a truly local MP, I have lived in Oxford for decades and many of my happiest memories take place here. I don’t need to be convinced of the importance of protecting the character and integrity of our area. My record over the past five years as your MP proves I listen closely to local concerns and work hard to give a voice to the voiceless, bring investment to our area and help our economy to recover.
My jobs fairs have offered thousands of jobs to local jobseekers and the £1.6bn City & Growth Deals I helped secure will generate 24,000 good new jobs by 2021.
But I am clear that better skills training is essential if local young people to benefit from these opportunities. That’s why since 2010, I’ve backed Abingdon & Witney College to get Government funding for a £19m upgrade and fought to ensure their funding is protected. Now they are ranked No 1 in the country for 16-18 year old apprenticeships.
I’m proud that even while tough budgetary decisions have had to be taken, the resource made available to universities for teaching students has grown from around £8 billion in 2010/11 to around £10 billion in 2015/16. We now have a record number of students going to university, and at the same time we are finally giving vocational education the status it deserves. We must continue with this drive to ensure our higher education system is on a sustainable footing in order to continue providing our world-class education provision.
As I promised before the last election, I have also fought for the infrastructure essential to make local growth sustainable. Already I’ve secured hundreds of millions for A34 improvements at Botley, Peartree and Lodge Hill and helped make the Oxford & Abingdon Flood Defence Scheme (protecting 7,600 homes & businesses) a reality.
But I know there’s more to do and that’s why I want to be re-elected so I can continue working for our area.
Going forwards, I have a clear Plan for Oxford West & Abingdon:
1.            CUT congestion on the A34 – which is perennially at capacity and yet had had no investment for 25 years. Thousands have backed my petition for an urgent, long-term solution to A34 congestion, including Peartree, Botley and Lodge Hill, the most jammed junctions in Oxfordshire.
2.            Good jobs & skills for young people – Since 2010, 2,240 apprentices have started and youth unemployment is down 76%. I will ensure that the 500 apprenticeships promised by 2018 are delivered.
3.            Infrastructure FIRST – I support more affordable homes in our impossibly expensive area but I know that some development is inappropriate and so I am insisting that vital new infrastructure is built first.
4.            Fighting for vital research – I will keep fighting to fund our elite researchers as they tackle today’s great global challenges & ensure the promised £8m Oxford Tech College & £4m Abingdon Advanced Engineering Centre are delivered for the next generation
5.             Demanding Flood Defences – I have fought hard for flood defences since the 2007 floods. I am committed to ensuring that the £140m Oxford & AbingdonFlood Defence Scheme is delivered and locals are consulted.
6.            Protecting NHS Funding – My parents have both worked in the NHS for decades, I know how important our health system is and I am insisting on £8bn NHS funding and increases every year in the next Parliament.
My promise to local residents is that I will fight for your interests and represent you, regardless of party politics, as I have done for the last five years.
What do you think are currently the biggest issues faced by students within Oxford, and how would you try to address this?
In my experience, I’ve found that the quality and nature of Higher Education alongside good job prospects are big issues for students locally. We must have an accessible and open higher education system, that’s why I’m pleased that not only are a record number of students going to university, but also a record number from a disadvantaged background and including at the most prestigious universities. We’ve also ended the cap on student numbers which means universities are able to admit more students than ever before.
Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue the career they wish to, whether that be through a university course, a masters or PhD, an apprenticeship or traineeship, or straight in to the world of work. We have created these opportunities with hard work over the past five years, and now a much more sustainable funding system for higher education has been introduced. It is absolutely right that students pay no upfront fees, and only pay fees back when they can afford to. Graduates only start repaying once they earn £21,000. This means that a graduate earning £25,000 will pay back £1 a day for a university education. In fact, the OECD concluded recently that ‘the UK is one of the few countries that have figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance, and the investments pay off individuals and taxpayers’.
I’ve found that, looking forwards, students want to know they can get a good job and make a good life for themselves. I am proud to say that youth unemployment has fallen by 76% in this constituency, and I know that local people don’t want to see that put at risk following this election. Nationally, youth unemployment is down by nearly 200,000 since the last election and this picture is in stark contrast to what we saw under the previous Government, under which youth unemployment rose by over 40%.
Steps taken by the Government to ensure businesses are able to create jobs and expand mean we are creating job security, and thanks to our growing economy the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that living standards will be higher in 2015 than in 2010 by an average of £900 per family and grow strongly every year for the rest of the decade.
Students are also disproportionately affected by the sky high housing prices in Oxford City. We have a chronically under building in the UK – in every decade since the 60s we have build fewer homes until, under Labour, that level fell to the lowest level since the 1920s. It’s not down to one Government or Party or policy but it must now be addressed immediately. That is why I support building more affordable housing as a priority, why I campaign for more infrastructure to support it and why I back policies like Help to Buy and Starter Homes which will make home ownership possible for those on lower incomes. Building more affordable houses will help the private rented sector too but steps need to be taken to protect tenants from rogue landlords. That is why I co-sponsored the cross-party Tenancy (Reform) Bill to outlaw retaliatory evictions. The Bill did not pass but the Government took up the measures proposed in the Bill and the powers to protect tenants from rogue landlords are already being used by Oxford City Council.
How would you respond to people of your constituency who feel that the way you have previously voted on certain issues within Parliament (e.g. on gay marriage and tuition fees) is not representative of their beliefs?
When I am voting in Parliament I always take account of the views of my constituents. I have a consistently bulging post bag, I hold regular local surgeries, and I speak with thousands of local residents on the doorstep and so I am always available to listen to your views.
I grew up in this constituency, it is my home, and so I have a shared understanding of many of the issues facing local people including the changing face of our area.
Of course there are many occasions when many constituents contact me on an issue but have completely opposing views and it is the challenge of representation to find a way to take very different perspectives and experiences into account when voting and representing residents. I have always taken my responsibility as your champion with the utmost seriousness; listening carefully to all views and considering each side of the argument before deciding how to vote.
What can your party offer students that other parties can’t?
 As well as a sustainable higher education system and access to good jobs, young people want to know that the Government has a strong economic plan and that it is delivering fairness in the tax system and ensuring our key public services are protected.
Conservatives have always said that until the economy began to recover only small steps on important measures like lowering taxes and help for first time buyers on to the housing ladder could be taken, but now we are the fastest growing major economy in the world and we can deliver the changes that will make a real difference. I’m proud that employment has fallen so dramatically in this constituency since 2010, tens of thousands of local people have now seen their taxes cut, and thousands of new businesses have started up but there is so much more we can do to improve the lives of local residents and students regardless of background.
Trying to govern with a large deficit is like trying to govern with one hand tied behind your back. No Government can promise to protect its public services if it is spending more on debt interest than education and has no plan to fix the problem. You only have to look at Greece to find a prime example of this. In 2010 our deficit was as bad as the Greek deficit, since then Greece have failed to take action to fix the problems in their national economy, now they face mass unemployment, they are unable to pay their civil servants and have had to cut their health budget by 14%. Here in the UK, although we have had to make difficult decisions to cut our deficit by half in the last five years, due to the economic recovery we have seen we have still been able to protect NHS, Education and International Development spending.
I’m proud to say we have increased the NHS budget by over £7 billion during the last five years and there are now 9,000 more doctors and 5,000 more nurses in the NHS nationally. As the daughter of NHS workers, the NHS will always be a top priority for me and I will fight to ensure that we continue to make real-terms funding increases in every year of the next Parliament. The Conservatives have been clear on our plan to invest the crucial £8 billion set out in Simon Steven’s Five Year Forward View.
I also believe we must open up opportunities to all young people no matter what their background. For this reason, it is essential we deliver more skills training and higher quality education so I will hold my party to their Manifesto commitments to protect Education funding in the next Parliament – ensuring that there is a good or outstanding school place for every child in the UK and that we deliver 3 million apprenticeships in the next Parliament.
I firmly believe we cannot afford to throw away the progress and hard work of the last five years. We can, and will have, managed to do this while protecting our NHS and lifting the lowest paid out of tax. For students right now, we are making universities more accessible and better funded. University applications are up and 58% of last year’s Oxford university entrants were from state schools. For students’ future the Conservative Party offers the competence of economic recovery, the stability of a regular pay cheque and the prospect of home ownership.