The Federation of Small Businesses held our pre-election hustings event in Barrow-in-Furness recently to allow members the opportunity to quiz candidates from all the main parties over their policies and priorities for the economy.
Branch Chairman Phil Collier had paved the way with a live broadcast on BBC North West Tonight the previous week, with the constituency having being identified as a key marginal seat.
Labour held the seat in 2015, but with a small majority. As in many constituencies UKIP finished third, behind the Conservatives.
Three of the five candidates also contested the seat in 2015, and having come from a student hustings elsewhere earlier in the day, all five had seemingly got to know each other fairly well since the snap election was called.
Over 40 members and non-members attended the debate and with the FSB manifesto video Small Business, Big Ambition setting the scene, the event got underway.
Each candidate was held to a strict five minute introduction by Chair for the evening Furness College Principal Andrew Wren.
Audience participation was strong, with a series of questions focusing on the importance of policy on Trident to the area, where BAE Systems submarine-manufacturing shipyard is a huge employer in the area, and when the supply chain is included, provides the vast majority of private sector jobs.
Taxation policy, retaining our talent in the area and infrastructure were topics which both audience members and candidates were keen to focus on.
Candidates suggested that part of the problem with policy-making in terms of impact on small firms was that most politicians had no understanding of what it was like to work in a small business, which prompted a curveball question from one local journalist of ‘What was your first job, and what was the most important thing you learned from it?’.
It was a question that drew a pause from the panel, who had in the main been perfecting their knowledge of their respective manifesto pledges ahead of the event, and were caught a little off guard at first.
The use of #fsbfurness helped to garner further questions from the audience and some interesting, entertaining and informative attendee feedback.
With time running out but the audience with further questions, the candidates agreed to extend the meeting by 15 minutes, and most were true to their word in agreeing to give brief answers to questions!
As the event closed, attendees mingled with candidates and there was a sense that while many voters were still undecided, they were feeling better informed, while candidates were grateful for the opportunity to put forward their views and priorities.
Labour candidate John Woodcock was re-elected two days later, but with the slimmest of majorities of just 209 votes, confirming just what a key seat Barrow-in-Furness has been in 2017.