Norfolk

Local Elections: Child poverty focus in Great Yarmouth

The high rate of child poverty in Great Yarmouth is not going to reduce until the seaside town's employment prospects have improved, political leaders have declared prior to this week's local election.

In January the Campaign to End Child Poverty (CECP) said figures showed a quarter of all children in the town are in families on out-of-work benefits.

In Nelson ward, that figure is 49%, showing a reduction of just 1.5% in seven years.

Leaders and spokesmen for the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Great Yarmouth, said improving the number of full-time jobs in the town, which relies on its seasonal boom, is one of the best ways to tackle the problem.

But each candidate believes their party offers the best overall solution.

The Tories have controlled the borough council since 2000 and currently have 23 seats compared with Labour's 15, and there is one independent Labour member.

Thirteen seats are up for election on Thursday, with Labour needing to gain only five from the Tories to win control.

For the first time UKIP has a candidate standing in each of Yarmouth's 13 wards, compared with just three representing the Lib Dems.

'Business-friendly'

Steve Ames, leader of the Conservative-run Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said the town has to make the most of the offshore wind industry, which could create thousands of local jobs in the next few years.

Official statistics show 6.9% of the town's workforce are currently out of work, compared with 4.5% in Norwich and 3.5% in King's Lynn.

Image caption Yarmouth's £30m casino is due to be built next to the town's pleasure beach

"We're focussing on employment, which to my mind is the way of pushing the community forward," said Mr Ames.

"If we take advantage of the full offshore energy offer that's coming our way I think many, many jobs will be created. Not necessarily just offshore, but in the support industries in catering and the supply chain. I can see nothing but benefit coming."

Mr Ames added local Tory policies aimed at tackling child poverty were more "realistic" than the other political groups, stating they seemed to be fighting the election with national issues.

Trevor Wainwright, leader of the council's Labour group, agreed employment opportunities were key, highlighting the importance of the town's large casino, which could create jobs in its construction and operation.

"Should we get control we would immediately start talking to local businesses to see what we could do to assist in getting these jobs into Yarmouth," said Mr Wainwright.

"We've also got the Enterprise Zones which are now up and running, so we would be going out there to talk to businesses to attract them.

"I know everything takes time, but we would be more proactive in getting out there... to get those worthwhile 52-week jobs."

Gordon Dean, spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in Great Yarmouth, said he believed his party's "business-friendly" approach would win over voters.

"It's fairly clear that Labour's tax and credit schemes made no difference to the amount of child poverty and the Tories have basically ignored the issue completely," he said.

Image caption Thirteen seats are up for election in Great Yarmouth on Thursday

"Certainly we'd be more friendly to business than Labour would be and I do think that helping people like Albert Jones [Large casino licensee] and other people expand their businesses in Yarmouth would lead to more employment.

"On the other hand we'd probably be more charity-friendly and public-sector friendly than the Tories. There are a lot of charities helping people in Yarmouth and they'll need support."

Matthew Smith, leader of UKIP in Great Yarmouth, said the high level of immigration in the town is stopping local people getting back into work and believes UKIP is the only party that can tackle this head-on.

"The big problem in the town is the high level of EU immigration and there aren't enough job vacancies," said Mr Smith. "The problem is that local government can't tackle this a great deal - the problem is national government.

"Local councillors can't do too much about it, but by voting UKIP people can express their anger at the old parties and say we want change."

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