Students quiz Labour over AV referendum

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STUDENTS had the chance to quiz a top politician on a range of issues as he came to Sheffield to support Labour’s local election bid and the ‘Yes’ campaign in the Alternative Vote referendum.

The shadow business secretary John Denham, who served as a minister in the Blair and Brown Governments, was accompanied by Labour Central MP Paul Blomfield and the party’s council group leader Julie Dore.

They headed to Sheffield Hallam University’s HUBS students’ union building, on Paternoster Road, to sit around the table with students for a question and answer session.

Caroline Dowd, president of the union, other union officers and students discussed issues including the new fees system.

Mr Denham said: “The council election is likely to be very close here. I know Julie and her colleagues are working very hard for every Labour vote. We believe that this is a chance for voters in Sheffield to send a message to the Government that the public spending cuts are too fast and too deep.

“In Sheffield, Lib Dem councillors have also put the national interests of their party above challenging the Government about local issues, such as the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowance, spending cuts and cancellation of the Forgemasters loan.”

But Mr Denham would give no guarantee over whether Labour would reverse the controversial student fee increases if they re-took power in 2015 - and that he was “not opposed in principle” to the idea of private companies running universities.

He said: “With the fees issue, we would have to look at the situation at the time, particularly the economy.”

Mr Denham said that private firms involved in running universities would need to be ‘tightly regulated’ to protect standards.

Addressing the AV vote, he said he was calling on people to vote ‘yes’. Mr Denham said: “It’s a fairer system which prevents so many MPs having safe seats. I respect my colleagues in the party who are against the change but I believe too many people don’t think their votes are taken seriously.”