Mathew Ross-Francome is the candidate for Freedom Alliance. No Lockdowns. No Curfews for the Torfaen seat in the Senedd Election on Thursday 6 May 2021. Cwmbran Life readers suggested some questions to go the candidates. Here are Mathew’s answers. Visit Cwmbran Life to read the answers from the others who took part. Visit Torfaen Council’s website to see the full list of candidates.
Q. Very simple question to start, why should voters in Torfaen put the X in the box next to your name?
A. I was born, brought up and still live in Torfaen. I have been lucky to have a strong network of friends and family with a mixture of ages that live throughout Torfaen. Currently, I have a full-time career which I really enjoy and haven’t previously had aspirations to work in politics. However, I cannot sit back and watch mental health issues rise and the local economy collapse, as I care about other people, especially those local to where I live.
Q. There are many ‘play parks’ in Torfaen, but they are such basic provision. The newest one local to me has a wobbly pirate ship and a stack of logs. This counts as a play park? It has been a hard year entertaining children and keeping them physically healthy, play parks are more important than this basic provision. What plans do you have to add more equipment to current play parks and increase the quality of our local open spaces to encourage play and exercise for a generation that is happy in front of a TV/computer, when the alternative entertainment is a wobbly pirate ship and a stack of logs?
A. I am not familiar with the park with a Wobbly Ship and a Stack of Logs, so I would need to look into this further. However, it is vital children have adequate space that is safe to play, learn new social and motor skills (movement/action). Children should be encouraged to play outdoors and it would be ideal to provide the necessary equipment to suitable areas. Unfortunately this cannot happen over-night, so until then I think it would be worthwhile to show parents fun games children can do with no or little equipment. I would be happy to show parents and children personally how we can use our imagination to have fun.
Q. Will you push for a huge increase in support for mental health awareness in schools? This is more than the ‘wellbeing’ buzzword.
A. This is a very important question and is one of the main reasons I wanted to become a candidate. Mental Health issues are dangerously high in Torfaen for all ages. I think a lot of children and parents will need support in future. I would like to see the appropriate measures to facilitate this. If possible maybe a breakfast club before school or/and a regular free lesson to encourage dialogue, whilst promoting initiative whilst learning fundamental skills such as gardening, growing vegetables and fruit, plus sewing/repairing damaged clothes etc. I want children of Torfaen to be educated in fundamental life skills along with being academic. The long lasting psychological effects these restrictions can be damaging. Therefore, I want support along with guidance to be provided for children plus parents on how we can best minimise the damaging effects.
Q. With the amazing support over the last year these professionals have provided pupils around Wales, will you support a pay rise for our amazing Teaching Assistants?
A. Previously I worked as a Teaching Assistant in a Primary School and Secondary School children with challenging behaviour. Being a Teaching Assistant can be very challenging and rewarding in helping children plus Teachers, as I know their job is also difficult. Although, I am aware the salary for a Teaching Assistant needs to be reviewed, as it is now a very important job in providing the necessary education. For example, when I worked full-time as a Teaching Assistant, I also had three additional part-time paid jobs with one voluntary. I know that was extreme, though at the time I enjoyed all of them.
Being a former Teaching Assistant, I recognise how vital they are and underpaid. Therefore, the most mutually beneficial compromise, would be to up-skill the Teaching Assistants, into practical activities and skills. Such as counselling, which will be vital. The lockdowns potentially caused mental health issues. I would like to address that first and employ counsellors on a full-time basis. As the impact might create catastrophic mental health issues later in life. Also children should know the basics, such as gardening, how to pick up and carry loads, nutrition, finance, a variety of trades, how to change a car tyre etc. Adult life has taught me these skills but wouldn’t it be great if children are confident in each skill. Children need to have a good understanding of fundamental skills adults take for granted. Some children are not fortunate to be taught by a parent. So how about we give our future children all these skills needed in life. It would be less of a shock with the transition to leaving school. Plus I would really love for some of today’s children one day being self-sufficient and innovators of the future.
However, I would like to think if Teaching Assistants can upskill on the basics of the previous skills mentioned, then a pay rise is justified without question? Though that list is not exhausted and will be added to at a later date. It could be set up something like a pay rise for each new skill? So then we would have an educational workforce with a variety of skills. So everyone would be learning and could be fun.
Moreover, this would obviously have another positive effect on employment opportunities. As the current Teaching Assistants would need to attend college courses. Which should create jobs in our colleges?
Q. Do you think there is a need for clinics to combat the number of people suffering from Long Covid? Many of us have been unable to work or have lost jobs. The advice from doctors only seems to be “it takes time” but no investigation into whether the symptoms we are experiencing are associated to Covidand /or have any lasting damage.
A. More research is needed for people suffering from Long Covid, on how best to provide suitable treatment. Although, the psychological effects will potentially be damaging, so it is vital that this is also addressed.
Q. Is the council tax ever likely to be reduced as it’s a lot to pay for what services we actually get. Eg change to the fortnightly collection but no reduction in bills. We tend to take most of our own rubbish to the tip.
A. This is a question I will need to look into further before I can answer appropriately, as I have not access to costs. Although, I believe the salary with refuse collecting has risen in recent years and the stigma associated has lowered or vanished. Therefore, I am not sure how we can balance both or maybe look into alternatives on how we can reduce waste.
Q. Are you prepared to take a lead on action for climate change and tackle the important issues? What do you think the important issues are in respect to climate change and the environment?
A. Lowering, carbon emissions are important and so are the available alternatives. Therefore, I would like to promote more walking activities with children and parents. Unfortunately with logistics it is not possible for everyone but we could set up walking clubs, perhaps some parents could park further away from schools to walk the remaining set distance with a walking clubs at each school. Also I would like to improve public transport.
Q. How do you plan to reduce littering and remove what is already there on the streets and highways?
A. Littering is literally a big dislike of mine. There is way too much litter on the streets of Torfaen and this has to stop. The walking club could partly help with litter picking. Also more pride and ownership in specific areas could be offered, with maybe a reward system for the top ten cleanest places in Torfaen. Perhaps people would think differently if they received a fine or given the option of litter picking an area.
Q. What do you personally do in your life to ensure you are leaving the smallest environmental footprint on our planet?
A. I walk when possible, rarely waste food or let it go out of date, regularly use Bags For Life. I haven’t watched TV in nearly three years and try to read often. I often exercise in a gym studio I made that doesn’t need electricity during the day and that is when I exercise.
Q. How do you plan to support local produce businesses to reduce plastic and carbon emissions?
A. It is important for businesses to recycle when it is possible. I would like to look further into the cost involved with plastic and fossil fuel alternatives.
Q. Why is it that we (Constituents) only get asked opinions and greeted with smiles and false promises when there are local elections or general elections?
A. Unfortunately I cannot answer why this has happened previously. Though I can say is that accessibility to raise issues on a regular basis will be offered with myself or a colleague, with a realistic and transparent plan on how we could improve issues in Torfaen.
Q. Do you think Wales should: a. pursue independence; b. reverse devolution; c. maintain devolution?
A. My priority will be in helping Torfaen become happier, safer place to live, work and relax. To do that I need to win this election and if I am successful I will focussed on Torfaen.
Q. How important do you think it is to live in the constituency you represent to truly understand the needs of the people in the three very different towns of Torfaen?
A. I am very proud to live in Torfaen and I believe it is vital to be living in Torfaen to emotionally connect with the residents, what is important to them, what I can see for myself that needs improving. In fact I believe all candidates should live in the Constituency, as this is where they are known to be trusted or not.
Q. What are your passions on the decriminalisation of drugs in Wales?
A. Tragically I have lost friends through drug use. However the word drug is very vague, as alcohol, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals are also drugs with can cause injury or death. Even Caffeine is a drug and can cause the heart to have irregular beats etc. Although, some drugs that are being researched for their health benefits, such as the psychoactive ingredients in cannabis and mushrooms are being researched in the USA for their potential treatment of Coronavirus, Cancers and dementia. Therefore, research is needed in the UK to establish if these natural ingredients can be beneficial to humanity.
Q. Do you support the idea of a Universal basic income?
A. I support the idea of people having an income from Torfaen such as Universal Basic Income for a period of time. After a pre-designated period people could be offered a salary increase in exchange for working in Torfaen, such as litter picking etc. However I would like to work with businesses on apprenticeship schemes as well.