A new Parliamentary Prospective Candidate (PPC) has been chosen by the Liberal Democrats to challenge Conservative MP Andrew Jones at the next general election. Reporter RUBY KITCHEN went to meet Helen Flynn.
“It’s all very well being a lobbyist, but the only way to get anything done is to be on the inside.”
Mum Helen Flynn is determined to make a change. A school governor, businesswoman, and town councillor, she already has a hand in many local decisions.
And this week, as she is picked as the person to challenge the district’s Conservative seat, she has pledged to fight to represent Harrogate and Knaresborough.
“I want to take this seat back,” she said. “We had a very good Lib Dem MP here before, in Phil Willis.
“He was a very strong local voice for our area. I do believe I can do the same.”
An avid campaigner on education and transport issues, Mrs Flynn has featured prominently on the Lib Dem scene in Harrogate in recent years.
Having moved to the area from Hertfordshire in 2006, she has anchored herself in the local community.
A town councillor and shadow member for finances and resources on Harrogate Borough Council, she represents the Nidd Valley ward.
She sits on the board of the Harrogate International Centre (HIC), on the North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) police and crime panel, and as an elected member of the My Schools forum. But it is in her role as a parent, wife, and businesswoman, she says, that her strengths lie.
“Trust is really important in politics, and knowing that you are being listened to,” she said. “We need politicians with life experience, who can understand what people are going through.”
Mrs Flynn, now 50, was born and brought up in Wakefield. She went away to Cambridge University to read Classics, following a career in book publishing which took her, for a spell, to New York.
On her return to the UK she settled in Hertfordshire, setting up a retail and mail order company.
But in 2006 she returned to Yorkshire to raise her two boys. Mrs Flynn now lives in Darley, on a smallholding she calls her “hobby farm”, with her two teenage sons, aged 15 and 17, and her husband, with whom she co-owns a financial services business in Harrogate. But in recent years, she says she has dedicated herself to community and voluntary roles.
“I’m a real person - with real life experience,” she said. “I’ve brought up a family, I’m married, I’m a businesswoman. I can relate to real issues which are affecting people.” Mrs Flynn is a former parent governor at Harrogate Grammar School and chair of governors at Hookstone Chase School.
“I really came into politics from being a school governor, when I realised quite how much Government policy impacts on schools,” she said.
“There were some initiatives that I felt didn’t quite make sense at this level. I got involved in politics as a lobbyist on education. From then it’s been one step after another.”
Mrs Flynn will stand in 2015 against Conservative MP Andrew Jones, who secured the seat in 2010 with the narrowest majority in the history of the constituency.
Just 1,039 votes tipped the balance for the Conservatives, after more than 13 years with the Liberal Democrats.
Mrs Flynn was then standing as PPC for the Lib Dems in the Skipton and Ripon constituency. She took just 32 per cent of the vote after a short four-month, Conservative Julian Smith’s 51 per cent securing him the seat. But, she says, this time she has longer to prepare. She’s ready, and determined.
And, after being voted in at a hustings on Sunday, Liberal Democrat members have shown their trust in her to take back the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat.
“I’m enjoying being a councillor, and I really believe in local democracy” she said. “We have so much to shout about in Harrogate and Knaresborough, I can be a real ambassador and put it on the map.”
In the hotseat - Helen Flynn on local issues
Planning - “People are very unhappy with the inconsistencies in the way that planning policy is applied. I’s their hopes and dreams. But it’s very difficult for people to understand - that’s seen as a barrier and a big hurdle. We need a more simplified process.”
Council office move - “This proposed office move isn’t good value for money. We do need to upgrade office accommodation, without a shadow of a doubt, but there are far more cost effective ways of doing that. It could be a fabulous space.”
Recycling - “The introduction of wheelie bins seems now to be working quite well. But I would like us to be doing more recycling. I would like us to set more ambitious targets.”
Council funding - “The big problem we have got is district funding, which is getting cut every year until 2019. We have to focus very hard on modernising, changing our ways of working to deliver the same service to the taxpayer without having to increase council tax. One way of doing this would be to look at spin-offs, for example the Hydro pool run by its employees, or more flexible ways of working so we don’t require as much council space.”
Transport and traffic - “Harrogate’s roads are massively logged. There are pots of Government funding we could apply for. I would like to do more to make Harrogate cycling friendly, and with the Tour de France coming next year, there is a real opportunity.”
Housing - “We need more housing. But it’s about how we plan for housing that’s important, how we can minimise the impact on the community. Perhaps we need to look at the powers that we have through the Localism Act to have more of a say.”
Education - “We have got really good schools in Harrogate. I would like to see them all working together for the benefit of all of the children. That is already happening in places, I would like to see more of it.”
HS2 - “People think the HS2 is about speed - it’s not, it’s about capacity. The East Coast line is full. If we are going to build another train line, who not make it high speed? What worries me is they haven’t made the most of local networks. Let’s make sure, before we sign on the dotted line with HS2, we’ve got the right route. I would like to see it serve the region more.”