Balls admits Labour must prepare to take 'tough messages' on board

ED BALLS said yesterday that there were "tough messages" for Labour to take on board after he was quizzed at a public discussion.

As part of the party's biggest review of policy for nearly 20 years, the shadow chancellor accepted questions from around 40 people in Nottingham on some of their biggest concerns.

Members of the public who attended the event at the Embankment Centre were split into around eight groups and were presented with a pamphlet titled New Politics, Fresh Ideas, and asked to come up with questions for Mr Balls.

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Many of the questions centred on healthcare, education, finance and pensions. One issue raised was about banks and how to overhaul the banking system.

A member of one of the groups said to him: "We shouldn't be frightened of the financial sector, and the Government should not be frightened to thoroughly and completely transform the banking system, because that's what's making the poor poorer and the rich richer."

Mr Balls said there was "no doubt" regulation was not tough enough, but also said there needed to be a balance between banks lending to each other and the fact that people needed pensions, mortgages and savings.

He was also tackled by Zenn Athar, a 19-year-old student at Nottingham Trent University, who asked him to promise Labour would put in its manifesto that it would abolish tuition fees.

Mr Balls told him: "I left school at 18 and went to university. My sister left school at 16 and worked for 21 years in the Midland Bank. She paid taxes from the age of 16, I went to uni for free back in the early 1980s - I don't think that's fair. I think it's right that people make a contribution if they go to university because they get much more education, they earn more in later life, I don't see why my sister should subsidise people."

After the discussion, Mr Balls said the main message was one of fairness and that people "don't want to live in a society where the rich just get richer and the poor get poorer".