George Osborne and Ed Balls took part in a live Q&A on Sky News this afternoon, responding to questions about housing, employment and the economy.
However, rather than going head to head, the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor took it in turns to answer pre-selected questions from the “Ask the Chancellors” audience, which consisted mainly of small business owners.
Osborne received his toughest grilling on zero-hours contracts. He claimed that rather than bringing in regulation, his party would create more full-time jobs and economic growth to encourage businesses to take on apprentices and new staff. Sharnah Wynn from Redditch challenged him by saying: “The Conservatives are banging the drum about more people being employed than ever before, but what kinds of jobs are they actually getting?” She added that most people on zero-hours contracts are actually women over the age of 60 rather than young people looking for internships and apprenticeships.
Asked about the same topic, Balls said that although Labour would not impose a ban on zero-hours contracts, they would bring in a law to ensure that after six months employees must be offered a proper contract.
On the lack of affordable housing, Balls pledged that Labour would deliver an extra 200,000 homes a year by 2020 whilst the Chancellor called for more house building on brownfield sites. Balls was also asked difficult questions on Labour’s plans for a mansion tax and on deficit reduction, with one member of the audience asking “When are you going to do the big stuff?”.
Balls afterwards expressed his frustration at Osborne’s refusal to engage directly in a debate with him. David Cameron has similarly been accused of avoiding a head to head confrontation with Ed Miliband. Instead, they will take part in separate Q&A sessions on Thursday, a seven-way debate on April 2 and a special edition of Question Time with Nick Clegg on April 30.