Conservative parliamentary candidate Karl McCartney welcomed the Minister for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey to Lincoln on Monday (December 2) as he continued his campaign to become the city’s MP.
Mrs Coffey spoke to Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines before continuing on to Scunthorpe.
She said the election was “really important” in getting Brexit done but said ministers would have preferred it earlier as she supported her colleague while also addressing fairer investment and funding in the county, NHS employment, benefits and Universal Credit.
Here are five things we learned:
“Parliament is paralysed” over Brexit
Mrs Coffey said “Getting Brexit Done” was important in order for the Government to move forward with other major issues .
“It is actually stopping Parliament from doing a lot more work on other issues which is really important to people whether that’s health, schools, law and order or the environment.
“Candidly, once we get over this initial hurdle, and then it will allow the freedom to make sure that Parliament can really focus on people’s priorities.”
She said it would also unlock new tax decisions, and gave examples such as tampons or solar panels, enabling investment into “key priority” areas for the country.
Leaving the EU will unlock investment
She praised a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund, set to replace EU funding for communities and charities, as a “real opportunity” for Lincoln and Lincolnshire to get a fair share of cash.
It follows the closures and near misses of companies such as British Steel, Bang and Olfsen, Toys R Us, Pound World and more over the past few years.
“At the moment [EU funding] has all sorts of rules attached to it, all sorts of barriers,” she said.
“We can decide those rules on where we’re going to try and support so we level up the region. So not all the focus will be on London and the Southeast.”
She took the opportunity to praise Mr McCartney for “getting investment into the area”, giving examples of trains, the Eastern Bypass and flood defences.
NHS needs to be more flexible as an employer
Mrs Coffey praised the new University Medical School at Lincoln University and said it will help “make Lincoln and Lincolnshire a magnet” for people coming to study.
However, she called on the NHS to do more to retain staff in its People Plan.
“At times the NHS is not a very good employer, not flexible, and there are challenges of what we need to address whether it’s in the ambulance service, whether it’s about how GPs are supported in retaining their medical and clinical staff as well as the administrative support.
“I think the NHS People Plan is going to be a key part of how making sure working in the NHS really does feel valued.”
Mr McCartney added that a new School of Pharmacy also played its part, and indicated that his party’s Government would be able to help medical services retain staff across the county.
Encouraging people to get help with benefits and work
Mrs Coffey said people need help with their benefits as soon as possible and referred to an “investment of £50 million in Citizens Advice”. The DWP handed the Universal Credit service over the Citizens Advice in April 2019 alongside funding after a catalogue of payment issues.
It follows reports earlier this year that the number of food vouchers issued in the city had risen by 65%, and other stories about Universal Credit delays.
Mrs Coffey said people who needed help were often “leaving it a bit too long starting to get into debt, when actually they can get a cash advance from day two, if they are really struggling.”
She said there were conditions when people wanted support and could work in order to provide value for tax payers money, but added: “I want to encourage people to go and get help as quickly as possible from Jobcentre Plus and if the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good conduit or a good way to help people achieve that then great”
“Usually there’s no conditions asked in trying to get our support and that’s a positive thing for those people who need that. But I really want to encourage people to come to Jobcentre Plus as quickly as possible so we can get them the help and get them into the system straightaway.”
“No real progress” in the last two-and-a-half years
Mrs Coffey said she had come to support Mr McCartney: “I haven’t really seen any progress in the last two and a half years. And I think Karl is a man who’s committed to being a person who’s a great champion for the city.
“We’re both Liverpool supporters as well,” added Mr McCartney.
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