My major focus this week has been on how we can support Scunthorpe Hospital staff to turn our hospital around. All four Northern Lincolnshire MPs met with Health Minister Philip Dunne to press him to do all he can to give Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospital Trust the help it needs. I spoke to the new Chief Executive, Peter Reading who showed an impressive grasp of the challenge he has taken on. And I met with Jim Mackey, Chief Executive of NHS Improvement, the body charged to do all it can to provide the necessary support to square things up. Everyone is making the right noises. Time will tell if they can turn their good intentions into actions that impact positively on outcomes for patients and staff. Anything else is not acceptable! As Jim MacKey said it’s important MPs keep asking the right questions and are impatient for the necessary change in performance to happen. We owe that to our constituents, the hospital’s patients.
I continued arguing for fairer 16-19 funding at Education Questions and was rewarded with a poor answer from the Skills Minister, who is beginning to look out of her depth. We had a good meeting of the All Party Group for Sixth Form Colleges - another opportunity to strengthen the cross-party campaign. Locally it was good to visit Huntcliff Academy and thank Sue Bond for her brilliant service as head teacher since 2002 as she approaches her retirement. It was good to meet so many enthusiastic students and staff.
There was great enthusiasm about all things sugar at Slate Farm. I joined representatives of British Sugar (who make silver spoon sugar) and NFU Sugar to learn more about how important sugar beet is to local farmers like Robert Borrill. It was fascinating to hear about the opportunities and challenges facing sugar growers and manufacturers. There are 9,500 jobs directly linked to sugar production in the UK; most in the east of England, including our area. And recent surveys show that most people don’t realise that 60% of our sugar comes from UK grown sugar beet.
Finally it was good to catch up with Ongo and learn about how they are planning for the introduction of Universal Credit. They share my concern that there is a real risk that it will plunge more people into debt. Indeed research published over the weekend shows that is exactly what has happened so far. With the bigger roll out happening next month it is crucial that everyone works together to minimise the risk to people who move on to it. So I was furious when in answer to my written parliamentary question the Government confirmed that Conservative North Lincolnshire Council is the lowest spender of its Discretionary Housing Payments in the country. This is exactly what could be used to help tenants who get themselves into temporary trouble. I was pleased that when I raised it with senior council officers they appeared to take on board the need to have another look at what is going on. Let’s hope that results in using the money for what it’s intended – helping North Lincolnshire tenants.