Sarah Champion (Rotherham, Labour)
My first job was in Rotherham and for the past four years I have been proud to manage Bluebell Wood children’s hospice, also in Rotherham. In that role, I have had the pleasure of supporting many local families. However, Bluebell, like all hospices, is a charity and, like everyone else, we are victims of the economic downturn. I am grateful that there is currently a national review of all palliative care funding as it seems deeply unfair that children’s hospices get no statutory support.
We are facing big challenges to protect the NHS in Rotherham. I am appalled that 750 jobs in our local hospital are under threat, under a Government who promised not to cut the NHS. The people of Rotherham can be assured that, as their MP, I will do everything possible to fight those cuts and to save the vital services on which so many people rely.
My immediate predecessor, Denis MacShane, was a distinguished Member of this House for 18 years. He achieved much good work for Rotherham by championing the steel works and trade unions, raising money for local medical charities and being vocal in his fight against racism. However, he also made a mistake, for which he has paid dear. I will build on all the good work that he has done for the people of Rotherham.
Having read the maiden speeches of previous MPs for Rotherham, I note with regret that a generation ago, in 1976, Stan Crowther’s principal concern was the growing unemployment in Rotherham and especially the plight of young jobless people. I am deeply saddened that, 36 years later, youth unemployment is still a major concern for the town. Across our nation, there are almost a million young jobless people. In Rotherham, a staggering one in five young people are out of work. We must all be worried about the danger of creating a workless generation—a generation without hope.
Rotherham people have never been afraid of hard work. Until the 1980s, tens of thousands of Rotherham men worked long hours in the town’s steelworks and coal mines. The pits have all but gone, and another round of redundancies at the steelworks was announced
a few weeks ago. So what options are there for young people when they leave school? The vast majority cannot go to university any more as they cannot afford tuition fees. Last week, the Prime Minister talked about the “bank of mum and dad”. That is not an option for most young people in Rotherham. With education maintenance allowance scrapped and tuition fees trebled under this Government, and with five people applying for every job in Rotherham, what future are we offering our young people?
I recently visited Rotherham college of arts and technology: meeting the apprentices and staff was so inspiring. This has to be the way forward. I will do all I can to secure placements, training opportunities and apprenticeships for Rotherham. With Tata Steel and Rolls-Royce planning to make big investments in the area, we do have opportunities and our young people need to be ready to take them.
The people of Rotherham are proud of their town, but they cannot understand why none of the good things are ever shared. Let me redress that. Seven out of 10 top Formula 1 racing cars are constructed of Rotherham steel. Every five seconds, somewhere in the world, an aircraft takes off or lands that is reliant on gear made from Rotherham steel. In recent years, Rotherham has embraced growing industries in advanced manufacturing, finance and IT services. Rotherham Ready, which was launched in 2005, is internationally acclaimed for its approach to integrating enterprise into learning for all children aged four to 19.
This year, 18 new independent businesses opened in Rotherham town centre, as well as two national retailers. The recent £7.5 million Clifton Park restoration is a benchmark of excellence. Rotherham Show is the largest free show in the north of England and welcomed 80,000 visitors during its two days in September. Rotherham United’s stunning new home, the New York stadium, opened its doors to a sell-out crowd this year. Rotherham is the only place in the country affiliated to the Athena international programme, the main aim of which is to secure balance in leadership worldwide. As the first ever woman to be elected as MP for Rotherham, I am particularly pleased with that affiliation and I will work to support more young women to reach their full potential.
I spent the past few weeks knocking on doors and talking to well over 1,000 Rotherham residents. As a vox pop goes, I think that is a pretty good sample, so let me be their voice. Regardless of their politics, and without exception, everyone was polite and welcoming and they were passionate about Rotherham. Rotherham people work hard, but the message they asked me to give is that no matter how hard they work they are being hurt by an economy that is flatlining and a Government who are helping the wrong people. Those in the lowest-paid jobs who are trying to do the right thing are seeing their working tax credits cut, yet at the same time millionaires are handed a tax bonus. All in it together? That kind of spin does not work with the people of Rotherham. Rotherham people want work—they are strivers, not skivers—and they need just a little support so that they can put food on the table and do the best for their children. The answer is to get people
back to work by real action to kick-start the failing economy, not to cut benefits that people depend on to survive.
Rotherham voters are also worried about the impact and change that new immigrants might bring to their community. I know they are neither racist nor bigoted in raising those genuine concerns, but when opportunities are few and times are tough we must understand that people get more protective of what they have. We need a different approach; we need a grown-up debate to address people’s concerns and put sensible policies in place while recognising the richness that immigrant communities bring to the UK. We need a better-funded UK Border Agency with stronger controls to combat illegal immigration, but we also need help for those who come to my surgeries and are being forced to wait too long for legitimate immigration issues to be resolved.
Many of those proud to call Rotherham home are of Kashmiri descent and their relatives came to Rotherham to work in the steel industry or mines in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their contribution helped to make Rotherham the town it is today, which is why I will stand firmly with them in support of Kashmir’s right to self-determination. I am also proud that peace and security in the middle east remains one of Labour’s most important foreign policy objectives, and as a new MP I will continue to work for the day when we see the creation of a viable Palestinian state that can live in peace alongside Israel. Sadly, during the by-election a number of candidates tried to bring race and immigration into the debate in a divisive manner. I am proud that the people of Rotherham politely sent them packing with a clear message: “We are one Rotherham.”
I believe in Labour’s one nation values of equality and fairness for all, and I thank the people of Rotherham for electing me as their representative to Parliament because they also believe in equality and fairness. During the by-election I met Barbara, an 84-year-old great grandmother, proud to be Rotherham born and bred. She is typical of all that is best in Rotherham and I want to serve people such as her.”