Q&A: John Fieldhouse quizzes Victoria Atkins

Victoria Atkins
Victoria Atkins

JF: There is a lot of concern about the state of the NHS and possible cut backs because of a funding deficit. How aware are you of the problems?

VA: The Health Service is very high on my list of priorities. It is something that I am already working on. It is thanks to the NHS that I am fighting fit. I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of three and I use the NHS day in day out. It is one of the reasons I want to be in the House of Commons because as a patient, I understand the good bits and the not so good bits. It’s that experience that I want to bring into the House of Commons.

I can understand why there is so much concern locally about possible cuts. There are issues with health care provision in Louth and Horncastle - and the county as a whole.

I am deeply concerned about them and I think one of the best ways to tackle these issues - big issues that can’t be solved overnight - is to have a team of MPs in Lincolnshire fighting to make sure the county gets its fair share of funding.

I was talking to a resident yesterday about a medical practice in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea - and the challenges it faces. People deserve an excellent health service and I will do help all I can to make that happen.

JF: Is the main issue facing the NHS a lack of funding?

VA: I am not a doctor. One of the problems historically - as we’ve seen last week with some of Labour’s promises - is that when politicians try and politicise the NHS. I am a barrister. I’ve spent my entire career working on the base of evidence. We need to look at the evidence produced by medical experts to work out how best to tackle some of these problems.

Of course, funding is part of it. We need to listen to doctors and nurses about how they think the NHS can be here, not just in five years but in a 100 years’ time.

JF: You only need to pick up a newspaper to realise how residents feel about proposals housing developments in Louth and Horncastle. Can you understand their concerns about a number of planning issues, especially the added pressure on the local infra-structure?

VA: You’ve hit the nail on the head. If there is to be any major development, it must be with corresponding provision for infra-structure.

I am very conscious that these planning decisions are for local people, local councillors, but what I hope I can bring to the table is to make sure that legislation is in so that infra-structure always follows such developments.

I am aware it (housing) is a huge issue. We know the reasons why. We are a growing population. We need homes. I am a mum. When we look to the future, we all imagine our children having homes - and homes they own. I understand there is a tension, a need for development and at the same time keeping Louth and Horncastle as they are.

I am very clear that if there is to be development, local people have to be satisfied and content with it. It’s always going to be controversial but we must have provision for the infra-structure.

JF: Do you support the Conservative leadership on Europe?

VA: Yes. I am ruthless in supporting Britain’s national interests and when we come to re-negotiate and have a referendum, that is what is at the top of my mind. I would want to understand from local farmers and businesses the impact on them of staying in or leaving Europe.

They are issues that we are not happy about - freedom of movement and immigration is one of them.

It seems to me the only sensible option is to renegotiate and that put that vote to the British people.

I know people have heard this a lot but it is only with a Conservative majority Government that people will get their say.

JF: Immigration is a particularly thorny issue. Is it out of control?

VA: It has been in the past when Labour refused to put in the place measures that other countries were introducing.

To my mind, it comes to skills and numbers. If people have the skills we need, that should be part of the judgement.

Talking to farmers, we cannot have crops and vegetables in Lincolnshire rotting in fields, simply because we don’t have the people to pick them.

That, in turn, brings in another issue of why we can’t attract British people to do that work. That is something we are trying to address so that work pays, rather than benefits.

JF: On to the Welfare State. The cuts have hit low-income families in rural areas. What are your views?

VA: In a system as large as the Welfare State there are always going to people who fall between the cracks. I don’t ignore that. I don’t write it off. I can understand in terms of child benefit, for example, that some families have struggled - not least with regard to the threshold. To correct that, you need effective MPs lobbying.

I think Welfare Reform as a whole - making work pay - is something the vast majority of the British public agree with.

It is outrageous that, five years ago, people on benefits were living in prime London properties. You could only afford those properties, if you were a multi-millionaire or on housing benefit. That was wrong and it has changed and thank goodness it has. When I hear people are working very hard to support their families and do the right things, they have a sense of unfairness that situation exists.

JF: Let’s change topics. What are your views on wind farms?

VA: I have always been highly sceptical of wind farms. I am unconvinced about the technology and the efficiency and there is the damage they do to the landscape. Some of the proposals will have an enormous impact visually.

I think we need to press pause in Lincolnshire and I was delighted that the Prime Minister said recently there would be no more subsidies for wind farms in Lincolnshire. It is an industry that runs on subsidies and as taxpayers, we are paying that. It is not sustainable. We also need to address the in-balance between community groups and the developers. Very often community groups are represented by volunteers. They are having to fundraise like crazy. Developers have much deeper pockets. People fighting wind farms are very passionate about their communities and there is a great sense of unfairness at the equality of the system.

JF: Given your background as a barrister, is law and order another priority for you?

VA: It is something I am very interested in. I know from my career - and my work for the party on policy - it is not just about funding.

I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with some excellent police officers. I am absolutely clear that the need to keep officers of a certain calibre, if we are to remain safe.

There are some excellent Police and Crime Commissioners. If I am elected, I will be working to ensure police officers focus on fighting crime, rather than focussing on other issues - like mental health. There is also the burden of rural crime on farmers. I am keen on working with the NFU on ‘Rural Crimewatch’, a scheme where farmers can work together. It works in Gloucestershire and I’d be keen to see it in Lincolnshire.

JF: Flooding is another important issue in the constituency. What are your thoughts on improving defences? Again, is it just down to money?

VA: I am happy to sit down and talk to anyone about flooding. I don’t mind where they come from or who they work for.

It seems we have to sort out this issue about who is responsible for combating coastal flooding. I won’t be the only one hoping we don’t have a repeat of last winter’s tidal surge. Again, we’ve got to work through this with the County Council, the District Council and the Environment Agency.

JF: As a mum, education must be high on your list of priorities yet there are concerns about cuts in budgets locally and school closures in rural area.

VA: Let’s look at the positive. We have some outstanding schools in this area. They are a secret actually because most people don’t link great schools with rural areas.

I am particularly excited by the work that Cordeux Academy is doing with apprenticeships. I think I’m right in saying there are more than 3,000 apprenticeships in this constituency since 2010. That’s a fantastic opportunity for youngsters.

One of the issues is keeping our young people here and making sure that our town and villages continue to be vibrant with new generations of families coming through. Apprenticeships are a key way of ensuring that.

We also have some fantastic cutting edge companies in this area. If we can get our youngsters with the skill range to match what these companies want then this is surely the way to ensure a vibrant Louth and Horncastle.

I am trying to visit as many schools as possible. A lot of attention is focussed on the older generation and how we look after them - and rightly so - but I sometimes fear that younger people get edged out of the debate.

If we don’t pay off the debt created by the latest Labour Government, our children and grandchildren will be paying it off. I don’t think that’s right.

JF: What’s it like following in the footsteps of Parliamentary legend like Sir Peter?

VA: He is a very tough act to follow.

I was speaking to four people earlier today and they had all being helped by Sir Peter. I want to be a good constituency MP. I want to follow in Sir Peter’s footsteps so someone will be able to say in ten years - yes, she really helped me.

As a candidate, it is a real privilege to listen to Sir Peter’s views. He’s seen it all. He’s been incredibly supportive - he and Lady Tapsell. I feel very lucky to have that.