Job losses top of the agenda for town’s new-elected Labour MP

YORKSHIRE’S newest MP yesterday said she planned to put jobs firmly at the top of her agenda as she gets to grips with the economic problems faced by her new constituency.

Sarah Champion was a controversial choice for the Labour nomination in Rotherham, with some party workers walking out of a meeting at which was selected to fight for the seat.

But she said people she met on the town’s streets during her first day in office had been “overwhelmingly positive” and had not wanted to talk about past controversies.

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Ms Champion, formerly the chief executive of Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice, at Anston, near Rotherham, replaces disgraced former Labour minister Denis MacShane.

Mr MacShane was forced to resign from the seat he had held since 1994 after he was found to have been fiddling his expenses and the campaign to replace him was eventful.

The new MP was faced with a major challenge from Ukip candidate Jane Collins after a couple had three foster children removed by Labour-run Rotherham Council because of their Ukip membership.

Last night Ms Champion told the Yorkshire Post that her former job meant she was “passionate” about children’s welfare, but she was unwilling to call on the council to return the children or make an apology.

She said: “I don’t think that being a member of Ukip should bar you from being a foster parent, but I think we should wait for the results of the investigation into what happened.”

Ms Champion said she was not concerned about Ukip challenging further in the town and said the party had “no ideas” when it came to tackling Rotherham’s major problem – unemployment.

The town has recently suffered a blow with an announcement by steel giant Tata which will result in more than 100 job losses and the local hospital is also cutting up to 750 staff.

The new MP said: “The big thing for me is the unemployment issue. I have already set up a meeting with the acting chief executive at Rotherham Hospital. I want to see if there are other solutions.

“Working with the staff and the unions will be a priority for me. We need to see if there is a way savings can be made without cutting front-line jobs such as nurses.”

Ms Champion said she also wanted to work closely with Rotherham College of Art and Technology (RCAT) on apprentice schemes, and on case work for constituents on everything from housing to benefits.

She immediately attacked the coalition Government, saying that the Liberal Democrats’ eighth place in Thursday’s by-election was “unbelievable” and adding there was much “anti-Tory” sentiment in the town.

She said: “People here have long memories and they remember how they have been hammered by the Tories in the past, particularly in the 1980s, and now they feel that it is happening all over again. I think both they and the Liberal Democrats need to be very worried, based on the result they have achieved here.

“The truth is that neither party really put much effort into campaigning for Rotherham and, to me, that suggests that the north-south divide is getting stronger and stronger under this Government. They have given up on places like Rotherham.”

Ms Champion will be holding a surgery at Rotherham Town Hall today from 12.30pm and said she would continue to be “visible” as the town’s MP.

She added: “I want to be there and visible for people and to try and help them with the problems that are affecting their lives.”