Blog: Is this the Public Service Parliament?

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Is this the Public Service Parliament?

Parliament has changed considerably as a result of last month’s General Election. Much has been made in the media of the diversity which the newly-elected MPs bring to the House of Commons – particularly in terms of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, and sexual orientation. These are all hugely welcome indications of Parliament becoming increasingly reflective of the UK’s own diversity.

There is another dimension to the new intake of MPs, though, of particular interest to the Serco Institute, and no doubt to the millions of public service workers and users across our country. History (and The West Wing) teaches that politicians are often lawyers, but this doesn’t do justice to do the diversity of professional background amongst our political leaders (or to the value which lawyers themselves bring). Amongst the new MPs’ fascinating backgrounds, there is a strong and consistent theme of service, particularly in the public sector. This bodes positively for a post-Brexit, technology-driven world in which innovative ways of designing and delivering public services will be more important, perhaps, than at any time since the creation of the modern welfare state.

From soldiering to social care, teaching to transportation, this core of public service experience and expertise will be critical over the lifetime of this Parliament. Here, we profile some of the new MPs whose voices and vision we look forward to hearing more of in the coming months.

THE TRANSPORT CHAMPION: Chris Loder MP (Con, West Dorset)

Many children dream of working with trains, but Chris Loder made it a reality, and has enjoyed an exceptional career from station assistant, to guard, to railway management. The 38-year-old’s most recent role was as Head of New Trains for South Western, having also worked on the upgrade of Waterloo and led a team of 300 people. Speaking to Rail Business Daily, Loder notes that he is “the only MP to have worked extensively on the railway” and that he plans to “champion transport reform” in his new role, while also ensuring that “staff in this industry have a proper voice in Parliament”.[1] 

FROM CARE TO AIR: Sarah Owen MP (Lab, Luton North)

The daughter of an NHS nurse, Sarah Owen’s CV is an impressive tour through the public service landscape. She has worked as a care assistant, a local government and trade union officer, and a fire services emergency planner. Her campaign website explains her most recent role as “heading up a £3million project at Heathrow Airport”,[2] so there might be some interesting transportation exchanges between her and Loder to come… Holding Luton North with 55% of the vote, Owen is the first British Chinese female MP, and Labour’s first East Asian MP.

UNIFORMED SERVICES: Wendy Chamberlain MP (Lib Dem, NE Fife)

NE Fife has been represented by MPs from three different parties since its creation in the 1980s: Wendy Chamberlain regained it for the Lib Dems in December, converting an SNP majority of 2 into an LD majority of 1,316. She served as a police officer for twelve years, before working for police organisations in HR and training roles. Exchanging one uniformed service for another, she then helped military veterans into new careers, as Employment & Training Manager with Right Management, an MoD contractor. Chamberlain may have a valuable role to play in the ongoing and ever-changing discussion around outsourcing of public services.

OTHERS TO WATCH:

  • Sarah Atherton MP (Con, Wrexham). Like her Labour namesake in Luton, Atherton seems to have done it all – she served in the Intelligence Corps before training as a nurse and social worker. She should be a strong champion for the public sector on the Government benches this Parliament.
  • Olivia Blake MP (Lab, Sheffield Hallam). A biomedical sciences graduate, Blake is one of several NHS workers elected this time round, and describes herself as a “public servant” on a campaign website where the impact of austerity is a key theme. Blake has a small majority in a seat which has been represented by all three major parties: where she chooses to focus her evident abilities will be interesting to watch.
  • Jonathan Gullis MP (Con, Stoke-on-Trent North). Gullis is the first Tory to represent this urban Midlands seat, but he may be another pioneer too – we’re not sure if there’s ever been a NASUWT rep elected on this side of the House before?! As well as being his school’s union rep, teacher Gullis has been a Head of Year and attendance specialist. His voice will be a fascinating one to listen out for in debates about future directions in education and skills policy.
  • Kenny MacAskill MP (SNP, East Lothian). A newbie in Westminster, MacAskill is anything but a newbie to politics: he previously served as an MSP for seventeen years. During an impressive Holyrood career, he had front-bench responsibilities in justice, transport, telecommunications, and lifelong learning. We hope to see him championing public service causes from his new position in the Commons.
  • Beth Winter MP (Lab, Cynon Valley). An academic and union official, Winter’s research focuses on the ageing population, social exclusion, and “service user participation”,[3] but she has also worked in housing and the voluntary sector. Choosing a topic for what promises to be an interesting maiden speech may be challenging…

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