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Opposition parties condemn 'badly out of touch' Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson for 'frankly bizarre' question to Prime Minister Boris Johnson at PMQs

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Bishop's Stortford's MP is under fire this week for a "frankly bizarre" question to Boris Johnson.

Conservative Julie Marson used a rare chance to speak during last Wednesday's (June 22) Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) to quiz her party leader – after whom she named her pet dog – about social outcomes contracting (SOC).

Her intervention followed an uncomfortable question from Labour whip and shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport minister Chris Elmore about allegations Mr Johnson tried to give his then mistress, Carrie, a £100,000-a-year job while he was Foreign Secretary.

Julie Marson listening to Boris Johnson's reply (57577298)
Julie Marson listening to Boris Johnson's reply (57577298)

Mrs Marson swiftly changed the subject, saying: "The UK is the global leader in social outcomes contracts, which can deliver public services in an array of areas, from healthcare to mental healthcare, employment, education and development aid. According to Big Society Capital, every £1 the Government have spent in this way has delivered £10 in further economic, social and fiscal value, including £3 in direct savings to Government. Does my right honourable friend agree that the time is right for the Government to redouble their focus on this outcomes-led commissioning?"

SOCs, also known as outcome funds, are a mechanism for investment in health-promoting services. Payments are made only when pre-agreed social (or health-promoting) outcomes are achieved by the funded programme or organisation.

Mrs Marson also met with Big Society Capital, which promises "investment with a sustainable return", at Parliament last week.

Boris Johnson replies to Julie Marson's question
Boris Johnson replies to Julie Marson's question

A grateful Mr Johnson responded: "My honourable friend is absolutely right to champion this type of approach, which makes a real difference to people's lives and people suffering from mental health issues, helping them to find a route back into work. That is why we are commissioning more initiatives through funds such as the Life Chances Fund, helping those people in society who face the biggest barriers to have happy and productive lives."

The Indie asked Mrs Marson to give an example of how such SOCs had brought benefits to her constituents, but she has not responded. She has ignored every newsdesk question since she ceased writing a fortnightly column in January, when the Indie asked her to address Partygate in it.

East Herts Liberal Democrat councillors Calvin Horner, Mione Goldspink, Chris Wilson, Richard Townsend, Terence Beckett and Bob Taylor were unimpressed.

In a joint statement, they said: "Julie Marson's choice of topic for PMQs was frankly bizarre. Whilst we are pleased to hear about activities which will help to improve mental health care, the schemes she mentions have assisted 55,000 people across the whole country and few locally.

Liberal Democrat Herts county and Bishop's Stotford town councillor Calvin Horner (57577348)
Liberal Democrat Herts county and Bishop's Stotford town councillor Calvin Horner (57577348)

"We believe there are other equally important and more urgent matters facing numerous residents of Hertford and Stortford.

"Many are desperately worried about the cost of living, facing higher and higher food bills and needing to go to food banks. The cost of fuel is rising dramatically, some people cannot afford to pay for petrol to get to work – this is a scandalous emergency.

"Why did Ms Marson not ask the Prime Minister what he was planning to do about this crisis in the cost of living?

Julie Marson MP, second left, on a visit to Bishop's Stortford Food Bank
Julie Marson MP, second left, on a visit to Bishop's Stortford Food Bank

"Why did she not ask why he refuses to restore the £20 uplift in Universal Credit? This could be done easily and quickly and would help those in greatest need.

"Why did she not ask about reducing VAT on fuel, which would help private motorists and food suppliers, thus steadying food prices for everyone?

"We can only conclude that Ms Marson is badly out of touch with her constituents."

Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party said: "It is disappointing that Julie Marson failed to use this opportunity to call upon Boris Johnson to address the concerns of her constituents.

"Faced with a growing cost of living crisis, crumbling public services and the threat of ticket office closures across the constituency, residents in Hertford and Stortford are facing a summer of Conservative chaos.

"Unfortunately, this represents a pattern of behaviour for Julie Marson and other Conservative MPs, scrambling to provide cover for a Prime Minister engulfed by scandal and a Government hopelessly distracted by party divisions and bereft of ideas. They are keener to act as partisan cheerleaders than representatives of their constituents.

Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. Pic: Vikki Lince (57577379)
Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. Pic: Vikki Lince (57577379)

"Given the video recently circulated on social media of patients in the emergency department at Princess Alexandra Hospital [in Harlow] being warned of 13-hour waits for treatment, Julie Marson should instead have challenged the Prime Minister on his Government's record on the NHS and asked for confirmation on when a concrete plan to bring down waiting times will be brought forward.

"For many residents in Hertford and Stortford, Princess Alexandra is their nearest A&E, and a Labour MP for the constituency would be concentrated on ensuring they have access to emergency services."

East Herts Green Party spokesman Martin Butcher was scathing: "At Prime Minister's Questions, Julie Marson asked about the role of social outcomes contracts in the delivery of public services, claiming the UK is a world leader in this form of private financial involvement in government.

"What are social outcomes contracts? Simply put, they're the latest gimmick to hand taxpayers' money to private companies so they can make a profit off schools, the NHS, social care, the railways and other public services. Their directors will be paid huge salaries and their wealthy owners will be handed large dividends from money we all pay to provide the services we need to get by. They'll mean less money for doctors, nurses, teachers, home care and other vital public services and poorer services for all of us.

"Public services paid for from tax and National Insurance should not be run for profit, but on the basis of need for those using the services, with the money we pay providing value for all of us. The Green Party wants publicly funded services, operating to common national standards but run locally to meet local need. That's how to build a better society for all."

Hertford and Stortford Conservatives were also invited to comment but did not respond.

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