Last month, Ms Atkins was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury by new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and she appeared on last night’s Question Time in Snape, Suffolk, alongside Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the SNP’s Ian Blackford, broadcaster Trevor Phillips and The Spectator’s Kate Andrews in the wake of the Autumn budget being announced.
The first question was from Richard Cook, who asked if the public could survive another two years of austerity, saying the Chancellor’s measures would make things worse.
Ms Atkins answered first, and said: “It’s a very sobering moment in our political discourse as we’re facing pressures none of us wanted to face, or predicted would happen – the war in Ukraine and the hangover from pandemic as many economies shut down in order to protect our wider well being.”
She also acknowledged former Prime Minister Liz Truss went “too far” with her mini budget and went “too fast too soon”, but by now impact that has had on markets has gone, but international pressures are being seen around the world and Germany and Italy are also struggling.
"This is what Autumn statement was about, tackling these international pressures and laying foundations for the future,” she said, “The chancellor focused on stability in the economy but we also need to protect public services and the chancellor announced a very big investment programme in education, social care and health care going forward.
“Inflation is the killer because of what’s happening in Ukraine and it hurts all of us, makes food and energy bill more expensive which is why there is a package of measures with energy price guarantee that will help those most vulnerable.”
Philip Gough, a wholesale book trader, also challenged the panel saying how he was struggling to trade with EU countries post-Brexit, and Ms Atkins replied that there have been “hangovers” from the pandemic, such supply chain issues around the world, and now with the war in Ukraine, the government has not “had time to give an assessment of impact of Brexit on the economy”.
“We made decision to leave and delivered that in January 2020, and a month later we had the pandemic hit us – who could have foreseen that we’d be telling children to leave schools and shut our high street?" she said.
"We struck a deal with EU and doing level best to make borders easier and as frictionless as possible and now hoping to see improvements asking for but we must not set Brexit up as unrelated. Now we’ve got to look to the future and get on with it."
Moving on to greener energy, an audience member referenced Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk, and asked “to what extent will ‘nimbyism’ impede progress to achieve Net Zero?”
Ms Atkins replied: “We’ve done analysis and we believe this is the project we all agree on that will deliver a diversity of resources, we have huge number of offshore windfarms in the east – I should know, I’m a Lincolnshire MP.
“These turbines are much bigger and productive that turbines on land they’re vast and hidden out to see and bring in energy across the country. There are a huge range of resources we need to use and nuclear must be a part of it.
"We have done the analysis and see Sizewell as a resource to be a part of it. It’s critical, Ukraine has shown that.
“One of the announcements we made today was investing in growth industries we can do well in a part of the extra investment in education for our schools because our children are the future and need to be educated on these resources.”
Finally, when asked about secretly watching the World Cup and if it should be watched as the tournament being held in Qatar, and if footballers should be making political statements, in particular support for the women on Iran, who England will be playing on Monday.
"The UK government is not responsible for the actions of FIFA,” Ms Atkins replied, “But if our home teams do well, we want to cheer them on and we’re not going to tell people to watch or not watch.
But what is important is that footballers keep talking about these issues and I will be very proud of our players when they wear their raindow-coloured armbands.”