MP Natascha looks to the future

Many people don't know what their MP does or even what they want from them, according to Natascha Engel.

She says dealing with issues raised by constituents is the most important thing to her, but some sections of the community are reluctant to seek help.

I joined the NE Derbyshire representative on a day when one of her fortnightly surgeries was taking place in Clay Cross.

Constituents with issues including objections to planning applications, complaints against the police and disputes with the Child Support Agency (CSA) were booked in for appointments.

Natascha said: "People often feel their problems aren't big enough to take to their MP, but that's what I'm here for!"

She said people often bring problems she can't help with directly, but her team will act on all complaints.

''With the CSA, a phone call from an MP and they jump into action. These are the sorts of things I can do something about.''

Engaging young people in the political process is one of Natascha's priorities. The day had started with a Deincourt School youth forum, where a group of pupils had been invited to give their views on issues affecting them and their villages.

Natascha said: ''I remember being young, feeling bored, dislocated, frustrated.

''One of the things I love about the youth forums is allowing kids to make their own decisions about what they want, to give them options and show them what's on offer.''

Getting the Deincourt pupils talking was not difficult though – stopping the flow of ideas was the biggest challenge.

Kirsty Gibbons (14), who lives in North Wingfield, said: ''I think the youth forum is a good idea. It gives people the chance to express their thoughts and know they're going to be listened to.''

Also filling Natascha's Derbyshire diary was a meeting with workers from Chesterfield's threatened tax offices, Markham House and Dents Chamber. A former trade union activitist, Natascha – along with other local MPs – has been fighting in the Commons to save their jobs.

When I met her at the Houses of Parliament last Wednesday she had just received the good news that Markham House was staying open. She said: ''The workers are keeping their jobs and that's what I'm pleased about.''

Natascha took me into the challenging maze of work and pensions during my visit to Westminster, meeting Unite union reps who were lobbying ministers about Britain's declining manufacturing industry, and picking the brains of employment experts for an 'In Work Better Off' green paper.

She is Parliamentary Private Secretary, the 'eyes and ears', to Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. In the back of a car on the way to a TUC End Child Poverty rally Mr Hain described Natascha as enthusiastic and expert, and seemed a little worried about how he will cope when his protg goes on maternity leave in December.

Natascha said meeting NE Derbyshire residents makes her parliamentary work more real and helps her assess if policy is working in practice.

But I asked if she ever feels a conflict between addressing her constituents' complaints and her role in the Government.

She said: ''I'm not afraid to point out where I think the party's wrong and Gordon Brown is very good about that. But you have that argument behind closed doors and if you lose, go along with the party.''