Monday: Long meeting with the manufacturers organisation, car-makers, food producers, digital companies, there’s still a mass of work to do to make sure our manufacturing industry continues to be strong through Brexit. The Prime Minister comes to the House of Commons to discuss her speech on the EU negotiations. The mood is quite tense, but settles down once the questions start. I see her again later when she talks to all Conservative MPs – chuffed when she says thanks for my help - and then with a smaller group. I am impressed by how much she is focused on getting the details right.
Tuesday: Morning with the Science Select Committee grilling the new Science and Universities minister, he survives. Then off the Department of Work and Pensions for MPs to meet the Ministers. Very good news of record low unemployment and positive changes to benefits to especially for those with mental health issues. The US Ambassador’s economic attaché comes to visit. He wants to know what I think is happening in Europe about Brexit, I want to know what he thinks is happening in the UK with trade sanctions. Late night dinner with Energy companies; scary to hear how the UK nearly ran out of gas in the cold weather, we need our interconnectors with Europe.
Wednesday: I’ve joined the Women and Equality Select Committee, we are looking a report on support for fathers when a newborn baby arrives. Off to listen to the Chancellor speak about trade and financial services, it’s important for lots of Chelmsford peoples jobs. It’s on the 41st floor of HSBC tower at Canary Wharf – stunning view down river towards Essex and upstream towards the City. Serious meeting with NHS England and Essex MPs, there are promises of huge investment in Mid-Essex hospitals including a new specialist hyper acute stroke service and specialist emergency care. We are assured that these will not reduce local services but can help save lives of more severe cases.
Thursday: International Women’s Day. Start early with School Assembly at Barnes Farm Junior School, what a great group of kids. They ask about my job as an MP, priorities for Chelmsford and we discuss why it’s important that everyone gets a fair say in how the country is run. Off to meet women entrepreneurs with the Federation of Small Businesses. Run to the train to London for the debate in Westminster. I speak on women in engineering. Women are really good at science, about half the girls who did physics GCSE last summer got a top grade of A or A* but we have fewer women engineers than any other European Country and desperately need more. There are lots of good reasons to give it a go. Girls who do science are wanted by businesses, are paid 30% more than their peers and over 8 out of 10 women in engineering say they are happy or really happy with their career.
Friday: – Mega day, I’ve agreed to visit three schools and Chelmsford College. It starts early in the library at KEGS, am grilled by the A level politics class on domestic policy, Brexit, US trade sanctions and what do about Russian aggression. I pop into Civic Centre where councillors are getting update on policing. (Good news -Burglaries are down, violence in pubs & clubs down and some big arrests of drug gang leaders has make a real difference – but sexual violence reports are up as is cybercrime, do take care online.)
Then off to Chelmsford College to meet apprentices for National Apprenticeship Week. What a lot of happy students. We discuss the benefits of learning whilst earning. Lots of positives but some challenges getting work placements especially in construction and for electricians. I’ll look into this. Next up, Moulsham High School to meet year 11, 12 and 13 (very impressive). They ask about healthcare and infrastructure locally, I explain how the government is increasing investment in Mid Essex and how we must make sure that we get new homes as well as the infrastructure to go with it. Good question about fares and wages for 16-17 year olds. Last trip is to Chelmsford County High School for Girls where I meet a great bunch year 11s in their ancient school gym. The girls are full of energy even though it’s the end of the week. They ask about international development, equality, votes for 16 year olds, women as entrepreneurs. My last appointment of the school day is with the A Level students for more detailed questions but this time over a cup of tea, and a choice of home baked lemon drizzle or chocolate brownies – yummy!