I have been busy behind the scenes working on the issue of school attendance. Since the beginning of the pandemic the numbers of children missing out on school have surged. Recent data shows that last year nearly 1 in 5 children were persistently absent, missing out on more than ten percent of their school time.
People are right to be concerned about this. Education is key to young people having access to skills and opportunities in their future. Over the past 14 years there has been a huge uplift in school standards, we should not let this slip back. I have tabled a new Private Members Bill in Parliament to tackle the attendance issue.
The Bill will make it mandatory for all Schools and Local Authorities to follow best practice guidelines. It will mean that schools and local authorities need to work together to support families and help get children back into the classroom. I am leading a debate in Parliament on the topic later this week* and will be presenting the Bill for a second reading in early February.
I have also been working with a small group of colleagues on the new Criminal Justice Bill. Amongst many other things, this takes new legal measures to criminalise the manufacture, distribution and possession of the signal jammers that are used to steal cars. Essex Police have also been working on a detailed operation to track down and prevent car thefts. I have asked the police for more public information on this operation.
When out and about in Chelmsford, I notice that many residents have now switched to driving electric vehicles. These tend to be owned by those who have driveways and can easily charge their car from their home. At the moment, those who charge cars from their domestic supply pay just 5% VAT on the electricity, but those who live in terraced houses and need to use commercial chargers pay 20% VAT. I am campaigning to end this pavement tax and was able to raise the issue in the House of Commons this week.
Chelmsford is home to the largest cluster of insurance companies outside of London. At a recent local meeting with insurance companies, we discussed cyber security. Many small and medium sized businesses are not currently insured against cyber risks, but buying a good insurance cover usually also comes with a health check for of digital systems.
The insurance sector would like to work with Government to develop a new kite mark for cyber insurance policies, this could materially help reduce the risk of cyber-crime. I brought this suggestion up in the House of Commons and have secured the promise of a meeting between insurers and ministers.
Locally, I met with representatives from the Federation of Small Business to discuss the current economic situation. In the autumn statement a number of measures were introduced to help support small businesses, including help with business rates and speeding up payments for work undertaken. We talked about further measures that could be taken in the spring budget.
A few local residents have contacted me about NHS dentistry in Chelmsford. The NHS has provided me with a significant list of the local dentists that are currently providing NHS treatments. There is also a new pilot scheme that also offers out of hours treatments in the Mid Essex area. If you need assistance on this matter, please do email me.
It was a long week in Parliament with many votes on the Rwanda Bill. Whilst there may have been differences of opinion on the technicalities of the Bill, it is clear that none of the opposition parties have a clear plan to tackle the issue of Illegal Immigration.
Too many lives are risked by those in small boats at the hands of the people smugglers. Much progress has been made and channel crossing dropped by over one third last year, but new innovative solutions are also needed. We need an immigration system which is both firm and fair.
Experience from other countries shows that having a third country scheme for processing asylum cases can act as a strong deterrent, a number of other countries are now working to develop schemes similar to the UK proposal with Rwanda. It is not easy to develop new solutions and there are always many questions but now the Bill has a significant majority of support from the House of Commons, I hope it can now progress.
Lastly, I know that many people in Chelmsford care deeply about animal welfare, as do I. The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. I was therefore very pleased to support the Live Animal Export Bill in Parliament. No animals have been exported for slaughter from Great Britain since the Government announced its intention to bring forward a ban in 2021. This Bill makes this permanent.