Parliamentary terms tend to mirror those of our schools and this week Parliament has been in recess over half term. MPs often chose to do different things with this time. Maybe its an overseas visit, or a chance to catch up with a project, time in the constituency or perhaps a break. I spent most of the week in Chelmsford where I have been knocking on doors across the city, finding out what local issues are on people’s minds.
Obviously most “door knocking” by politicians happens in the run up to elections when one is canvassing for votes. I find that taking time outside election periods allows for longer chats and I am very grateful to all those who took time to talk. Since the May election I have been out and about in Great Baddow, Chelmer Village, Goat Hall, Melbourne and Waterhouse Farm.
Potholes remain a concern. This winter was a nightmare for our roads, with prolonged icy cold snaps and heavy rain causing huge problems. Thanks to extra money from Essex County Council and the Government, there are now 17 extra crews of pothole repairers out and about on Essex roads. It is good to see that many have already been fixed.
If you see that a pothole has been “marked up”, this means the repairers are aware of it and, hopefully, on their way to mend it. Some of the busier Chelmsford roads may need to be closed for a time to enable work to take place. I have asked for advance notice if possible. I have also sent off a list of some of the most dangerous potholes, asking for these to be prioritised. If you are aware of a particularly dangerous pothole in the city please do let me know by email, in case I have missed it.
A number of residents have told me that they are very grateful to see more police out and about in parts of Chelmsford. There are now record police officers in Essex and I have passed this information on to the police. If you do see anti-social behaviour or drug dealing please do report the incident to the police. This helps them to build up a clearer picture of activity and make arrests.
Some residents have raised the issue of the lack of grass cutting by Chelmsford City Council. I understand the benefits of letting grass grow longer for insects and birdlife, but I am concerned about increased littering and the possibility of increased fire risk if we get another summer heatwave. I was sad to see that the very long grass and thistles growing in one play area for young children had made it a no-go area for our youngest residents. I will be raising this with the City Council.
Thank you to the year five children from Springfield Primary who told me that they were very distressed by litter in local parks. They have designed some super posters to encourage people not to chuck rubbish and to use bins.
I visited Chelmsford Prison and was pleased to hear that improvements have been made since my last visit. Violence has decreased, due to a number of measures that have been introduced in recent years. The smuggling of drugs into the prison has also come down significantly due to body scanners, improved security fencing, windows and cctv to prevent “throw overs”, and measures to prevent mail infused with “spice”. The prison is now fully staffed and the Governor described the relationship with the local police and NHS as “good”.
When prisoners are far less likely to re-offend if they have a job. I was told about work with local businesses to help ex-offenders into work. Our prison is also working on a pilot program with West Ham Football Club, prisoners are taking part learn coaching skills and improve their reading and literacy skills.
Following the court backlogs that built up during the pandemic, there are still high numbers of inmates held on demand. To help address this and to reduce costs of transfers to and from court the prison is investing in new video suites, so that prisoners can attend court appearances remotely, where appropriate.
I met with Chelmsford based NHS providers who are cutting waiting lists for children needing speech and language therapy, working to improve mental health services for young people and supporting those who need wheelchairs and disability buggies for children. I heard from physio therapists, nurses and other medical staff who have been running the new “Virtual Hospital” service. This novel service is making a huge difference in helping to care for people at home rather than have them admitted to hospital.
Finally, a big thank you to all the Chelmsford residents who took time to speak with British Iranians in the High Street recently. It was very moving to receive hundreds of letters signed by local Chelmsford people about the desperate situation in Iran. Last September, a young woman, Masha Amini, died in police custody after being arrested for not wearing a headscarf. Since then, hundreds of people have been killed during peaceful protests and last month over 100 people were executed by the repressive regime. The protestors just want to live their lives in freedom.
I joined British Iranians in Chelmsford for an evening of solidarity. We are extremely lucky to live in a peaceful and free country. It is important that we use our voices to speak up against terror elsewhere in the world.