I have recently been nominated to join a Parliamentary Partnership between the UK Parliament and the European Parliament. This brings together cross party MPs, members of the House of Lords and Members of the European Parliament. The Partnership meets twice a year, once in London and once in Brussels. I therefore got up very early on Monday morning to catch the Eurostar to Brussels for two days of meetings.
The Partnership has already met twice since its establishment and so this was the third meeting. I understand that the earlier two sessions were quite frosty. By contrast this session was positive and welcoming. The agreement of the Windsor Framework to resolve so many of issues affecting Northern Ireland has clearly resulted in a much more constructive relationship between the UK and the EU. There is also great respect from many parliamentarians across Europe for the UKs leadership on Ukraine.
During the two days we discussed many areas of mutual interest, including energy security and climate change, defence, economic growth, trade and tackling illegal migration. We agreed a joint resolution on the situation in Ukraine which was passed unanimously. It is important to keep working with neighbouring countries post Brexit.
Whilst I was in Europe, my local Chelmsford assistants hosted and attended a meeting for Essex MPs to catch up with our local NHS Mental Health Trust, EPUT, to discuss recent improvements. Online, I also attended a meeting with the Mid and South Essex NHS Hospital Trust. Local MPs are focused on making sure that our hospitals also keep improving.
Wednesday morning also brought an early start when I visited the London Stock Exchange to meet the chair, Julia Hoggett. Julia has been working on a series of projects to help unlock investment into UK companies, so that businesses can start, grow, scale-up and stay in the UK. This is key to delivering high quality jobs and economic growth. Julia and I first met when we worked together thirty years ago. I was very impressed to hear of her work, we discussed ways that MPs can help support this.
In Westminster I have been working with members of the new select committee for Energy Security and Net Zero. We have launched four new inquiries. These are on preparations for this winter, heating our homes, keeping the power on (what the future energy technology mix should be) and building a flexible Grid for the future. I am looking forward to doing much work on this in coming months.
Wednesday was also the 75th Birthday of the National Health Service. I come from a large NHS family, my parents were NHS doctors, my sister and husband are NHS doctors. I took the chance to “bob” in the House of Commons to signal that I would like to speak. As well as thanking all NHS staff, I asked the deputy Prime Minister to congratulate the Chelmsford medical students who will be graduating as doctors in just a couple of weeks time. This is the fist time doctors have ever been trained in Essex. Our new medical school has been hugely successful.
I am backing Anglia Ruskin University’s campaign for our Chelmsford medical school to double in size. This would make a big difference to expanding capacity in our local NHS. Thank you to the hundreds of Chelmsford people who have already signed up to support my campaign to increase capacity at our GP’s surgeries. It is really important to show that local people support this, please do visit my website, www.vickyford.uk and support the campaign.
Also in Westminster, I chaired a meeting of the All Party Group for Sudan with an exceptional young woman, Waala Elboushi. Before the military coup, Waala was one of only for women ministers in Sudan. She studied engineering at university in the UK and was visiting friends here when fighting broke out in April and remains in touch with friends across the country.
Waala told us how civilians are caught in desperate situation during the battles between the two military generals. There have been very high levels of death, rape and violence as well as a lack of food, water and medicines. The hundreds of thousands of people have who fled the country are also facing horrors as basic humanitarian assistance is not reaching those in neighbouring countries. Sudan is a large, important country. There is a real risk this conflict could accelerate into wider chaos and instability across the region.
On Friday in Chelmsford, I joined neighbouring MP Kemi Badenoch on a site visit to see the new Generals Lane Bridge and progress on Beaulieu Railway Station. The bridge will make a huge difference to traffic in North Chelmsford including across Springfield. It is nearly ready to open, but there is some snagging work still to be completed and it will then need to be fully inspected by Highways for safety. Kemi and I will be writing to Highways to ask them to inspect the work as soon as possible so that it can be opened. We expect it to open towards the end of the summer.
Most Fridays, I also try to visit one of Chelmsford’s schools and meet with the school council. This week I was at Widford Lodge, one of three private primary schools locally.
The head teacher told me that she has recently surveyed parents on what they would do if opposition parties implemented their plan to introduce a new 20% tax on school fees. Over fifty percent of the parents said they would no longer be able to afford fees, and would seek to move their children into state schools.
If this was replicated at all Chelmsford private schools then many hundreds more children would be looking for places at our state schools. It would be impossible to create all these new school places in a hurry. Children of all backgrounds would suffer, some of our most vulnerable children would not be able to get places in nearby schools.
I ended the week at Chelmsford County High School with Councillor Lee Scott and a team of transport officers from Essex County Council. The new cycle lanes and bus stops have made it very dangerous for students trying to enter and exit the school, and cause traffic build up at the beginning and end of the school day. I am keen to help the head teacher find a solution.
The transport officers told us that they have asked Chelmsford City Council a number of times if it would be possible for buses to use the nearby Elm Drive car park as a safer place to stop when dropping off and picking up children, but the City Council has so far refused to help. Lots of people waste precious hours stuck behind buses in the Broomfield Road traffic. Using the car park for buses could be a very sensible solution, especially as when we visited the car park was almost totally empty. I will be writing to Chelmsford City Council to ask them to think again.