I was very surprised and honoured at the start of Westminster’s autumn term to be asked to take on a new responsibility helping ministers in the Foreign Office Team. The role is called a “Parliamentary Private Secretary” or in political jargon “PPS”. Each ministerial department has at least two PPSs, one for the lead minister such as the Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary etc and one to support the other ministers. The PPSs job is to be the interface between the ministers and other parliamentarians, making sure that ministers are aware of questions that are being raised by MPs and helping ministers to get them answers. Traditionally the PPS sits behind the ministers during debates or departmental question-time, and if any unexpected matters arise they can pass the ministers messages from officials. PPSs are not paid, we don’t set policy, and we don’t take part in debates ourselves on matters related to our department.
In my first few weeks as PPS I’ve attended a number of debates and question sessions, including on Yemen, Syria and Russia and a long debate on “Global Britain” when many MPs commented on different elements of the UK’s foreign policy. It is a huge learning curve for me as a relatively new MP and I am very fortunate that the ministers in the Foreign Office team are all very experienced.
Taking on new roles in Westminster does not mean that I will spend less time of energy supporting Chelmsford. One area that I have been focusing on is the need to find a long term solution to the Army and Navy Flyover. I have been asking ministers for advice and even raised the issue on the floor of the House of Commons. Essex County Council have commissioned an independent engineer to perform a full survey of the existing flyover, this is to assess the current situation and evaluate whether repairs can be made to ensure its safety for the current time. For the longer term, work is needed to look at all possible options for replacing the flyover, including options to completely redesign the roundabout. Once there is an agreed “Preferred Scheme” then a bid will need to go to the Department for Transport for funding before commissioning work. This will be a large project, it is important to take time to get it right. I have asked the engineers to prepare a draft timetable for the project and a task force is being established to bring together all those organisation who will be needed to help deliver this.
Thank you to everyone who helped with Chelmsford Heritage Open Days. I particularly enjoyed my visits to the Quaker Friends Meeting House and to Chelmsford Mosque which were both open to the public. It was fascinating to hear about both of their histories and they work they do today.