Monday 22nd March I head off towards London for the last week of the Parliamentary term before the Easter recess. It is now a year since I have been a Minister, I have learnt that the last week of each term is always busy with lots of decisions to be made before Parliament rises. From the Department for Education, I join online with a group of nurseries and preschools from Lancashire, I meet with the Diana Award who have been partnering with the Government to deliver antibullying projects in schools and catch up with the team who are working on rolling out Family Hubs.
It is busy in the House of Commons too with lots of legislation that needs voting on. The Queen’s Speech date has been set for 11 May, and Bills need to be completed before that date or risk falling. Today, MPs are discussing amendments to the Fire Safety Bill. I know many Chelmsford residents are facing the very challenging situation of living in apartment blocks which have cladding similar to that of the Grenfell tower. An amendment has been proposed for this Bill which the drafters hope would protect leaseholders from remediation costs, however in practice this amendment is likely to make the situation even less clear and could lead to legal challenges and delays. It is a long day for MPs and the work continues until nearly midnight. Walking home I am worried by a pain in my chest.
Tuesday 23rd March I am in the Department for Education preparing for answering questions from in the House of Commons tomorrow, but I keep getting twinges in left side. I have never felt this before and decide to get it checked out. Meetings are postponed as I head off to A&E, the doctors and medical staff could not be more helpful and put me through a full MOT, running blood tests, an ECG and X-ray. They rule out heart, lung and other problems and I return to the office reassured to know that this is not serious.
Wednesday 24th March At the Despatch Box, I answer questions about childcare for working parents and encouraging more girls to consider careers in engineering. I stay to sit in the gallery – socially distanced – and listen to the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the term before heading back to the Department to meet with school caterers, and discussing children’s services with the leading officials in Croydon and Cumbria.
Thursday 25th March Up early for a 06:20 call to get an update on the overnight news before heading into a back to back series of radio and TV interviews for the “morning round”. My colleague Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP has been leading a report into how to improve and join up services for parents of children in the first two years of life. It is an important report and makes sensible recommendations such as digitising the “red book” health record for small children which I am glad to support.
The rest of the day is packed, catching up on meetings that I missed from earlier in the week. I join a round table of the charities representing disabled children, chair an online session of experts looking at mental health and wellbeing of school staff, meet the head of the Education Select Committee to discuss our plans to support school breakfast clubs, join a fabulous team in Wolverhampton who are organising superb holiday clubs for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and discuss our support for maintained nurseries with colleagues.
Friday 26th March My Chelmsford day starts with a meeting of the local Safeguarding Partnership which brings together school leads, police, health and social services. I learn about a super Essex project, the Multi School Council, which has been bringing together pupils from mainstream and special schools and helping to increase understanding and break down barriers. The weekly call with the Minister for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment brings us up to speed on the latest news. Over 50% of adults are now vaccinated and we listen to advice for those with cancer and other immune supressed patients. A busy constituency surgery is followed by a meeting regarding the Marconi development, one of the locations that is affected by cladding issues. Some immediate remediations are due to start straight after Easter which is good but I am disappointed that in the past four weeks since I last met the developers, Bellway, there has not been more progress in agreeing what further work is needed. We agree some specific actions that they will take and set a date for a further meeting.
Saturday 27th March A huge thank you to the team at Chelmsford Van Hire as I move out of my current Chelmsford flat and onwards to my new Chelmsford home. They could not have been more helpful and I understand that they have been supporting many local businesses as well as people moving home during this challenging year.