Monday 12th April Up bright and early for a trip to the hairdressers, it’s the first day they are allowed to open again – I booked my appointment weeks ago on the day the Prime Minister announced the roadmap to reopening. There is great excitement in the hairdressers. I then join Mike Wray, who manages Chelmsford’s Business Improvement District to visit shops and restaurants. The High Street is buzzing, with so many happy faces, music is playing and there is a spring in everyone’s steps. I chat with some of the shop managers, including at a brand new Art Gallery in Bond Street. I am told good news that many of those working in Debenhams have found other jobs locally when the store shuts. Later I learn that the foot fall in Chelmsford High Street has been the same as a Christmas Shopping Monday pre-Covid. We are bouncing back.
I spend the afternoon and late into the evening listening to MPs speak in the House of Commons. Parliament has been recalled a day early for tributes to be made to HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Not all MPs are able to speak so some of us need to listen from home. I was deeply privileged to meet him twice, once at a reception for parliamentarians and their partners when he spoke with every spouse, giving them huge support. The second time was when he came to open a new University Science Block, he must have been 94 years old yet was full of excitement at learning about the research and engineering that was taking place. The MPs speeches from across the country are full of beautiful stories. What a remarkable man.
Tuesday 13th April Into London and at the Department for Education I meet the team behind the “Everyone’s Invited” website. Many thousands of women have been posting testimonials on this website of their experience of sexual abuse and harassment. We have set up a special NSPCC hotline for anyone who wants to report sexual abuse or get advice, and Ofsted have launched an investigation into schools. We discuss what more can be done to address this, including the upcoming ban of online pornography for those aged under 18 which will come in through the online harms bill due in Parliament later this year.
Wednesday 14th April Again back in the Department, today to meet with Ofsted. We talk through their plans to restart inspections, as well as schools Ofsted also inspect the children’s services at local authorities and children’s homes. We also discuss their investigation into sexual abuse at schools, where many different experts from different walks of life will be taking part.
Thursday 15th April Walking towards Westminster Bridge I find myself being gently ushered towards a gazebo. There has been an outbreak of one of the Covid “variants of concern” in South London and all those passing by are being encouraged to take a Covid test. The staff operating the pop-up test site could not be more helpful as they take me through the process. Very easy, very quick and very thorough.
Another busy day with meetings, this time with the new Children’s Commissioner. She is launching a “Big Ask” to enable children and young people all across the country to give their views on what affects them most. I hope that many children take part in this once in a generation survey.
Friday 16th April A Chelmsford day starts with a busy online surgery, and then a meeting with the management company of some of the Chelmsford properties affected by the cladding situation. There is good news that all except two of their properties have got the “all clear” from fire safety experts, and the two that do need remedial work will not need a “Waking Watch” which is something I know residents were concerned about. We discuss how they will progress on working towards the remedial work. It’s a beautiful day and I go out and about leafleting for the local elections – the County Council and Police Commissioner elections are really important – please do vote. I join a fantastic meeting to discuss the British Science Festival which is due to be hosted in Chelmsford in September – there is a very exciting programme and we are keen to make sure that there is also a strong legacy for the City. I end the working week by joining the small congregation at evensong in the Cathedral where prayers are read for the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH the Queen and the royal family. It is a beautiful and very peaceful service with representatives from many faiths and the Navy as well as civic representatives.