Sunday 3rd October A quick turn around after arriving back from my first overseas visit as a Foreign Office Minister and head straight up to Manchester for party conference. After so many months of Zoom meetings it is incredibly good to be back meeting in person, and conference is buzzing with a packed agenda both on the main stage and in numerous fringe events on many different topics. I am in the main hall when the Foreign Secretary speaks, outlining a strategy to defend freedom and democracy through strengthening economic and security ties with friends and allies across the world. At a time of immense global change this is a vital message.
Monday 4th October I use my time at conference to meet many different charities that are involved in supporting development and aid, including the excellent WaterAid organisation which is supported by over 700,000 donors in the UK.
A helpful catch up with Greater Anglia on the train situation in Chelmsford. Punctuality on our trains is the best it has been for years, passenger numbers are still not back to pre-covid levels and the majority of our services are now provided by the new trains and rolling stock that was introduced during the pandemic – great news for Chelmsford infrastructure. Interestingly the “rush hour” seems to have changed, with people spreading their journeys out. It is particularly busy on Friday from lunchtime, as it appears people are starting their weekends earlier. I join conference delegates to speak at an event celebrating friends and allies across the commonwealth.
Tuesday 5th October Another busy conference day, including a useful catch up with the Guide Dogs for the Blind. They are concerned about the safety of e-scooters as blind people cannot hear the silent scooters approaching. I meet with the People’s Lottery who tell me about the local charities they are supporting in Chelmsford. At a fringe meeting on Climate Democracy, I join the COP president Alok Sharma and the long time environmental campaigner Stanley Johnson to update delegates on the work being done to bring world leaders together to give meaningful commitments on reducing carbon emissions at the upcoming climate change conference in Glasgow. I am proud to speak at an event organised by Save the Children.
Wednesday 6th October I join delegates in a packed main conference hall to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech. Yes, there are challenging times ahead but I am delighted to hear about his commitment to making sure people all across the country can access the skills and training for better paid jobs, to support infrastructure, innovation, science and technology and to protect our environment. These are all subjects close to my heart.
Thursday 7th October A busy day at the Foreign Office with multiple meetings with officials as I climb the learning curve for the new job. A trip to the surgery leaves me feeling like a (happy) pin cushion as a kind nurse makes sure that all my vaccinations are up to date for traveling to represent the UK across African countries.
Friday 8th October Back in Chelmsford where I start the day at Newlands Spring school. The SEND Co-ordinator and speech and language therapist tells me how the Nuffield Early Language Initiative which I rolled out when Children’s Minister is making a huge difference for those reception aged children who are behind on language skills. I have a super time with some very chatty Year 4 and 5 children including questions on where the money comes from to pay for schools – we have a long chat about what would be a “fair” tax to put on the pocket money they earn from helping out at home!
On the way to a meeting at the County Hotel I receive the devastating news that my good friend and colleague James Brokenshire has lost his battle with cancer. He was a truly kind and generous person dedicated to making the world a better place.
The manager of the County Hotel tells me they have just won a new “rosette” for excellent dining. It has been such struggle during the pandemic for hospitality sector, I do hope local residents will help support the hotel as they build back.
I am joined by Essex MP Sir Bernard Jenkin on a visit to Chelmsford Prison where we meet the new Governor. A huge amount of work is going on in the Prison to change and improve the culture. My focus is on making sure the prison is a less violent place for both staff and inmates and to tackle the tragic level of suicides that have been seen in recent years. The Prison is notably cleaner and tidier than on my last visit, security checks have strengthened, family visits have re-commenced and a new 16 week mentoring programme is starting soon. This is good progress but there is a long journey to go.
My week finishes with an upbeat meeting with some of the medical students from Anglia Ruskin University. They are interested in promoting and helping child and neo natal health and are running a week- long fundraising campaign to support local charity Kids Inspire. Do look them up online https://www.angliastudent.com/socs/24927/.