Parliament has been on recess this week, a time when MPs usually catch up with Constituency matters.
I have also spent the week as the acting “Duty Minister” for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. Each government department always has one minister on duty in case urgent matters arise. Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, and despite Parliament being closed, there was much to do. During the week, I approved a number of different actions to sanction individuals and organisations.
In Chelmsford it was good to catch up with some local businesses, families and children enjoying the Easter Holidays. I met Rebecca Shipman who started up her “All Things Alpaca” company at Lathcoats Farm last summer. Rebecca has a herd of seven alpacas. She told me how popular these gentle creatures are, especially with children and often with people with disabilities. Earlier this year, Rebecca faced a potential catastrophe for the new business when Storm Eunice blew away the alpaca’s shed. However, following an appeal for help on social media, many people made donations. Rebecca was able to replace the shed and told me how grateful she was.
I also saw children having a huge amount of fun at the indoor play area, Mace Playce. This popular family venue had to close for a long period during the pandemic, but the families I met were clearly very happy to be back. I know that many businesses are facing higher costs, especially due to increased energy prices, but they are also keen not to increase costs for customers.
I took some time to knock on doors and chat with local residents. There are no local elections in my Chelmsford constituency this year but there is a by-election in Little Baddow and Danbury due to the retirement of the long serving local councillor.
During the week, we also heard the news of an individual being convicted of the brutal murder of Sir David Amess MP, which brought back memories of that awful day. Some Chelmsford residents have asked me about safety at constituency surgeries. I help many local people with issues via email but sometimes the issue is more complex, so a face-to-face discussion can be really important. I hold surgeries frequently, but for safety reasons I do not advertise the dates or times in advance. Since Sir David’s murder I have taken advice on safety. To have a surgery appointment you need to book in advance and there is always a trained security professional present who will do a bag check. I hope that this reassures those who are concerned for their safety when coming to a surgery appointment.
The highlight of the week was joining members of the congregations from many different churches for a Good Friday service in Chelmsford High Street. With music, prayers and an uplifting presentation from the East London group “Tough Talk”, complete with a weightlifting demonstration too!