Monday 4 February Start the week in County Hall meeting Cllr Ray Gooding, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills. Essex Schools receive far less government funding than London based schools, which we do not believe is fair. We discuss a campaign for fairer funding.
Army and Navy Task Force meeting with County, City and Parish councillors. This group is looking at options for the future of the Army and Navy junction. There are many potential alternatives. We agree plans for local stakeholder meetings as it is important local views are heard.
Into Westminster, where I meet internet safety campaigners and then support Foreign Office ministers answering urgent question about the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This has helped to reduce nuclear weapons between the USA and Russia since the 1980s, but the Russians have broken the treaty and the US is pulling out. Worrying. I join colleagues for a big meeting with representatives from the UKs largest motor manufacturers. It is very clear that car makers do not want to leave the EU with “no deal”. Receive an email asking if I will go to Northern Ireland on Wednesday re backstop talks.
Tuesday 5 February. Safer Internet Day, and I join MPs from the Science and Technology Select Committee to meet the Chairman of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. We discuss the ethics of facial recognition technology, use of machine learning to make recommendations for medical treatments and how banks and mortgage lenders using artificial intelligence to make financial decisions. Fascinating.
In the House of Commons, I ask the Prison Minister questions about violence in prison and how the new Knife Crime Protection Orders will work. I am one of a small subgroup of MPs who have been nominated to review laws on the diamond industry; as part of the EU we are part of the global work to prevent Conflict Diamonds and we need to make some changes to our law to make sure the UK will still participate in this post Brexit.
MPs are debating Police Funding. I am pleased that the new funding rules mean that 240 more officers will be added to the Essex Police force this year, on top of the 150 additional officers that joined last year. This will be funded by an extra £2 per month on council tax bills. We vote through more funding for police and local councils.
Join small group of MPs having dinner with the German minister responsible for following Brexit. It’s good to hear colleagues say they will support the Withdrawal Agreement if there are changes to make sure the backstop is not permanent. But will the EU agree to this? Trip to Northern Ireland is cancelled as the PM is going herself.
Wednesday 6 February. Long session with the Women and Equalities Committee and the Head of the Office for National Statistics discussing what questions will be asked in the 2021 census. The questions on religion, ethnicity and gender are hugely sensitive.
I join Cancer Research UK volunteers who are in Westminster for World Cancer Day. They tell me approximately 2,100 people are diagnosed with cancer in Chelmsford each year. I support the government’s recent announcements to invest in cancer services and to recruit and train more cancer specialists. PMQs very uneventful as PM is away so it is taken by a deputy.
Meeting of the All-Party Group for Infrastructure. I have been asked to take over as Chairman and am honoured to do so.
Meet Planning Minster to discuss my low letter box campaign, there is an important meeting regarding building regulations next week. I need to get my skates on to make sure letter boxes are on their agenda!
Thursday 7 February. No longer a three-line whip in House of Commons. In Chelmsford, I meet students from Great Baddow High School. I explain the government’s plans for new Knife Crime Protection Orders, which are intended to prevent young people from getting involved in knife-carrying gangs. We talk about online abuse, the pros and cons of social media and mental health support. We discuss whether the voting age should change to 16 and they suggest that an introduction to how elections and democracy work should be part of the PSHE curriculum. Interesting.
I join the awesome volunteers and learners of the English for Women project at the YMCA. There are now over 30 different nationalities involved. It is making a huge difference to many people’s lives. I visit the Sanctus café which offers free meals to up to 80 people a day. They are supporting many of the most vulnerable people in Chelmsford. It is very helpful to hear the different stories from some of those in the café.
Friday 8 February. Very busy constituency surgery. Interesting catch up with the Job Centre Plus. The first stage of the Universal Credit roll out in Chelmsford has gone exceptionally well, nearly all those on the old “UC Live” service have now transferred to the new system and there is lots of positive feedback. We discuss why about 6% of new claimants do not receive payments as promptly as others. This is often about missing paperwork, such as tenants not having information from their landlords on rent payments. We discuss how to improve this.
Wonderful afternoon at Essex Police Headquarters watching the passing out parade of 55 new officers who have just completed their training. They are a deeply impressive group, bringing a wide range of different ages and experiences. Very positive evening knocking on doors off Waterhouse Lane, nice to meet lots of local residents.
Saturday 9 February. I join local Councillors Mike Holloway and Jon De Vries in the Dickens estate. They are asking residents’ views on what to do about the trees by the park which have become very overgrown. To chop or not to chop? that is the question. We encourage people to write in with their views. It’s clear that there are strong opinions on both sides of the fence here. I am definitely hedging my bets on what the survey outcome will show!