This week has been very busy in Westminster with a new budget and a major vote on the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill. It also brought great excitement in Chelmsford with the opportunity to look behind the scenes at the huge infrastructure project that is happening on our new rail station.
As former Children’s Minster I was very pleased to see the announcement about up to 30 hours of free childcare for all children over nine months. Childcare costs in the UK are very high and this is a major barrier which prevents many parents from returning to work, especially mums. I have had heart wrenching correspondence from some Chelmsford mums who want to work more but have really struggled to afford childcare.
It is going to take some time for pre-schools, nurseries and childminders to be able to expand their services in order to take on more children. Therefore, this policy is going to be phased in over a few years.
I was also very pleased to hear other announcements to improve economic growth, especially in high growth sectors. The UK is home to the largest life sciences sector in Europe, a world leader in offshore wind and has the third largest tech sector globally.
was particularly pleased to hear that the Chancellor is going to do a review of barriers that prevent pension funds from investing in high growth companies. This is an issue which is often raised with me by the financial services sector.
In advance of the budget the Chancellor took time to meet with MPs to discuss local and national issues. I reminded him of the importance of getting a new junction at the Army and Navy as the amount of time being wasted in traffic jams is holding back our local economic growth. I also asked him to support an expansion of the medical school at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford. The first cohort of new doctors is due to graduate shortly, many of them want to stay working in our local area. This is good news and will help to cut the NHS waiting lists.
This week also brought the first “oral questions” session for MPs to quiz ministers from the new department of Science, Innovation and Technology. I was delighted to have been picked in the ballot to ask a question. I used the opportunity to promote Chelmsford’s Teledyne e2v, a world leader in space imaging technology. When the recent earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, their technology helped pin point the exact location of fallen buildings, send rescuers to the exact locations and save lives. They are also the major provider of imaging technology to Europe’s Copernicus network of very high orbiting satellites which monitor our air, oceans and volcanoes. It was good to hear the minister explain that now we have a new agreement on Northern Ireland, discussions have started for UK companies to continue to work with projects like Copernicus.
The Illegal Migration Bill is one of the many measures that the Government is introducing to stop the small boats. With so many lives being lost both in the Channel and on the way to the French coast, it is extremely important that action is taken to stop the people traffickers.
The vast majority of those travelling by small boats are adult men under the age of 40, not the disabled, the frail or the most vulnerable. I would like to see an asylum system that supports the most vulnerable. I am also concerned that many billions of pounds of our overseas aid is being spent on hotel accommodation for asylum, money that otherwise could be spent on helping to tackle instability overseas and thus reduce the need for people to leave their homes.
MPs were also updated by ministers about the action taken to prevent the UK branch of Silicon Valley Bank from collapse. In the 2008 financial crisis there was no legal process to rapidly resolve a failing bank without relying on tax-payer funded bailouts. I spent three years helping to change international laws so that banks could be rapidly restructured without government funding. This helps to protect the deposits that individuals and companies have in banks. It is reassuring to know that these new tools do work in practice.
Friday was a hugely exciting day as I went to see what work is being done on our second railway station in Beaulieu. People in the North and East of Chelmsford have been promised this station for over forty years. The new station will also help reduce congestion elsewhere in the city as fewer people will drive into the city centre to get to our existing station. This is the first time a new station has been built on the Great Eastern Mainline in over 100 years. It was very moving to see the work first hand.
Beaulieu Park Station also includes a passing loop which means that fast trains will be able to overtake stopping services. This will improve the reliability of services all across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and mean more trains can operate.
The project is hugely complex. It involves moving both the east and west bound lines a few metres each way. Over recent weekends operations have included cutting out and them moving 75 metre long sections of track. The subsurface under the track has then been replaced and strengthen so prepare for the new platforms and moving of the track.
In Chelmsford, I also visited the local charity Kids Inspire which supports children and young people who have suffered from trauma. They are a wonderful charity. They are currently looking to increase their corporate sponsors, so if you think that your company might be interested in assisting them, please do get in touch.