This week I have made some great progress with my Private Members Bill on School attendance. I have now formally tabled the draft Bill and it has been published. I have also spoken in a debate in the Common’s Chamber and lead a debate in parliament’s second chamber, Westminster Hall.
We should be very proud of our nation’s young people. Children in England now rank 11th in the world for Maths and 13th for Reading. Back in 2010, when today’s school-leavers were just starting out in reception, the same league tables placed our children at 27th for Maths and 25th for Reading. There has been phenomenal progress; we must not let this slip.
School absences have risen both here and in many other countries since the pandemic. In the UK it can also be a postcode lottery as some areas have worse attendance than others. For the vast majority of children, school is the best place to be. Education is key to young people having access to skills and opportunities in their future – as well as making friends.
The reasons why some children miss school can be complex, including help with special educational needs, mental health or anxiety, transport or other barriers.
My Bill will make sure that all schools and local authorities will have to follow the best practice guidelines. They will have to work together, remove barriers and support families. Each school will need to have a clear, published policy on attendance.
The next stage of the Bill will be its second reading on Friday 2nd January. I hope MPs of all parties will back it on Friday so that it can progress to committee stage. It will help get our missing children back into the classroom.
I was also very pleased that Essex is to be included in the new innovative project to find new ways to support children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities with short breaks. Providing children with special needs access to short breaks can make a huge difference to their confidence and independence. It can give their families a break too.
We also heard that two Chelmsford football groups have received Government funding for grassroots football. This funding will go towards new goal posts at Uplands Rangers YFC in Springfield and pitch upgrades at Galleywood Youth FC.
There was also good news from our police who have arrested and prosecuted one of Chelmsford’s prolific shop lifters. Their recent arrests of a number of people associated with car thefts appears to have resulted in a reduction in this crime locally.
There are now more than double the number of police constables in our community policing team in Chelmsford. They have been conducting both uniformed and covert operations. I want to ensure they have the tools and resources to focus on the priorities people are most concerned about and have started a local safety survey to hear feedback from residents.
In Parliament we debated a law on new Offshore Oil and Gas Licences. For me, this issue presents a dilemma. On one hand, there is the responsibility to care for the lives and livelihoods of those people we represent today. On the other hand, the responsibility to care for the planet for future generations.
Today, due to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the situation in the Red Sea, the risk to our energy security is much greater than just a couple of years ago. Oil and gas can’t be switched off overnight and will remain an important, though declining, source of energy as we transition towards net zero. Using the UK’s North Sea gas is more secure and comes with much lower carbon emissions than importing Liquid Natural Gas from overseas.
But, there is also the risk of climate change where global action is needed. We, and countries from across the world have agreed that we will all transition away from fossil fuels. Even with new oil and gas licences, production from the North Sea will falling each year, but granting new licences risks the perception in other countries that the UK may not be keeping our promises.
I have worked on reducing the environmental risks of Off-shore production in the past, including visiting an off-shore oil rig to understand the issues first hand. Our UK environmental standards are amongst the very, very best in the world, but not as high as in neighbouring Norway. I will be working to table some amendments to the Bill to try to get the UK’s approach closer to that of Norway, thus securing both improved energy security and environmental improvements.
I had a catch up with the Vice Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University and the head of the Medical School in Chelmsford. Huge congratulations to our local university for winning the very prestigious national University of the Year award. The medical school is doing an outstanding job, training local people and others from across the UK to become doctors. I would like to see the school expanded so they can train even more. I raised this in Parliament with the Health Secretary this week.
Many congratulations also to Chelmsford based Woodland Group on winning two major awards for Ocean Services and Sustainability. They saw off competition from well-known strong, global competitors such as DHL, World Cargo, Maersk, and Geodis.
I popped into Woodland to meet with the boss, Kevin Stevens. We had a fascinating conversation about global supply chains, the impact of the situation in the Red Sea on products in the UK and on running a privately owned business across multiple continents.
Kevin also spoke to me about the company’s apprenticeship scheme. They train people in a huge array of different areas of the business - and have a 100 percent track record of apprentices staying with the company. Staff told me how much they enjoyed working at Woodland.