Monday 17th February – 4,402 steps Parliament is in Recess this week. I spend the day reading briefings about my new role as Minister for Families and Children. I’m keen to make sure that I am as well read as possible before my first day in the Department on Wednesday.
Tuesday 18th February – 7,473 steps Having cancelled my trip for this week I use an unexpected day to visit both my doctor and dentist, thank you for fitting me in. I know that with the new ministerial job time will be precious and I had to cancel previous routine check-ups during last year’s election. All is good! I spend the afternoon going through constituency case work, an important part of every MP’s work.
Wednesday 19th February – 8,422 steps In Westminster at the House of Commons I clear out my old office as I will now move into a new (and much smaller office) on a ministerial corridor. I then head over to the Department for Education for my first day. The diary is packed full of detailed briefing sessions. My role will involve oversight for all children and young people in care, those needing social service and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The Government is already doing a full review of the SEND support across the country, and a deep independent review of the care system has just been introduced. There is a lot to learn and much to do. One of my first meetings is with England’s Chief Social Worker.
There is one of those famous ministerial Red Boxes in my office, which will be sent to me each weekend with decisions that need to be made. The office is full of light and looks over the rooftops of Westminster Abbey, what an inspiration. But there is an empty notice board that could really do with some happy pictures. I sent a tweet asking if any children will help fill it and am inspired by messages from across the country.
Thursday 20th February – 10,769 steps Back into the Department for Education for more briefings and meetings. Today I hear from the Head of Ofsted, the Children’s Commissioner and those responsible for children’s services in local authorities across the country. Some of the briefings also contain sensitive and confidential information, and many challenging decisions will lie ahead. I will need to speak in my first debate as a Minister next week and take my first questions on the floor of the House of Commons the following Monday. So, I want to be as well prepared as I can be. Before leaving Westminster, I pop into the House of Commons Chamber. As there are no MPs around, I practice speaking from the dispatch box as I know the first session will be nerve-wracking. Thank you to the Commons staff for their advice and to the tourists for bearing with me! It is late when I get home.
Friday 21st February – 5,580 steps Over to Essex County Cricket where the impressive new spotlights are going up and the ground looks fantastic. I’m there for the launch of a new Crime Against Business Strategy. Last year over 20,000 crimes were committed against Essex businesses so it’s very good to hear from Essex Police, our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst and leaders from Essex Chambers of Council about this new strategy. It will help businesses to make sure they have the best protections and support.
At Chelmsford Prison I meet up with the Governor, Penny Bartlett. Not very many MPs have prisons within their constituencies. I believe it is important that those of us who do have one listen carefully to the concerns of prison staff. I am pleased to learn that the levels of violence against officers have reduced, partly due to the stronger sentences we have introduced for those who attack staff. The level of experience of staff has also improved, as has training for inmates to better enable them to take up employment when they are released.
New scanners are making it more difficult to smuggle drugs into the prison but “throw-overs” of drugs have increased. These are often carried out by young people from adjacent properties and the road. The police and prison staff have been working closely to target these but information from the public is also vital, so please do report any incidents you see. I write to the prison minister asking her to look at improvements to CCTV and legal protections for officers injured when preventing fights between inmates.
Passing through the Army and Navy it’s great to see the work that has already been done to take the flyover down. I visit Sutherland Lodge Surgery which has made some good progress since my last visit. However, I am concerned that the phone booking line is still not updated and the progress on refurbishing the surgery is slow. I will continue to follow this.
I meet staff and residents at Freeman Court, a new retirement community that provides social housing for those with extra care needs. Lots of work catching up with emails from constituents. Please bear with me if there are delays as I get my feet under the desk with the new job. I get home to find that my first ministerial weekend “Red Box” has arrived. Packed with decisions that need to be made and more reading for the weekend!
Saturday 22nd February – 10,242 steps Lovely morning speaking to residents in Great Baddow, thank you so much to everyone who stopped to talk and the three new volunteers who joined us. It was very helpful to hear peoples view about the long-term solutions to the Army and Navy, and suggestions for improvements to local buses. In the City Centre I stop for lunch with volunteers and our Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst before going out to talk to shoppers from across Essex in the High Street. Roger explains the work he has done to add over 400 officers to the Essex Police Force and the preventative work they are doing on gangs, rural crime and business crime. He also updates us on the redevelopment work at Chelmsford Police Station, a massive investment and modernisation. The Police Commissioner has oversight of a huge budget for our police and sets the priorities for the force. It is a crucial job.