Monday 24th February - 9,989 steps Start the week at the Department for Education for my first “team” meeting. These will happen each week and are chaired by the Secretary of State. The lead civil servants give an update from each of their areas, we discuss key areas of policy and work to be done. This is followed by many briefings and meetings at the Department before heading over to the House of Commons. MPs are debating the funding settlement for local government, it’s the biggest increase in over a decade and will give local councils in England a share of £49 billion for local services. I listen to a powerful maiden speech from the former leader of Westminster Council on the work they do to help the homeless. Whilst waiting for the vote I work on my “Ministerial Box” which is packed with questions to answer and decisions to make. I will have one of these each evening.
Tuesday 25th February – 9,127 steps I meet with BAE Systems whose Applied Intelligence Laboratory is in Great Baddow. Chelmsford has been the home of radar research for over a century, so it is good to hear that the company is firmly committed to this site. We also discuss their apprenticeship program which is expanding. I head to Westminster Hall where I speak in a debate as a Government Minister for the first time. This has been called by the MP for the Isle of White and is on support for those with special educational needs and disabilities. I need to respond to the debate and give an update on what the Government is doing. It is quite nerve wracking doing this for the first time, so I’ve put a lot of work into the speech. It goes well. In the afternoon we have another meeting of the Education ministers, on latest developments and particularly coronavirus. MPs are debating Social Care, so I join colleagues to listen from the front bench as children’s social services are part of my new brief.
Wednesday 26th February – 12,896 steps One of my main priorities in the new role is Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The Department is doing a full review of this. I meet the independent advisors who are helping with the review, and the two inspirational parents who chair the network of parent forums which have been set up across the country. I join the Secretary of State for a briefing on the review into the Children’s Care service which is being set up. In the House of Commons MPs are discussing the new landmark Environment Bill, which will bring cleaner air and water, tackle waste (especially plastic waste) and protect biodiversity and wildlife. I’ve worked on this for many years. The debate runs late into the evening, but I am delighted when it passes its “second reading” stage with unanimous support across all MPs. It is late when I get back to Chelmsford and settle down to work on another packed ministerial box!
Thursday 27th February – 13,485 I always think it is good to get out of Westminster and see how things actually work on the ground, so as part of my new job I will be visiting children’s services across the country. The first visit is to Bromley council which failed its Ofsted inspection a few years ago but has since turned their system around and is now rated “Outstanding”. I meet social workers and experts from health, education and the police. It is very helpful to see first-hand how they work together to protect the most vulnerable children, to support families and try to prevent children from needing to be taken into care, whilst also ensuring that those children who do need care can get it rapidly. In the evening I join MPs and volunteers from across Essex at a fund raiser for Roger Hirst’s re-election as Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. Roger has made a huge difference to policing in Essex.
Friday 28th February – 6,843 steps In Chelmsford I visit Columbus College which supports those of our own Chelmsford children with the most serious disabilities and needs. I am impressed by the care and love that the team give. In a classroom, students are taking part in a project to decorate furniture, which aims to help the students develop independent skills for their future. The atmosphere is full of positive energy.
I head over to the Hamptons Sports and Leisure in Great Baddow which has just changed owners. There is a weekly tea dance which brings together people from all across Essex. I meet some of the members who are pleased to hear that the new owners want to keep the centre open for events such as this. My fortnightly surgery is incredibly busy, with lots to discuss. My last meeting of the week is with the wonderful nuns, Sister Moira and Margaret who run the Melbourne Project. They are full of information and insight.
I end the working week in Ongar, at a “Best of British” evening to fundraise for the London Mayoral campaign. Our candidate, Sean Bailey, is a Colonel in the Royal Fusiliers and has done impressive work to tackle youth gangs and address deprivation. It is good to have an evening off before settling down to a weekend of work preparing for my first “Oral Questions” on Monday when I will be answering questions from MPs for the first time.