Monday 30th November A foggy morning and lots of accidents on the roads, so not a great start to the week as I head off towards London and the Department for Education for a catch up with the officials leading on our review of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The support for children with extra needs in England is much better than in many other countries but it does need improving and reforming. We are making progress, but this is a very complex piece of work.
With the Head of the Youth Justice Board we talk about work to improve support for those extremely vulnerable children who are in secure environments because they face extra risk of harm. The departments advisor on care leavers is extremely inspiring. He grew up in care himself and is helping to drive forward plans that are making a real difference for many young people.
I head to Westminster Hall, where MPs are holding a very moving debate about deaths in mental health care. Unfortunately, I am not able to speak in the debate as a minister, but I watch the discussion. Before I became the Chelmsford MP there were a number of very sad deaths at the Linden Centre in Broomfield, which is just outside the Chelmsford constituency. Tragically a young man from Chelmsford recently died after leaving the centre. My thoughts have been with his family. The Health Minister tells the MPs that an inquiry is to be launched shortly covering the period up to the present time. I do hope that this can help prevent such awful tragedies in the future.
In the House of Commons MPs are discussing the latest plans on Coronavirus Tiers which we will be voting on tomorrow.
Tuesday 1st December I start the day speaking to local radio about the vote tonight. In Chelmsford when we were in Tier 1 the cases of corona virus were doubling every 5-7 days which was an unusually rapid and concerning rate. The measures we have taken in Tier 2 and in the national lockdown has helped to stabilise this but we are still not below the case rate when we left Tier 1. We do need to be careful. I will be supporting the proposal to stay in Tier 2 for now but pressing to go to Tier 1 as soon as possible.
I catch up with Mike Wray, who runs One Chelmsford, working with businesses in the City Centre about plans for reopening shops tomorrow, he tells me the shop staff are positive, a huge amount of work has been done, but we share concern for the teams at Debenhams as their long term future is uncertain.
In the Department I meet teams from across the country who have been supporting young people leaving their Children’s Homes on their journey to independence. Care Leavers have told me how this can feel like a real cliff edge, and it is hugely uplifting to hear how these projects have helped. I join MPs on zoom to brief them on our new plans for Family Hubs to get early help to families facing challenges and then hop on-line to listen to the debate on the Tiering system. The Health Secretary tells the House that his own step grandfather died of the virus in Liverpool just a couple of weeks ago. He is holding back his own tears and full of thanks for the people of Liverpool where the virus is down by four fifths. Fifty-five Conservative MPs vote against the motion, Labour and Lib Dems abstain, but it is carried by a huge majority.
I end the evening online with a super gathering of people from all across the UK and internationally arranged by the Anne Frank Institute. We have been working with them on projects to tackle bullying, prejudice and hatred. The teenagers who have taken part are fabulous!
Wednesday 2nd December What a great day! Wake up to the news that the first vaccine has been approved for the UK. We are the first country in the world to have cleared the medical approvals as our regulator has been working flat out – without compromising any of the safety checks. There is light and hope for a way out of the pandemic. I walk into Westminster with a happy heart.
Long discussions with the Children’s Commissioner, and an excellent meeting with Henry Dimbleby who has been leading work for the Food Foundation looking at school food and child food poverty for many years. He is hugely excited by our plans to roll out the Holiday Activities and Food schemes across the country next year, as am I!
Thursday 3rd December Today I was allowed into Westminster Hall, this time for a debate on “Early Years”, nurseries and preschools and responding as the Minister. When my children were small I gave my time to help run the community pre-school and have huge admiration for all those who care for our youngest children, these are the key years for a child’s development when they learn the building blocks that set them up for live. We are putting unprecedented funding into the sector, and it was good to announce an uplift for next year too – but it is a difficult time.
Friday 4th December My Chelmsford day starts with an online meeting of the Army and Navy Taskforce. During the pandemic work has continued on developing plans for a the long term improvement to the junction. We are looking at four potential schemes, a new flyover, an enlarged roundabout, a “hamburger” junction and a double T junction. They all have pros and cons but it is important to get the best long term solution as this is such a key part of Chelmsford’s infrastructure. Over the next few weeks more work will happen to model air quality and the risk of accident in the different designs. We will meet again in January.
In Chelmsford I head over to the charity “Kids Inspire”. They are supporting 1,200 children across Essex who have faced trauma or challenges. Every year they collect, wrap and distribute Christmas presents for children, for many this will be the only present they receive. Every room, every corridor is stacked with Christmas hampers that have been donated for families. Residents in Beaulieu Park have been collecting gifts, and a pair of beautiful bikes has been donated by a local business. The Rev Dan Pierce from the Beaulieu Community Centre and I wrap gifts, hand picked for each child. Sue Bell, the inspiration behind the charity, tells us about the challenges children have been facing this year and how they are being helped.
I hold a constituency surgery, speaking on the phone and online with residents across Chelmsford. Please do let me know if you need to discuss an issue. Then I pop down the High Street to chat to local traders. The Christmas lights are glittering and it has been a busy day. Please do support our local businesses.