Monday 8th February Parliamentary scrutiny of Government is a key part of our democracy, it’s important that MPs can hold ministers to account. Select Committees are at the heart of this and every six months or so ministers can expect to be called in front of the specialist committee to be grilled. I am due to be in front of the Education Select Committee tomorrow, and spend the day reading and revising, as well as joining a cross Government meeting on the support for vulnerable families at this time. Our £170 million Covid Winter Support Package is providing help with food and energy bills to those who are struggling. All 151 Local Authorities have used this to put in place plans to give assistance to children on Free School Meals when schools are closed this half term.
Tuesday 9th February The Select Committee starts. They have been doing an inquiry into why white working class boys seem to fall behind most other groups in their education outcomes. A huge amount has been done in recent years to close what is known as the “attainment gap” between those from more disadvantaged backgrounds and their better off peers. For example, back in 2013 only one in two children were at a “good state of readiness” when they started school, it’s now more like three out of four. This is partly because of the increased investment in Early Years education. Teaching through phonics has also improved reading and literacy. Children in care used to have the worst levels of school attendance and highest rates of exclusion, but the bespoke assistance of virtual school heads has turned this around so that they now have the highest rates of school attendance. Alongside the Schools Minister I answer the MPs detailed questions.
In the afternoon I join other Essex MPs to meet with our hospital head and those leading the vaccine program locally. Vaccinations are going well, and hospital admissions are slowly coming down. I take the opportunity to raise some of the suggestions that have come from our GPs on how to improve the programme further.
Wednesday 10th February In the Department for Education a huge amount of work is going on to make sure that schools and colleges will be able to re-open safely to more children again, when the spread of the virus has lowered. A decision is due in the week after half term. I join a meeting of the UK Council for Internet Safety, and update others on the work that schools have been doing to enable children and young people to stay safe online and the hold a surgery for MPs who have questions they want to raise.
In the virtual House of Commons, I listen to the Housing Secretary announce a massive new scheme to help those living in High Rise buildings affected with fire safety issues. This £5-10 million package will also dramatically reduce the costs for leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 meters high, such as some Chelmsford residents.
Thursday 11th February Our pre-schools and Nurseries have been doing so much to care for our youngest children during the pandemic. I join the Busy Bees team for a virtual tour and a catch-up. Speak about Mental Health and Wellbeing support on BBC Woman’s Hour, meet police leads and experts about harms related to faith and belief, join the Health Minster to discuss improved plans to support young people with the most acute mental health concerns. I write to the Housing Secretary with some follow up questions after his statement.
Friday 12th February My Chelmsford day starts with a meeting about Beaulieu Station. Essex County Council have been doing a huge amount of work on this, pinning Network Rail and the contractors down on the costings and planning and working on trying to speed up the building phase. It is a hugely complex project to build a new station on the busy mail line without disrupting trains, but the passing loop will also add capacity for more passenger and freight trains all across the region.
My email box is pinging with messages from worried residents as the City Council has placed eviction notices on the tents of those sleeping rough undercover in the Meadows Car Park. It is very cold. I write to the Council to ask them what accommodation is being arranged. I join the weekly call with the Vaccines Minister, he is optimistic that we will move onto the next tiers of clinically vulnerable and over 65s shortly.
I listen to the Housing Secretary giving a detailed update on the building safety plans and Dame Judith Hackett who carried out an independent report immediately after the Grenfell disaster. The new Building Safety Bill will dramatically improve the safety regime, with a new regulator to hold builders and property owners to account. I ask some of the questions that Chelmsford residents have raised with me.
I hold my Friday Constituency Surgery and finish the working week catching up with one of Chelmsford’s brilliant Headteachers to hear his thoughts on supporting and inspiring children in the months ahead.