Monday 15th March The lockdown continues but it is good to see signs of spring, blossom on trees and daffodils blooming. From the Zoom of the kitchen table I meet with “Young Money” an organisation that provides advice to young people on how to manage their finances. We discuss the support for care leavers and how to make sure they are getting the best support. I join a training session about online safety run by Facebook, they are doing a better job in removing online threats and abuse, our world leading new laws on online harms are due to come to Parliament later this year. I listen to the Home Secretary make a statement about terrible death of Sarah Everard and the debate about the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This will strengthen sentences for the worst offenders and also bring in better protections for young people from those in positions of trust.
Tuesday 16th March I head into Westminster for a series of meetings at the Department of Education, including a discussion with other ministers on the Covid Winter Support scheme that we have put in place to help people with food and other essentials. I meet leaders of “Alternative Provision” which provide education and training to those excluded from school and join a discussion on plans for new projects to tackle bullying in schools. In the evening, I join a small group of MPs listening to the adjournment debate. David Davis MP is using parliamentary privilege to disclose information about the inquiry into Alex Salmond that has been held back from those holding the inquiry in the Scottish parliament. This type of discussion is very rare in parliament, I listen carefully as he lays out his evidence.
Wednesday 17th March I join other ministers for a discussion on Children’s Social services. It’s been World Social Work Day this week and a time to reflect on the improvements that have been made in recent years, such as support for adoptive families as well as planning ahead. The afternoon brings Summit on Serious Violence, as police, health and children’s social services teams from across the country come together to focus on further actions to reduce serious violence to young people. Back at home in the evening I go online to book my Covid vaccine, hurrah!
Thursday 18th March A packed day of zoom meetings, I join a conference of those organisations that ran Holiday Activities and Food projects in seventeen different areas during the last summer holidays. This year we are planning to run these projects in every part of the country, giving children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds access to fun activities and food during the holidays. I meet the leader of Birmingham City Council to discuss improvements they have promised to make to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities and then meet the Sutton Trust, a charity that helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into the best universities and training. I chat with the new Head of Foster Talk which gives support and advice to foster carers.
Friday 19th March My Chelmsford day starts with the weekly call with the Vaccine Minister who reassures us that the vaccine roll out is still going well. I have a series of meetings with managers and owners of three Chelmsford developments that are affected by the Grenfell type cladding. Each building has different characteristics, I want to make sure that tenants are safe and do not face unaffordable costs. I take a break over lunchtime to head up to Galleywood to deliver some leaflets to local residents. It is a beautiful day and I am treated to a stunning view of the Great Baddow Radar Tower silhouetted against the blue sky, a reminder of the contribution the scientists and engineers of Chelmsford made to the Second World War and to developing communications ever since.
The new team at Chelmsford Job Centre take me through some of the work they have been doing to help people find new jobs. The Kickstart programme is going extremely well. This gives people aged 18 -25 the chance to take up a new role and the Chelmsford team tell me that there are over 150 different opportunities locally in many different sectors from hairdressing and care to law and insurance. The week ends with a thoughtful meeting with our Essex Police Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst and the lead councillor at Essex County Council for Children and Families, Louise McKinley. They have set up a new Safety Board to look at the many reasons why people, especially women can feel so unsafe. A lot has been done in recent years, especially in making our City centre safer at night when the pubs and clubs are open, but the awful death of Sarah Everard has brought so many of us to reflect on times when we have felt unsafe and reminds us that there is much more to do.