January was an extremely busy month in Westminster...
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** Vicky Ford InTouch
January was an extremely busy month in Westminster. MPs not only passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the Queen's Speech but also started work on a number of other new Bills.
The NHS Funding Bill will result in a record £33.9 billion increase in funding for our health service. Funds to train more doctors, nurses and other staff will come in addition. New legal measures to strengthen sentences for the most dangerous crimes are also underway and the landmark Environment Bill has been launched. This will create a step change in cleaner air and water and also introduce measures to reduce climate change emission and tackle plastic waste. The Agriculture Bill has also started it way through Parliament.
Police funding has also been increased with an additional £23.1 million coming into Essex Police this year. Last month a further 22 officers joined the ever-growing Chelmsford and Maldon policing team. I was also pleased to hear of the progress that is being made to tackle drugs and gang related activity locally. However, I was also very concerned to hear of the terrible incident last weekend in which one young man was killed. It is vital that members of the public continue to support the police by reporting incidents that they witness. Information from the public have helped lead to many arrests across Chelmsford in recent months.
School funding for the year ahead has now been agreed. This “levels up” funding across the country so that schools in areas such as Chelmsford which have traditionally not received as much as many other areas will benefit most. Secondary schools are guaranteed at least £5,000 per pupil funding, and every primary school at least £3,750 per pupil. School funding for Essex has increased by 4.86%.
MPs have also been re-forming the All-Party Groups (APPGs). These bring together members from across all political parties to work on issues of shared interest. I am honoured to have been elected as Chair of the groups for Infrastructure, Digital (ICT) and Women in Parliament. I have also taken on officer roles for the APPGs for Universities, Net Zero and Cricket. We have also appointed our new deputy speakers, including Essex MP, Eleanor Laing. She has been appointed as the most senior of all the deputies and is the first woman ever to become Chairman of “Ways and Means”. This means she will chair discussions related to the budget.
MPs have also elected the chairs of all the Select Committees. I will not be able to stand for Select Committee appointments at least initially. This is because I continue to serve in the Government as the Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Department for International Development. However, in this latter role there have been a number of very positive steps recently including doubling our investment to help developing countries tackle climate change and more work to reduce plastic pollution and help protect the world’s oceans.
We have many new MPs on the Conservative benches, so I have been encouraging new colleagues to join the One Nation Conservative movement and the Conservative Environment Network [link removed]. Both groups are growing extremely quickly with a huge amount of interest and support. I wrote about One Nation Conservatives in a recent article for The Times which you can read here [link removed].
In Chelmsford I have been very concerned about the recent performance on our trains, so I called Greater Anglia into the House of Commons and arranged for MPs representing constituencies along the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) to quiz them. We have asked the company to provide us with monthly data on the number of delays and short-forms as well as price comparisons on how our train fares compare to other services. There have been delays in the roll out of our new trains and carriages. We have asked for regular updates on this. The Government has recently taken back the franchise of Northern Rail which is a clear sign that it is not prepared to tolerate poor performance on our railways. Locally the GEML MPs will continue to monitor performance closely. I am meeting with Network Rail later this month to discuss the plans for Beaulieu Park Station.
Regarding the Army and Navy, we have now received the good news that work to take down the existing flyover will start this month. This work will largely take place overnight but there will inevitably be some disruption. Essex County Council are working urgently with the Department for Transport on developing further details on the five possible long-term solutions.
In Chelmsford, we have launched Essex 2020, a year of science and creativity. This is an important centenary for us as we remember Marconi’s first ever radio broadcast across the world. There is still a huge amount going on in our city in the world of science and technology. We will be hosting the British Science Festival this summer, the first time it’s ever happened in Essex.
Thank you to the large number of Chelmsford residents who contacted me about the Back-Inn Time restaurant. This is a very popular local venue and part of our heritage. I am supporting this important local business.
As we leave the EU it is important that we continue to work with friends and allies in other countries. I was therefore very honoured to be asked to speak at an event in Sweden last week for the Swedish Moderate Party. We have a strong history of working with Sweden on issues such as free trade and well-regulated markets. It was good to discuss ongoing cooperation especially in areas such as environmental policy. I continue to keep a close eye on Foreign Affairs matters including the situation regarding Iran and the spread of Coronavirus.
In Chelmsford I attended an event for Holocaust Memorial Day. This year marked the 75^th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is vital that we all remember the horror that mankind is capable of unleashing when fuelled by hate. In Chelmsford we were honoured to hear the testimony Henri Obstfeld. He told his story of life as a very young child in Nazi occupied Holland and being hidden and cared for by a non-Jewish family.
We also remembered the many other genocides that have taken place since that time. In Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica and more recently in Sudan as well as the plight of the Rohingya. Most importantly, we were also reminded of the rise in anti-Semitism and religious hatred, even recently in Essex. Thank you to students from St John Payne, Kegs and Newhall for their very moving contributions.
I have also supported campaigns for the Great British Spring Clean, Macmillan Cancer and Family Hubs. Chelmsford was one of the first places in the UK to set up a Family Hub and it has helped hundreds of residents across our City. The Hub is based at Chelmsford Central Library so do drop in to visit them if you have questions.
Don’t forget I’m hosting the first ever Apprenticeship Fair in Chelmsford next Friday as part of National Apprenticeship Week. Come and meet local businesses and organisations and find out why 650 people from many age groups started apprenticeships in Chelmsford last year. Apprenticeships provide an excellent way to learn new skills and unlock opportunity whilst also earning at the same time.
Chelmsford's Anglia Ruskin University is in the top 3 in the country for providing degree apprenticeships. There will be stalls from Teledyne e2v, London Stanstead Airport, The British Army, The NHS and many other organisations. Thank you to Chelmsford College and many local schools for their support too.
Sorry for such a long update – but it has been a busy time!
As ever, please do stay in touch. My email is [email protected]
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