A typical Tuesday in London, beginning with coffee in bed around 6.45am skimming through emails to find out what the key issues are that my constituents are contacting me about and reading the headlines. I enjoy an online news outlet called Politico - London Playbook, which generally knows before I do about issues arising in Westminster! I still find it disconcerting, even after two and half years as an MP, how many leaks there are to the press by both MPs and civil servants.
My first meeting was at 9.30 with representatives of Boeing in Portcullis House. I had previously met with them in Lossiemouth, Scotland during an inquiry on the defence sector by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. I wanted to learn more about the defence sector from Boeing’s point of view and to find out how they could use more SMEs in their supply chain, particularly as regards businesses in Hastings and Rye. Some helpful advice was given, such as a suggestion that any supply chain business can register on Boeing’s website and that the ADS Group (Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space) do supply chain-focused events. It was good to hear that Boeing do outreach programmes in schools and colleges (yes please in Hastings and Rye!). We also discussed the importance of STEM education and skills, as well as the need to get more women and girls into engineering. I am keen to progress this further.
I then popped over to an informal viewing of the 2019 Election Artist artwork ‘There was a Time 2019-2020’ which had been put on display during the Easter Recess. The artist, Nicky Hirst, had been commissioned by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art to do a piece of art to represent the 2019 General Election. Since 2001, the Works of Art Committee has appointed an artist as the official one for each general election. Following the election, the artist then proposes a permanent artwork for the Parliamentary Art Collection. Rather than a painting, the 2019 election is represented by a huge colourful mobile piece, proportionately representing people who voted in the colours of the various political parties. Following the announcement of the 2019 General Election, Nicky Hirst followed the campaign trail and documented her travels around the U.K. on Instagram @ElectionArtist2019. Nicky told me she visited Hastings and Rye!
Back to my office, I logged on for a virtual meeting with my constituency-based team to discuss issues arising, including the visas for Ukrainians, abusive emails, and fixed penalty notices. The level of abusive emails and the negativity is quite concerning, particularly regarding Ukraine. It is very draining on everyone to be used as a punchbag for frustrations when we are all trying our best to help. The Home Office had to set up brand new systems for the Ukraine Family and Sponsorship Schemes. What is clear to me is that the Home Office digital infrastructure needs a major modernisation.
I had a sandwich at my desk before giving a virtual interview to a young, local student and freelance journalist which will form part of an audio mini-series ‘looking at Hastings and the levelling up agenda’. I always try to fit in interviews asked for by school pupils or students especially if it is for their A-Level studies or university dissertations – it is important to support them in their endeavours even if we do not always agree on politics!
Next was a Ministerial Briefing with Tom Pursglove MP on the Migration and Economic Development Partnership between the UK and Rwanda. He explained that the UN and the UNHCR already place people in Rwanda for their safety, and that Rwanda wants to save African lives, which is commendable, as well as that no one country alone can solve the global migration issue. Under the partnership, people who enter the U.K. illegally, including by small boats across the Channel, may have their asylum claim considered in Rwanda rather than in the U.K., with a view to them receiving the protection they need in Rwanda if their claim is granted. The United Nations has nothing but positive comments about Rwanda; last year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filipino Grandi, praised the government of Rwanda for the way in which they had provided a safe haven for refugees from Libya 'Thanks to Rwanda, we can evacuate refugees from Libya and seek solutions for them. Many of them have suffered terrible abuse...in Libyan detention centres'. The UN Refugee Agency has also recommended Rwanda as 'a safe haven for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution'. Under this agreement, Rwanda will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws, and will ensure their protection from inhumane and degrading treatment or being returned to the place they originally fled.
Following this was a virtual briefing by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) to East Sussex MPs, raising issues including the funding settlement, how legislation change as regards building safety is driving up costs, discussions on supporting community resilience (including through the Local Resilience Forum), service priorities, prevention and protection, and discussions around Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) Round 2. We as MPs then can and do lobby Ministers on issues raised, such as the funding settlement and cost rises.
I then prepared an opening speech for the next morning, when I would be chairing a roundtable breakfast meeting with a charity, Magic Breakfast, Kelloggs, MPs, and other relevant stakeholders with regards to the importance of children eating breakfast and Government support in facilitating this. Magic Breakfast was set up by Carmel McConnell after she interviewed headteachers in Hackney who told her that many of their pupils arrived at school too hungry or malnourished to learn. Carmel started buying and delivering breakfast food to these schools, with significant improvements in children's concentration, behaviour, punctuality, and educational attainment being evident as a result of eating breakfast. Breakfast provides key nutrients and children who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their overall nutritional needs and are less likely to be overweight than those who do not. Children who eat breakfast also tend to perform better in school and are better able to concentrate, have fewer behavioural problems, an improved memory, and are less likely to be absent or late. Magic Breakfast had recently published a report which shows that breakfast provision has huge benefits to children. It also shows where the gaps in provision for the most disadvantaged lie, and how charities like Magic Breakfast, food industry partners such as Kelloggs, MPs, and the Government can help plug those gaps.
I feel very strongly that levelling up is not just about regions of the country; it is also about levelling up individuals so that they can properly access opportunity. Ensuring children eat breakfast is therefore important in the context of the Levelling Up Whitepaper, which aims for 90% of primary school students to have achieved the expected standard in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and mathematics.
At 8pm, I headed for a 1922 Committee meeting and the Prime Minister’s address to Conservative MPs about his receiving a fixed penalty notice. He was rightly very apologetic, which he did not ruin with excuses.