It’s always a pleasure to be able to invite constituents and business owners to join me in the House of Commons. On the evening of Monday 15th January, I was delighted to hold a high-level dinner in the Terrace Pavilion with senior members from the Essex Chambers of Commerce, to discuss the need for more investment in strategic infrastructure for Essex.
Our guest speaker was the Rt Hon Laura Trott MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who arrived before dinner and spent 45 minutes outlining the Government’s proposals for the Spring Budget and taking questions.
Essex is one of only three regions in the country that has regularly made a net contribution to the Treasury since 1999/2000 (with only London and the southeast ahead of us) and the calibre of my guests made for a series of excellent questions and sparked wider discussions.
Laura answered eloquently questions on specific problems faced by Essex businesses, right the way up to more general issues on tax, VAT and National Insurance. She drilled down into the detail of some points before asking for further information to be sent to her office for consideration prior to the March Budget.
I highlighted to Laura Trott the huge importance of the Eastern region to the UK economy, pointing out that the Thames Estuary is the UK’s number one growth area with the potential to create 1.3 million jobs and add £190 billion to the nation’s economy by 2050.
I also stressed that as 98% of businesses in my constituency of Southend are small or micro businesses, they form the backbone of the local economy so it’s absolutely essential that Government is able to give them the support they need to grow and flourish. I’ve made it my priority to ensure that Southend will be in the right position to take advantage of the opportunities that the future holds.
My guests, who included Shevaun Haviland, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the opportunity to put ideas to, and hear directly from, such a senior Government Minister. This was an opportunity particularly welcomed by the representatives of the three Southend based businesses in attendance, Kevin Buck, Director of Hazcomp Ltd, Kamaljit Hunjan, Group Managing Director of Olympus KeyMed (Medical & Industrial Equipment) Ltd and Caroline Fitzgerald, Customer Service & Commercial Director of London Southend Airport.
During the meal, Denise Rossiter, Chief Executive for Essex Chambers, who organised the meeting and whose knowledge of her members is unrivalled, went around the table and focused on drawing out the specifics of current pressing issues such as: attracting more passengers to Southend Airport, supply chain problems caused by the crisis in the Red Sea, and future road infrastructure and improvements.
There was unilateral agreement of the importance of supporting our young people to get decent apprenticeships and enter the workforce, something I’m particularly passionate about. So many of our engineering companies in Essex struggle to find future talent and would like schools and colleges to do more to showcase apprenticeships to get the UK making and producing goods again.
Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford, was able to join us briefly in between other meetings to share the latest information on the Army and Navy flyover proposals at Chelmsford, and reiterate her support for Essex enterprise and business.
Laura Trott said afterwards: "I was delighted to accept Anna Firth's invitation to meet so many high-level Essex business people who had lots of good suggestions about how the Government can further support growth. Essex is a key strategic county for the Treasury and I will be following up on many of the points made".