Two years ago when I was elected to be the MP for Southend West, I paid tribute to Sir David Amess, who while holding his regular constituency surgery, was stabbed to death by an Islamist extremist. I continue to pay tribute at every opportunity, as Sir David’s service to his constituents and to his country must never be forgotten. When I was elected, I also said that serving the people of Southend West was the honour of my life. That too, still holds true today.
In my first two years as your MP, I have been determined to do as much as possible to stand up for things Southend residents believe in such as protecting the environment and safeguarding the rights of animals. I’ve been working hard to make our beautiful Southend happier, healthier, wealthier and safer.
One of the achievements I’m most proud of is raising awareness of the danger of zombie knife sales and pushing the Home Office to introduce new legislation to make them illegal. Getting stabbed is the number one fear for young people in Southend and too many people’s lives are ruined by knife crime. Anything that helps get these terrifying weapons off our streets is a good thing.
We all deserve to have an excellent hospital close to home so I made it my mission to deliver the £118 million in funding promised for Mid and South Essex by the Department of Health, the bulk of which was promised to Southend Hospital. I secured an initial £8 million in my first year as your MP, and my continued lobbying on this matter secured the remaining £110 million from Ministers late last year. Southend Hospital will benefit hugely from this funding, delivering a modern endoscopy suite, an upgraded, refurbished main theatre and more hospital beds, as well as an upgraded ED department.
I am also delighted that my Private Member’s Bill on Pet Abduction is moving through Parliament at pace. My bill makes stealing a cat or dog a specific criminal offence which will ensure that our pets are no longer treated the same as inanimate objects that are stolen. For many of us, pets are treasured members of the family and the emotional impact of their theft will now be properly recognised. My bill has now passed the Committee Stage which means that it’s well on its way to gaining Royal Assent and passing onto the statute books. I cannot thank enough, Ann Cushion and the rest of the wonderful Southend based Tilly’s Angels team, for their invaluable support in pushing this important bill through.
One of the more surprising but brilliant discoveries in Southend was that of the rare manila and razor clam beds that been quietly building up in the Estuary! These clams are of high value and are prized in the culinary centres of world. When I raised this in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister and Home Secretary were so impressed and curious to know more, that they accepted my invitation and came to visit within days. We had a lovely morning walking around Leigh-On-Sea talking to residents and business owners and I felt intensely proud of my constituency. It served to remind me (not that I need much reminding) of how fortunate I am to live and work in such a fantastic part of the country.
Following on from the Prime Minister's visit, I met with the Minister for Fisheries who shared my excitement about the opportunities that these clams present for South Essex fishermen. He committed to exploring this opportunity by working with the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) and CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) with a view to beginning survey work on the clam beds as soon as possible.
Talking about sewage is never pleasant but it’s actually a fascinating and important subject so I was pleased when the head of Anglian Water agreed to attend what have been dubbed locally as my ‘sewage summits’ to discuss storm overflow and run-off into rivers and seas. The summits gave concerned residents an opportunity to vent their frustrations and fears in a constructive manner directly to the person who could do something about it. We achieved clear commitments from Anglian to beat the Government targets on sewage discharges and to make Southend a global exemplar in surface water management, a promise backed up by millions of pounds of investment in Southend.
I love a good game of football and it’s been a joy to get involved with Southend United and the fans’ groups to ensure that the club has a future. Fans must remain at the heart of the Independent Regulator for English Football (IREF) because without the fans, football clubs would not exist.
One of my favourite parts of 2023 was the launch of my work experience programme which each summer, takes fifteen local students behind the scenes of life as an MP. It aims to give students a comprehensive view of all aspects of an MP’s work and to give them an insight into the world of politics as they begin to make decisions about A Levels, university and beyond. Parliament needs a diverse intake to keep it relevant to the public it serves and I hope that this scheme might encourage youngsters from all sorts of backgrounds to consider a career in politics. It’s also an excellent way of me getting to know my younger constituents – a win-win project!
The year ahead is guaranteed to be an incredibly busy one with another ‘sewage summit’ in February followed by my usual campaigning and getting out and about in the constituency as often as possible. I love knocking on doors and meeting my constituents and hearing what they’ve got to say, it’s the best part of the job. So if I knock on yours please do spare me a few minutes to tell me what you think Southend needs most and what I can do to help you in any way.