Over the last few days a number of matters have arisen that require more clarity for many of us to understand the way forward for our nation or for us in both regional and local settings. In a usual context we may turn to our local MPs to try to gain explanations regarding these subjects as many of these representatives are well informed, good communicators and intended to be accountable to local people. In the past their main roles were to work in the House of Commons where they would participate in public debates which would help to answer some of our questions and most of them would also work in local settings connecting with constituents and other residents through surgeries and a range of public events. They would also participate in private correspondence, although that was usually limited to constituent based addresses, and it depends on the level of work that their offices include. They also occasionally meet as a group of Sussex MPs but that was usually in a private setting and the amount of communication that arose from those meetings has been very limited. However a similar context also applies to engagement between our Sussex MPs and a range of public sector bodies such as Sussex Police, various NHS Trusts and local government agencies. Although most of these sessions provide a two way communication mechanism to inform policy issues and future proposals, they are usually only communicated externally in a very superficial manner, to enable in-depth policy matters to be discussed openly. Now that the rather extensive combined COVID-19 and Easter recess has ended, and until the next possible COVID-19 recess begins, we would understandably hope to begin to gain information from our range of local MPs on the subjects below and indeed many other themes. However because Parliament has set up a radically hybrid arrangement with a very small number of MPs able to attend physically face to face debates in the Chamber and a slightly larger number of MPs able to participate through a video system, but with very limited times and days in each week, there is clearly a significant gap emerging compared to the previous public settings. In addition because there are no surgeries taking place and no public events or conferences that many MPs would previously have used to speak to their communities, a new format clearly needs to emerge in our area. Given how busy the current correspondence requirements are in the MPs offices, it may seem counter intuitive to ask for additional publicly focused settings to be established, but inevitably some people who would benefit from a public setting may then reduce their correspondence and not everyone is able to set out their questions in a written format. In addition the responses from some MPs offices are less than complete no doubt in part due to the overwhelming number of enquiries that they are receiving. The actual basis for any local or regional presentation settings such as across Sussex as a whole or in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove will clearly need to be determined to some extent by the MPs, but given the rather ineffective impact to voters that are handed out by the current first past the post mechanism, a Sussex wide approach which matches a wide range of agencies and ensures a broad range of political groups for every member of our area would make a great deal of sense.
There are many possible themes that could include:
- clarity over the nature of the national agency that is advising the Government on the scientific details of COVID-19. This is called SAGE or Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and it is currently hidden away which seems unhelpful.
- What are the plans the Government has to add a regional growth element to their Cabinet through Simon Clarke? Some of us are very pleased to see this seat returning to the Cabinet almost precisely 10 years since it was removed by the same party who at that time were being directed by Eric Pickles to tear up the regional approach which had been developed over several decades. Given how significantly the regional work assisted Sussex through SEERA it would be fantastic if some of that history could be re-established to avoid reinventing an approach.
- Then a subject that was raised by another local Government Minister, Robert Jenrick who recently stated “we are establishing strategic coordination centres across the whole country… to lead communities through this challenging period from Cornwall to Cumbria… These groups are planning the local response to the virus using their expertise, their judgement and their leadership to ensure a comprehensive, a coordinated and a consistent response across the country.” Finding out more about this along with the other two themes would be fantastic!