The summer recess will have given all new MPs a little time to reflect after an exhausting, often in many cases very long, campaign and first session, and it certainly gave me the chance to spend some of that elusive quality time with my ever-forgiving lovely wife and children.
During those first 100+ days, there has been the thrill of turning up to the House for the first time, making your Maiden and being there for the Queen’s Speech and Budget. This, however, contrasts with the ridiculous delay in being able to secure an office, ‘phone, working printer etc. and dealing with IPSA of course, and their ‘particular’ rules…
However, whilst I was preparing my speech for the AGM of the Lincolnshire and District Citizens Advice Bureau a few weeks ago, it became even clearer what the biggest frustration has been for me and, I suspect, most new MPs.
It actually started the day after polling day when the first few emails started to filter through my inbox, the first within five hours of Lincoln’s result being declared. (Although I had found that as a PPC a small number of people had contacted me in that role, for assistance). People in Lincoln were however in such need of help that they were already contacting me asking for support with various issues and problems they had, and the numbers kept rising – over 200 live enquiries by the end of May from constituents, as well hundreds of other letters, emails and ‘phone calls.
And in just four months, I have helped and taken up the cause of hundreds of people, with the most common being housing, anti-social behaviour, relationships, traffic, Network Rail and employment issues. And I am pleased to say that so far I have ‘won’ more cases than I have ‘lost’ – and I intend to keep up that record.
The disappointment and frustration for me, and I would suspect a number of my colleagues, is that people have felt that they had to come to their Member of Parliament to receive an answer or to access help from the City, District or County Council, or a statutory agency, quango, Government Department or organisation.
And the disappointment and frustration I have is that it’s not just because my constituents haven’t received the service they should have done, it’s because they have already contacted these organisations, to complain or seek help. It is often the case that they just don’t get anywhere and are left banging their heads against the bureaucratic brick wall. They have become lost in a Kafkaesque maze of red tape and unhelpfulness – lovely ‘bureaucracy’, often symbolised by ‘jobsworthyness’.
Then, when frustrated and at the end of their tether often, they contact me, or my office. I then send a crisp letter in a light yellow House of Commons envelope with the crest on, and lo and behold they receive, more often than not, the answer they needed and wanted all along – or at least in part receive some of what they require.
The House of Commons’ envelope is the political equivalent of Ali Baba’s “Open Sesame”.
It really shouldn’t come to this. People in my constituency, the City of Lincoln, and across the whole county, should have access to the support from the state they need and not have to contact their MP to ensure they receive the correct, suitable, coherent and human response that helps them in their time of need. I understand that the role of an MP in part is to provide this facilitation of information, or to help remove any impasse, but it does seem to occur all too frequently when it really ought not to.
The impression I am left with is that there just seems to be a disconnection between those paying their taxes or needing help, and many parts of the public sector. And I wouldn't blame entirely those on the front line – part of the problem will be down to poor management and possibly political correctness, part will be because of the reams of baffling and nonsensical rules and the last part will be because of constant changes in policy from the last Government or from their councils’ or departments’ leadership.
Obviously there is more much needed change to come on the immediate horizon, especially in the welfare sector, but once things are in place, a period of rule and regulatory stability would be welcome. I expect this will be the Coalition Government’s aim, as regulatory stability reduces the cost of running government.
However, it still comes down to those in the public sector to deliver. By the end of my first term as the Member of Parliament for Lincoln, a key indicator for me will be to see a reduction of correspondence from constituents needing help after they have tried themselves and been given the runaround. I do hope that a number of them will have achieved a satisfactory outcome for their issue or enquiry without having to resort to contacting their MP, although obviously I will continue to help those constituents who need it.
That would be progress, the reduced need for me to send my Open Sesame letter because my constituents have had the service they deserve. After all, it is what those that pay their taxes, pay their taxes for.