Parliament is back this week after a two week recess. We MPs tend to be a little sensitive about weeks when the House of Commons isn’t sitting – it is all too easy for them to be characterised as ‘holidays’. Admittedly, I got some time with the family over the Easter weekend, but the rest of the time proved to be very busy.
For the pre-Easter weekend, I was the Treasury’s duty minister meaning, among other things, that I was first in line for any media demands. As it happened, a lot of economic statistics were released that week – inflation, unemployment and wages – all of which contained good news.
Broadcasters were keen to cover the story and we certainly wanted to get our case across – yes, it was good news but there is still plenty more to do to get our economy sorted.
Recess also gives MPs a better opportunity to attend constitency events. One I rarely miss is the annual meeting of Berkhamsted Chamber of Commerce.
This was starting at 7.30pm on a Wednesday evening, but Channel 4 News wanted me for a live interview at around 7.20pm. I managed to persuade Channel 4 to send a satellite van to my home and gave the interview before driving to Berkhamsted for the end of the meeting.
The UK is relatively unusual in that ministers are also MPs. It means that there often times when it is necessary to juggle competing demands but the two roles can complement each other.
I would like to think my constituency experience helps inform decisions I make as a minister and that what I learn as a minister helps me be a better MP.
One tax change I have been very heavily involved in is the introduction of the Employment Allowance, which means businesses don’t have to pay the first £2,000 of their Employers’ National Insurance Contributions. Employers need to make sure they benefit from it, which they should do if they have up-to-date payroll software. I mentioned this change to the Chamber of Commerce and was delighted with the positive reaction. “It’s a humdinger of an idea,” said one local employer.
Last week proved to be even busier. I was in the US, meeting businesses in order to promote the UK as a place to do business. We have made a lot of changes to our tax system in order to attract jobs and investment to the UK. But we also need to promote those changes.
On Tuesday, I flew to New York, on Wednesday it was on to Boston, on Thursday it was Chicago and home on Friday night – arriving Saturday morning, giving me time to go campaigning for the European elections in the afternoon!
The nature of the businesses may have been very different from the members of the Berkhamsted Chamber of Commerce but the response was just as enthusiastic and I was delighted at the many indications I received that many US businesses were looking to do more in the UK.
This was my third trip to the US promoting the UK and it would be fair to say that I am there in my capacity as a Treasury minister, rather than as a Hertfordshire MP.
However, the benefits of an improved business environment feed through locally.
A year ago, I met a Californian business considering setting up a data centre in the UK. I hope I played a small role in convincing them that it was the right thing to do, so I was delighted when, a few weeks later, Salesforce located its data centre in Hemel Hempstead.
So no, recesses aren’t holidays!