News about Stoke Park Ward
Last week I wrote about the fantastic news that Chantry High School is going to be rebuilt. This week, I thought that I would tell you how it all happened.
This news was long overdue. To those who know Chantry - especially its students and teachers - it is no secret that the school's buildings badly need attention. Proposals for rebuilds have come and gone since the 1980s. The last government promised a new school but failed to build it for thirteen years. The reason, simply put, was that it was too expensive - twice what a school should cost. So the coalition government cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme in order to build schools more affordably. Whilst I understood the rationale, I was still furious for the teachers and students of Chantry who'd been let down yet again. It didn't matter to me who was in power - I just wanted to see Chantry rebuilt.
So, the morning after the general election, after I'd grabbed a few hours' sleep, I sat down and launched my campaign. On a piece of plain A4 paper (I did not yet have access to House of Commons stationery) I wrote straight to Michael Gove, soon to become Secretary of State for Education, setting out how important it was that the government invested in Chantry. It was the first letter I wrote as your Member of Parliament.
This was the first that Michael Gove heard of Chantry. It was a name with which he was to become increasingly familiar! Two months later, I stood up in the House of Commons and used my first ever parliamentary question to outline my demands. From the Dispatch Box, Michael Gove gave the reply. Ever since, I have hassled him and his officials on a weekly basis. This is the key to a parliamentary campaign - keeping up the pressure on people constantly, even if it starts to annoy them!
In 2011, after the early good news that Ipswich Academy was to be rebuilt, I got straight back to work on Chantry. The next step was to get the Treasury on side. So I grabbed the Chancellor, George Osborne, and urged him to give Michael Gove's Priority School Building Programme all the money it needed, boosting Chantry's chances.
Then, just before Christmas last year, the Cabinet met in Ipswich. Seizing the opportunity, I got the education secretary to visit Chantry in person to see for himself what needed to be done. I then struck again while the iron was hot. In the New Year, I wrote to Lord Hill, another education minister, about Chantry. At the same time, I approached officials in the Department for Education to go through the technicalities with them. I wanted to make sure that everyone in the Department knew about Chantry and that nothing would get in the way of the rebuild.
In April, with the final decision now fast approaching, I went to the Prime Minister and put the case to him. I had to make sure that he was supportive. With the PM on side, I lobbied Michael Gove and his ministers one last time. Needless to say, he was by now pretty familiar with the name of Chantry High School...
So there we are. A few days later, as you know, the good news was announced. It had been the toughest battle I have fought so far, but the work paid off. As I said last week, there are many things I can do for our town in Ipswich itself. But this is why you send me to London - to fight on your behalf in parliament.