Havant MP Alan Mak takes readers behind the scenes into different aspects of his work, including areas not often seen by the public. This column was first published in the Portsmouth News on Friday 21 September 2018.
As an active local MP, my support for local schools, charities, community groups, businesses and voluntary organisations is often the most visible part of my work. The big community events I organise myself are well-known too – my annual Jobs & Apprentices Fair, Small Business Awards and Community Groups & Older Persons Fair now attract thousands of residents between them.
Residents will also see me speaking in the House of Commons or meeting Ministers to campaign for more funding for our schools, police or NHS.
However, a key aspect of my work is often unseen. Every day I receive around 500 pieces of correspondence, including letters, e-mails, social media messages, postcards, flyers, and telephone messages from constituents. They’ll include invitations, information updates, campaigns people want to me support, and most importantly requests for help.
Given the number of elderly residents in our area, I probably receive more paper letters in the post than most MPs, as well as a high number of “standard-wording” emails generated by websites like 38 Degrees.
Each item of correspondence takes time to read, and is then logged onto our computer system. Like most MPs, I don’t deal with constituent queries via social media – we need everything in writing, so we can keep proper records. But I do reply to every letter or e-mail received, unless I’ve already replied covering the same issue as I can’t give a running commentary on general policy issues like the Middle East Peace Process or Brexit (for or against) or whatever happens to be in the news that week.
This system allows me to prioritise personal requests for specific help, like welfare benefits payments enquiries, tracking down passports, and helping with medical or immigration issues. These personal issues come first, and take up the lion’s share of my time, and my staff’s time.
Often, I must contact Havant Borough Council because the issue is their responsibility (like housing, parking or bin collections for example) or Hampshire County Council (who deal with roads, and children’s and adult services); write to a Government Department; or chase an NHS body for answers before replying to constituents. This all takes time, often waiting weeks for them to look into an issue before replying to me. But getting a good result is one of the most satisfying aspects of my work.
Photo: Alan Mak MP with his postbags in the House of Commons