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Anne Milton, Guildford’s MP, is frequently interviewed and quite right to, it is always good to hear from the person who represents us in parliament. But what about some of those who support her in her day to day constituency work which she has to fit in with her role as Minister for Health?
So here we have caught up with her assistant Sarah Coleby. If you contact Anne on a constituency matter it is almost certain that Sarah will get involved.
Tell me about your background. Are you a Guildfordian? What about your family?
I was born in what is now Woking Community Hospital and brought up in Mayford. I spent my childhood in Mayford and then Worplesdon and went to prep school at Halstead in Woking before going to boarding school in Wiltshire. After school I went to teacher training college but it was not really for me, I was not very good at it, so I decided to do a secretarial course instead. Options for women were more restricted in those days.
As a secretary, I got a job in the Central Office of the Conservative Party. I arrived just before the ’79 election when… exciting times!
I was not a political activist, I was not even a member of the party, it was a job an agency had sent me to actually, my political loyalties seemed unimportant.
Family wise I have two grown up daughters. They are 25 and 22. One works locally and one works in Wiltshire.
What jobs have you had before this?
After Central Office I worked for a succession of MPs including: Sir Nicolas Lyell and John Maples. Then, after moving to Haslemere, I had a complete change of tack and ran an au-pair agency for 5 to 6 years.
After that I moved to Brookwood and worked for the boss of the Police Vehicle depot at Stonebridge, Shalford before taking a post working for the Planning Director of the South East Regional Assembly. I was there for nearly five years.
How were you selected for your job as Anne Milton’s assistant?
In 2005 my CV was sent to Anne. I think she liked the fact that as well as having extensive experience working for politicians and senior managers I also had extensive local knowledge. I have heard her describe me as her ‘right hand’.
How would you describe the role?
You could describe my role as an Executive Assistant. I manage Anne’s diary, prepare draft documents, stand in for her at local meetings, and importantly help manage and organise her constituency casework. There are always constituents who have problems, it is good when we can help.
To support Anne I am in charge of a team of four. They are all based in Westminster. Two are allocated to policy and two to casework. Guildford, as a constituency, is a complete mixed bag: there are affluent areas and deprived areas, farms and businesses, urban areas and rural areas. So there are many varied issues.
Are you a member of the Conservative Party? If so, is that necessary for the job?
I am a member of the Conservative party now and have been for 15 years but it is not necessary to be a member for me to do the job.
Tell me about a typical day for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day. Every time I think I have seen it all something new comes along but that is one of the joys of our work. I have to be a bit of a ‘Jill of all trades’ and importantly, know where to take problems. Crucially, I am able to get to the ear of the person with the authority to solve a problem that the man in the street can’t, with Anne’s approval, of course.
What are the biggest frustrations of the job?
When a problem is brought to us too late. When that happens everyone has already become entrenched and conciliation becomes difficult. This can make a resolution that the constituent finds acceptable almost impossible.
What are the best things about the job?
When you can solve someone’s problem that they are unable to solve themselves. That is satisfying. Dealing with the South-East Plan consultation was satisfying. More than half of the responses came from Guildford and it was good to get people’s voices heard.
Anne can’t hear you here, what is she really like?
With Anne what you see is what you get. She tells it like it is. Many people describe her as ‘refreshing’ as a politician. As someone who works with her closely I would endorse that. We see life the same way (pause) but I am never going running!
Is there an amusing incident you can tell us about?
There are plenty but they are not publishable, at least not yet, I am saving them all for mymemoires!
We can’t wait! and thank you for giving your time for the interview.