As I said last week, on Wednesday I went to Wheatley Hill for a walk about with residents and the neighbourhood wardens, police and fire service and local councillors. This provided the opportunity to create some action plans on both anti social behaviour and local environmental concerns which we will be following up robustly. After this I called at Sedgefield to meet with residents concerned about disappearing cycle path‘s due to poor maintenance and we have passed these concerns back to Durham County Council.

Thursday and Friday last week was extremely busy with visitors to the constituency. On Thursday we had Esther McVey and the Blue Collar Conservatives team here. The Blue Collar Conservatism organisation exists to champion working people and develop a narrative within the party to support communities like ours.

The day started at Ferryhill Station meeting residents and councillors talking particularly about efforts around reinstatement of the railway station and the potential positive impact this would have on our region. We then went to the Ebac facility for a tour and discussed the importance of people supporting “Made in Britain” agendas. This links nicely with the “Shop Local” campaign that I am supporting with the Newton News. We all need to help our local shops as much as possible, internet shopping has many positives but if we want to see our local shops and jobs survive please remember they need our trade.

We then moved on to Finley Structures to support their 20 year celebrations. It’s fabulous to see a family firm achieving milestones like this and with some employees who have been there since the start, a huge and well deserved, well done and congratulations to them all. We will have to see whether I take up John’s offer re the zip wire though! We then took respite in the Sheraton Bar at The Big Club for a chat with some local members and I was interviewed by the Blue Collar team.

Our last session of the day was at the Aviator Gin Bar where we held a discussion forum with local businesses and politicians. This was hosted by Esther McVey MP, with myself and the Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, on the panel and other local MP’s joined us, including Peter Gibson (Darlington), Richard Holden (North West Durham) and Jacob Young (Redcar) and included representatives from large and small local businesses. The discussion and the rest of the day was recorded and will be edited and presented to Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, who will reply to the issues raised. Thanks to Wayne and Colin from the Aviator Bar for hosting us, if you haven’t yet been please do go. The bar is a brilliant innovative local venture that they have worked hard on and got going right through the middle of this pandemic.

On Friday we then had Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade and Women and Equalities, with us. I first joined them at Nissan before helping to host at Hitachi. Both of these businesses wanted to share their perspectives on the imminent conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement with Japan and both also took the opportunity to discuss Brexit and of course Hitachi raised UK rail infrastructure. It is always good to get our local business leaders able to talk direct to ministers and be able to share their perspectives.

Saturday saw me at ROF 59 supporting the HeroFest that Aycliffe Radio organised. The weather did not cooperate in the afternoon so attendance was disappointing, it was much improved in the evening and those that came had a great time. It was wonderful to see a few smiling faces again. Thanks to Paul and the team for all their efforts. As the evening finished I needed to warm up so popped down to The Big Club to see Alan Watson and Nev Jones singing in the Shallow End, the new format for the main hall. It is good to see the temperature checks and track and trace in place, making everyone feel safe and, of course, some more smiling faces.

Sunday saw me travel to London ready for Westminster opening. To keep you informed, our first week back includes the Fisheries Bill and the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill, nothing like having variety in your life!

Hope you all had a good Bank Holiday Weekend and the return to school is going well for everyone. Have a good week, remember to wash your hands regularly, wear a mask where necessary and give people social distance when you can.

Best wishes, look after each other and stay safe,

Paul Howell, Member of Parliament for Sedgefield.