Another busy week in Westminster with the debates on the King’s Speech progressing through Monday to Wednesday. The specifics of the debates are determined by the opposition – Monday was NHS, Tuesday was Economic Growth and Wednesday was about Serious Violence and Violence against Women and Girls and Raising Confidence in the Police and the Justice System. It’s disappointing to see, last week, that the HM Inspector of Constabulary report found Durham Constabulary had ‘Requires Improvement’ in two areas. They also explicitly said that this was still the situation when compared to other forces with similar cost pressures. A particular concern was the engagement with the public, which we have raised many times, so I hope we see some focus to sort this out.
It is always a pleasure for me when I get visitors to show round Westminster. I met a couple early on Monday evening, before then surprisingly being able to get them last minute tickets to PMQs on Wednesday. Early Tuesday afternoon I met three more people and then, finally, on Tuesday teatime, I accompanied a former apprentice from the UTC to a No 10 reception hosted by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.
Before heading south on Monday 13th November, I had time in the Constituency office and met a constituent for a coffee and a very valuable and insightful chat. Tuesday was a busy day compounded by the changes in the recent reshuffle which meant there were three new Treasury Ministers – Chief Secretary (CST) – Laura Trott MP, Financial Secretary (FST) – Nigel Huddleston MP and Economic Secretary (EST) – Bim Afolami MP. As Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) appointments are the last to be sorted in any reshuffle, in theory this meant I was the only available PPS on a day which had not only Treasury Oral Questions but the King’s Speech debate on Tuesday was led by Treasury. Thankfully, one of the senior PPS agreed to stay and help until the Autumn Statement is delivered. The Autumn Statement will have taken place by the time you read this but is, along with the Budget, one of the two most critical Statements the Chancellor makes each year.
On Wednesday I had an Oral Question to the Department for Science Innovation and Technology where I asked about progress on improving broadband in our area. Since being elected, this has been of major concern to me, particularly for villages like Killerby and Morden and, I’m told, we are finally seeing some progress with announcements imminent. Before the votes on Wednesday there was a meeting with MPs and the Home Secretary following the Rwanda ruling and Government’s reassurance that they will persevere on agendas to stop the small boats. We then voted on the King’s Speech. Attempts were made to hijack this vote to redirect it to be about the demands for a ceasefire in Gaza. The situation in Gaza is beyond complex and, from the briefings I have had and seen, a ceasefire would only help Hamas. Some humanitarian corridors should be provided and I applaud the efforts of everyone trying to resolve this.
I attended ‘drop in’ events, one was about the Deaf Olympics, like the Paralympics, but they don’t see any funding and they were promoting their need for some. Another drop in was about the impact of Retail Crime, this is sometimes perceived as a victimless crime. It is not! We need to see real action in this space and I had discussions about this issue with retail staff in my two ‘pop up’ surgeries in Tesco, Newton Aycliffe on Thursday and then Sainsburys, Sedgefield on Friday. During the pop-up surgery at Tesco on Thursday it was lovely when a lady we had helped gave me a box of Celebrations for my staff, thank you so much.
I had meetings with constituents in the Constituency office and took a Teams call about some amazing potential investments near Sunderland that could impact the whole of the North East. I also caught up with one of my many farmers to discuss rural economics and called in at Ebac for a catch up. On Friday night I had a fabulous night celebrating community organisations at the Darlington Stronger Communities Awards.
Over the weekend I had a couple of Conservative events including a hustings for the North East Mayor selection as well as the pleasure of celebrating the refurbishment of Wheatley Hill Fire Station. In my experience, the Fire team manage their estate so much better than the Police. We still don’t know what is happening regards Newton Aycliffe Police Station and I will continue to raise this issue with the Police and Crime Commissioner.
To finish, some good news, I’m delighted to see that the Banking Hub has opened significantly ahead of schedule and I look forward to the official opening on Friday 1st December. As always, if you want to get in touch, either call Newton Aycliffe 01325 790580 or email: