Last week I was forever on Zoom or Teams, most of the meetings I describe below were virtual and whilst on one level there is an efficiency, it is an intense way to meet but I much prefer physically meeting people.

I started with discussing broadband with the Darlington Borough Council team before one of my regular catch up calls with Hitachi, and later joining a meeting of the Northern Research Group (NRG).

On Tuesday we had a full day, starting with discussions on a gigabyte capable north-east that included representatives from BT, OpenReach and Virgin, where we challenged them on progress for places like Redworth, amongst others. Then it was onto a call with Livin to discuss their operations and approach throughout Sedgefield before joining the APPG for levelling up. The afternoon saw our third session of the APPG for Left Behind Communities, that I jointly chair. This time we were looking at employment, skills and education. Afterwards I joined an update session on digital data with the Minister of State for Trade Policy, Greg Hands. My final session of the day was speaking at another APPG, this time housing in the North.

Wednesday started with Age UK team briefing me, before speaking at a virtual discussion on the politics of community power, discussing how the government can support community power. After this a meeting of the NRG executive before an evening virtually joining Bishop Middleham & Mainsforth Parish Council.

Thursday was BEIS select committee, this time the subject was the UK Emissions trading system common framework, which deals with price controls in the energy networks, joined by Ofgem, National Grid, Citizens Advice and the Minister, Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth. The big question was around the need to price consumers fairly, whilst allowing generators the capacity to invest and deliver a carbon neutral future.

Then it was a briefing on the NSI Bill before joining Fishburn Parish Council virtually.

I finished last week with a briefing from Darlington Borough Council leadership and then another from Sue Jacques, who leads the local NHS efforts. I was reassured by her that our local NHS is well positioned, in that although they have more people in hospital with Covid-19 now than they did at the peak of the first wave, they are in a better place. This is because they know so much more about what they are dealing with and have systems and processes in place, so, despite Covid-19 pressures, they can continue with elective surgeries safely.

I am sure you will all have seen the changes taking place over the weekend with the special advisers in number 10, notably the departure of Dominic Cummings. I only see the operations of the team in number 10 from a distance but special advisors come and go and my early sense is that the new team will communicate better with us backbenchers. Whilst he was obviously very influential in the campaign that got me elected, in terms of recent politics, I will not miss the distraction.

Monday saw the Prime Minister coming to the NRG meeting where he was very impressive and committed to supporting the levelling up agendas. Tuesday, I met the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, along with the other Durham MP’s and another BEIS session which has moved from Thursday, but more about these next week.

We have seen more optimistic news on vaccines, but please remember that once these are ready to go it will be a major planning and logistical operation to get them to people. It is therefore imperative that we all continue to do all we can to frustrate the spread of the virus by doing the basics right.

So please remember: HANDS – FACE – SPACE, wash your Hands regularly, wear a mask on your Face where required and give people Space – continue to follow the new regulations for November, that will hopefully put us in a better place for December.

Stay safe and have a good week and if we can help please call or email us.

Paul Howell, Member of Parliament for Sedgefield