Monday 22nd April started on the train south when I joined a call with Darlington Borough Council leadership (Political and Officers) and Peter Gibson, MP for Darlington. This is our monthly call when we catch up on various issues and can progress and chase as required. From my perspective, the main conversations were around the Bishopton – Brafferton solar farm proposal; smells from Aycliffe quarry and traffic controls outside Hurworth School. Once in London, the primary legislation for the day was the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. We went through the final stages of getting approval from both Houses which included what is referred to as ‘Ping Pong’ – this is where the Bill goes back and forward between the two Houses before it is finally approved. Despite continuous attempts by opposition parties to frustrate this process, the Bill cleared the Houses and has since had Royal Assent, meaning it is now about operational practicalities.
Tuesday started with an online call I facilitated between Durham County Council and the Minister for Local Government, Simon Hoare. This was to enable Durham County Council to share with the Minister the frustrations they have with Local Government funding settlements and offer potential improvement suggestions. Later, I had the pleasure of hosting Mayor Carl Robinson and his Mayoress Carol when they visited Parliament. It is always a privilege to host visitors to Westminster and is something I thoroughly enjoy. Then it was the Transport Select Committee, where unusually we had a public and private session. Normally it’s private on Tuesday and public Wednesday, but this week we were doing two public sessions. This first one was a follow up on the Air Traffic Control disruption session we had previously held. We followed this on Wednesday with the first of several sessions on the Integrated Rail Plan. This looks at how the Railways are to be managed in the future.
After the Tuesday session I went to the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall to speak in a debate on ‘The Future of Rail Manufacturing’. This debate was dominated by the concerns around the future of the rolling stock companies, including Hitachi. The frustration with these debates is they can be quite time constrained, but you don’t know how much until you get there. I had prepared a nine-minute speech supporting the Hitachi team but, just as I stood to speak, I was told I only had five minutes! It is particularly difficult refining what you are going to say whilst you are actually talking, but I think I got most of my key points included. Wednesday, as I said earlier, was the second Transport Select Committee meeting before going into Prime Minister’s Questions (or rather Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions as the PM was away). The main legislation of the day was the Renters Reform Bill, but I also had a series of important meetings.
The first was a particularly interesting drop in on Alzheimer’s research, and I have encouraged them to visit our constituency to share. Then I had a meeting with the Minister for Pensions where I encouraged him to make progress on the WASPI issue, I also got clarity from him that, however the categorisation of claimants plays out, any claimants will get what they are allotted regardless of whether they have individually claimed. The final session was around the Infected Blood Inquiry. If you have any questions on any of these issues, please get in touch. We finished the day with a round table on Communities and I again stressed the critical issues of support for our local communities before I then dashed to Kings Cross for the train north. Thursday, I went to Middleton St George to meet one of the local Councillors who had some concerns around housing developments, then it was back to my office before heading to Tesco for a pop-up surgery.
Friday started with a visit to discuss Hardwick Park, where I met a local volunteer, to discuss some concerns about work to enhance the equipment. After time back in the office, it was back to Sedgefield for a meeting I had facilitated between parents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and the NHS and Council teams they were frustrated with. We had frank discussions and I hope this helped the parents. We will have more meetings in the future. After this it was a call with the Transport team at Durham County Council who have introduced a Link2Work scheme for people in the Trimdons and Sedgefield area to get to Newton Aycliffe for work. However, it does not in any way provide the more comprehensive options we need to connect these communities since the X21 was removed by Arriva. I therefore was encouraging further options and I hope to hear more soon. After this it was another pop-up surgery, this time at Sainsbury’s in Sedgefield.
I finished the week on Sunday by joining Sedgefield Village Veterans at a presentation to the family of Lance Sergeant Edwin Banks of the Kings Scroll. This was a moving ceremony relating to one of Sedgefield’s men lost during World War 1. When relatives were informed of their loss, they received a medal which became known as the King’s Penny and also the King’s Scroll. Over time these had become separated for Edwin Banks, but an organisation called the James Garnett Foundation has formed and their mission is to reconnect these important pieces of history. This was their first success; they had acquired the Scroll at an auction in Alnwick and their research led them to Sedgefield.
If you want to raise any concerns with me and haven’t been able to get to a pop-up surgery, you can get in touch by calling Aycliffe 790580 or sending an email to