We have now passed another stage post in the way out of lockdown but please, as I have said before, we need to remember these are steps that need to be followed slowly and we need to be careful not to push the limits. As we start to see a few people again please respect others with social distancing etc and remember everyone has had different experiences through lockdown. Some have been literally housebound, and some have never stopped working, in the case of some workloads have been through the roof. Be considerate as we reengage with each other and let’s value some of the little things in life we had taken for granted.

Last week I said I had spent time encouraging the team at Durham County Council that we should be compiling a bid to the Levelling Up Fund urgently, to remind you that my belief here is that it should be firmly focused on the need to regenerate our Town Centre. Whilst I am pleased to see a number of other County Council candidates for the upcoming elections setting out similar intentions, it was disappointing to read last week from Councillor Clare that his, and I assume therefore the Labour party position, is not to invest in our town centre. I would be interested in readers feedback as to whether the town centre should be the target or if they have other ideas? The more support on this the better. I had my regular discussions with the senior management team of Durham County Council this week and I will continue to drive this hard unless residents tell me otherwise.

The most challenging part of my week relates to the difficulties in Wingate this week. You may have seen that one of my constituents, an ex-marine, had his house, car and motorhome burnt out for speaking up against some local antisocial behaviour. The community reaction has been fantastic, but we need to deliver some support for them and whilst in the short term the neighbourhood Police reaction has been superb there is long term work needed and I am standing with Sean and others on this.

Moving on to Westminster, BEIS this week was a subject close to many of my constituents, being the first of two sessions taking evidence regarding the Mineworkers Pension Fund, this time from Unions and Trustees. After saying last week that I had listened to the Head of Woodham Academy on Tuesday and that I would take his messages to Westminster, I could not have anticipated that the very next day the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, would sit down next to me in the tearoom. He therefore got the messages direct!

Whilst in Westminster this week I had a question in the chamber re women and equalities and promoted the value of our UTC in STEM careers for girls. I then spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the support for places like the Life centre in Newcastle, stimulating young minds into STEM and was able to reference the UTC again but also to shout out for businesses in Aycliffe and Sedgefield. Before another debate in the chamber on support for the hospitality trade. This last one was a very busy session, with a 3 minute speaking limit it’s quite challenging, timing your words to get the maximum without over running!

Friday was a strange day in that, amongst other things, I finally managed to visit a couple of schools. We ran a competition last November to design the Christmas card and this was the first chance I had to go and thank the winners. It was a bit strange talking about Christmas cards when they were all wearing the Easter bonnets they had just made. I also had a call with the local leaders from the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions), what a fantastic team they are and so enthusiastic about matching people to available jobs. Thanks Alison, Christine and Janet.

Finishing, as I started, remember it is all about lifting the restrictions in a slow and controlled way, as the Prime Minister has said we want this to be irreversible.

Please follow the rule of 6 guidelines and stay safe.

Paul Howell

Member of Parliament for Sedgefield