Hopefully, many of you will have completed the Town Centre survey we had in last week’s issue with the support of the Newton News team. This is designed to make sure that the efforts we are making to direct the Levelling Up Fund, announced by the Chancellor, into supporting our Town Centre, are applied in a way that delivers what people would like. If you missed the survey you can complete it at www.tinyurl.com/uaxy6sbn. If you need a paper copy there are spares in the collection boxes in Aycliffe Framers, Select, The Vape Shop or at the Newton Press offices. Alternatively, you can call my office and we will send you one. I don’t know yet what we will be able to do, but I want to be sure I have listened to you before focusing our energies. I have had further constructive discussions this week with the senior officers at the County Council around how we progress this initiative.

It’s a strange week to write this column as I’m writing before the elections take place on Thursday but by the time you read this the results will possibly be declared. I clearly hope that this has seen Conservatives further strengthen our progress as elected members in County Durham. I very much also hope that a tipping point has been reached and Labour drop below the 64 seats they need to have absolute control of Durham County Council. If this has been achieved the Labour Cabinet will have to at least consider the views of members other than their own for the first time.

My week included a meeting with the Police Crime and Victims Commissioner and local County and Parish Councillors for Wingate discussing actions on the serious anti-social behaviour we have seen in that area. I can assure you that the problems we are working on are at a much worse level compared to anything we see in Newton Aycliffe. Can I please encourage anyone who experiences any antisocial behaviour to report it as this is where the Police and Council have to start from when looking at where to allocate resources. Please report antisocial behaviour by calling the police on 101. Alternatively, you can speak to Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555 111.

This week in BEIS we started by signing off the report produced as a result of our investigations into the Mineworkers Pension Scheme. With the benefit of hindsight the decisions made on this scheme in 1994 have delivered more funds to the Government seems fair. Both the Miners and the Government have done well out of the scheme but the performance of the scheme than being underpinned by a Government guarantee, has delivered more surpluses than could have been envisaged at the time. There is no mechanism in the scheme to change the share of surpluses over time as the Government risk diminishes, it is this that, in particular, now seems unfair and we have therefore asked the Government to reconsider the arrangements. The public part of the meeting that followed was listening to representations on the role of Business, the Public and Civil Society in the COP26 Net Zero and UN Climate Summits.

I also spent time with analysts looking at the computation of the data that underpins the work I am doing on Left Behind Neighbourhoods, in particular around Aycliffe West Ward, to be sure we are interpreting things appropriately. I had a meeting with the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Amanda Soloway, who is the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, where we talked again about the opportunities for ARIA, the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. Later I participated in a round table on Enterprise that included the Secretary of State for BEIS, Kwasi Kartang. I also listened to a conversation between Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson on 50 years in Parliament hosted by the Lord Speakers office. Two very different politicians with very interesting histories. I also had a virtual meeting with the team from the US Embassy, introducing me to their role and operations.

I finished the week with meetings with the Under Secretary of State for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, Jo Churchill, where we discussed the latest Covid 19 epidemiological data and then one with Matt Hancock.

As you can see, it’s been another full week but, with Westminster prorogued until the Queen’s speech on 11 May, I will have more time in the constituency and we will be working on getting out as much as we can and planning our surgeries for later in the year.

We continue to see very encouraging data on the virus and in particular the vaccination programme. The efficacy of the vaccines is even better than anticipated and this just endorses the need for as many as possible to be vaccinated, as soon as possible. Please, when it’s your turn, for either first or second jabs, take the opportunity, it’s best for you and everyone else.

Remember Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air and let’s all look forward to a better time soon. Stay Safe.

Paul Howell MP

Member of Parliament for Sedgefield