The last week before recess started with us meeting some of the potential broadband providers for the difficult to reach areas like the villages near Killerby. We are working with all agencies here, but progress is frustratingly slow. I later joined the Northern Research Group meeting where Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, spoke to us. This was followed by a call with Neil O’Brien, Neil is the Prime Minister’s advisor on Levelling Up. The challenge with Levelling Up is that it means different things to different people and whilst I agree with some of the criticism that a joined-up message is important, I also believe that we need to “get on with it”. It therefore feels right to me that actions like the Restoring Your Railways initiative (for example – the reopening of Ferryhill Station and the Leamside Line) and the relocation of government departments (for example – Treasury North in Darlington) will clearly form part of this agenda and should be actioned as soon as possible.
BEIS meeting this week was with Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for BEIS who was joined by Chris Pincer, Minister of State for Housing, for part of the session. We first discussed the future of Liberty Steel and then decarbonisation of heating in homes. We then had the AGM for the Left Behind Neighbourhoods APPG that I chair, this is a short, largely administrative, meeting where we confirm the officers going forward and the finances for the last year.
I joined a meeting of MPs with the Chair of the BBC where we covered everything from regional news to BBC bias and the licence fee. I had an interview with Radio Tees on Thursday to discuss the Levelling Up report that the BEIS select committee had published, being part of the Select Committee that published the report and in the Northern Research Group made me very well placed to comment.
An interesting session last week was one Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, and I had about how devolution could work for County Durham. As you know the Tees Valley has a Metro Mayor, as does the North of Tyne but Durham doesn’t, and questions need to be asked as to how we resolve this. We also had a call with Health Minister, Jo Churchill, to discuss the rising Covid cases in the north east. Whilst no extra restrictions are being mandated further surge testing support is being introduced and particularly for the higher case areas, like Newcastle and Redcar, people are being encouraged to travel less.
Back in the constituency meant on Friday I could get out and about but first I had a call with Jo Farrell, Chief of Police, and her team for a monthly update. Later I had a meeting with residents from Morden and Bradbury in Morden Village Hall as well as going to Hurworth and holding a surgery in Hurworth Grange. Next, we’ll be in Ferryhill at Dean Bank and on 6th August we will be at Woodham Community Centre. If you want to join us, please email my office for an appointment.
Saturday saw me at a Hutton Henry Parish Council meet and greet event. The Parish Council had arranged for as many elected representatives as they could to make themselves available to meet the public. Whilst Hutton Henry as a village is not in my constituency, the Parish includes Station Town which is. This meant that as well as the local Parish councillors and County Councillors you had two MPs present. I left this in time to join the Blue Light event in Aycliffe Town Centre, next Saturday has another event in the Town Centre, this time over 20 local sports groups will be there, please join them if you can, I certainly will. On the way home I called at Moor Lane where the Newton Aycliffe CC – 2nd XI team were doing well against Guisborough. I left after the first innings but later found out they had won, a fantastic effort from a very young team.
Sunday found me calling at Middleton Lodge Retirement Home near Middleton St George and later at Nunstainton Stud near Ferryhill. The stud had an open day raising funds for a long serving member of staff, Lauren Belt, who has been chosen to ride in a British Horse Society (BHS) charity race at Wetherby at the end of October and must raise funds for the BHS. It is for the ‘Changing Lives through horses’ campaign’ which is a programme for children and young adults who have diagnosable mental health disorders.
Covid cases in the area are high as I said earlier, it is important that we are all sensible about the freedoms we have back. Remember the mantra of Hands Face Space and Fresh Air still makes sense even if it’s not mandatory. The encouraging news is that as I write there are early indications that the third wave is starting to level off and that despite high infections the numbers in hospital remain very low, and of those admitted who had been vaccinated the vast majority were not there much more than one night, with increasingly fewer fatalities. Whilst Covid clearly remains dangerous for those not vaccinated we need continue to encourage everyone to be vaccinated as the vaccine is certainly delivering in terms of saving lives and is the best hope for us all to become more confident that we will get out and about more.
For now, stay safe, respect the virus but try and engage with friends and family as much as you feel safe doing and we will all start to feel the benefits the vaccine program is delivering.
Paul Howell
Member of Parliament for Sedgefield