Well, last week didn’t go quite as planned, and that’s before all the political fallout from events in No 10! Last Wednesday I tested positive, meaning I had to isolate and completely rearrange the meetings I had planned. I have been vaccinated and boosted and am sure that will be why I have not been too badly affected. I have now tested negative twice and will be returning to Westminster this week.
As you would anticipate with the media furore, I have had several inbound emails questioning the role of the Prime Minister in the ‘parties’ in No 10. I have no intention of making any excuses for what appears to have been happening but nor am I about to draw my conclusions yet. Particularly with not being in Westminster at the end of last week I only have the information delivered via the press and political opponents and I am certainly not going to react based on those alone. For the avoidance of doubt, I can reassure you all that I was neither at, nor aware of, these alleged ‘parties’ or any others for that matter. I hope that the facts are delivered as soon as possible, and any appropriate actions taken.
My frustration at times like this is the potential for distraction from the important agendas that need to be progressed and I am doing all I can to continue this work. After the recent reshuffle there are new relationships to build, of particular importance to me is the new minister responsible for Rail, Wendy Morton MP. I had a very good relationship with her predecessor who has moved to the Foreign Office team but with both Hitachi and my plans for Ferryhill Station to consider I have already met Wendy and will have further meetings this week.
I was pleased to see the announcement last week of the developments on Merchant Park creating more jobs for our residents. I spend quite a bit of time working with the Business Durham team and they have some incredible agendas in play. You may not have noticed but the team from NETPark have just announced that the North East Space Conference will take place In Durham in March. We will not be launching space rockets from Sedgefield anytime soon but the number of companies we have in our region that supply businesses in the space sector is truly staggering. For any of our young people, who aspire to work within the space technology sector, there are certainly opportunities coming. Another of my key relationships is with George Freeman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation, who is proving to be a good friend to the Sedgefield constituency.
Although isolating, I can of course continue with virtual meetings. I had a meeting with Local Trust, the secretariate for the Left Behind Neighbourhoods APPG that I chair. This call reflected on the health inequalities report we had produced but also on the progress of the Dormant Assets Bill. We hope this Bill will deliver a Community Wealth Fund to enable investment in the neediest communities. I joined Peter Gibson MP and others in a call with Baroness Vere, who is the roads minister, ostensibly to discuss Smart Motorways but we both took the opportunity to remind her that a Northern Darlington Bypass needs to be in her plans to alleviate the congestion being suffered.
A big pleasure in the week was being invited to a virtual meeting of Darlington Rotary Club as they were holding their Austin Brooks lunch where they celebrate young people who have demonstrated Rotarian principles in their everyday life. Ethan Brown from Hurworth school, which is in the Sedgefield constituency, was one of the recipients.
This column is written on the Tuesday, before Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday, which I’m sure will be another feisty affair. I have explained before about how questions to the Prime Minister work, and indeed questions to the various Secretaries of State, in that you apply for a question; there’s a draw and members are selected. After several weeks of not being successful in any draws and only getting questions by bobbing in the chamber, this week I have drawn two. I can ask questions in both PMQs on Wednesday and to the Secretary for International Trade on Thursday. I will tell you next week about how these went. If you want to watch them, you can look on the UK Parliament website and search for my contributions. https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Commons
We are hearing speculation that restrictions will continue to lift later in the month, this will have the UK being one of the most open countries for pandemic restrictions. So, whatever the outcomes of ‘Partygate’ it appears the big decisions regarding vaccines and restrictions have been good ones. One clear, good decision has been the push for vaccine jabs and boosters and once again I would encourage you all to get any jabs you need. The next few weeks could be a real tipping point, remember what you do has most impact on you, your friends, family and colleagues, so don’t let the reported actions of others be an excuse for not doing the right thing.
Stay safe.
If you need to get in touch with me and the constituency team, please send an email to paul.howell.mp@parliament.uk
Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield