This personal message starts on a sad note as the country is coming to terms with the very sad news of the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip was a champion of many causes and was dedicated to our country – his duty and service to Queen and country always came first throughout the many decades he was in the public eye, and I know that all my constituents will join me in sending Her Majesty The Queen our heartfelt condolences. So many of us around the country had an incredibly deep respect for Prince Philip and for what he has done for our country and the Commonwealth, whether it was through his service in World War Two, his work with the Duke of Edinburgh award, or some of the many thousands of engagements he carried out, and he will be greatly missed.
I recently took part in a couple of interviews. The first, which you can see here, was ITV’s Around The House, on which I was joined by Sharon Hodgson MP and Lord Purvis of Tweed for a discussion about lockdown, the restrictions being lifted as part of the Government’s Roadmap, the upcoming local elections and tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh. I was also interviewed by BBC Politics North (North East and Cumbria), following Amy Dhillon, our superb Conservative candidate for Consett South for the upcoming local elections, set to take place on May 6th. You can watch this here.
The upcoming local elections are absolutely crucial. They will be held on 6th May 2021 for 145 English local councils, with around 5000 seats up for grabs. 39 Police and Crime Commissioners will also be elected, and 13 mayoral elections are taking place. The local elections were originally set to take place in 2020, but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and all campaigning is now taking place in line with strict coronavirus regulations. This is the Conservative Party’s chance to break the Labour stronghold on County Durham. Labour has been in charge here for around a century, and it’s clear that it is time for a change. The Conservative Party would be able to breathe new life into County Durham, with a focus on Levelling Up, funding going to the areas that need it most – not the areas that already receive the highest amount of funding – and, crucially, ensuring that all our communities are supported, with the issues that people want to see resolved being tackled. We have some absolutely outstanding candidates for the local elections, including:
- David Milner and Alison Hirst are running for Esh and Witton Gilbert ward
- Amy Dhillon is standing in Consett South, for the Moorside, Grove and Berry Edge/Genesis Way area
- Mike McGaun and Doug Oliver are campaigning for the Lanchester, Burnhope and Castleside areas
- David Cummings and Paul Robinson have been selected for the Burnopfield, Dipton and Hobson ward
- Will Wearmouth and Steve Cowie are standing for Weardale
- Mike Currah, Patricia Jopling and Robbie Roddis are standing in Crook
- Deborah Armstrong and Emma Young are standing in Medomsley and Leadgate
- Eileen Ridley and Toby Thatcher are standing in Benfieldside ward
- Nick McCarthy is standing in Consett North
- Angela Sterling and Michelle Walton are standing for Delves Lane and Templetown
All of the candidates are fighting to make a positive difference to people’s lives and any of them would be a huge asset to our council. They represent the very best of North West Durham - we’ve got small business owners, parents, people who have campaigned in our area for decades and three of the candidates work in my office. Crucially, all the candidates are passionate about one thing, and that’s fighting for the constituents of North West Durham, whether it’s working to prevent fly tipping, improving local education access or to prevent speeding and keep our roads safe. If you have any questions about how they can help you or what they are working on, please drop my office an email.
All the Conservative candidates are absolutely brilliant and I sincerely hope that our communities in North West Durham support them – I highly encourage everyone to vote for them as I can guarantee that they want nothing more than to see our communities succeed and end Labour’s complete monopoly on our council. I am genuinely delighted that such a brilliant group of candidates have been selected and I hope to see them all elected as councillors on May 6th.
I’ve recently welcomed the news that a clear road to reopening outdoor education centres has been set out. I’m a member of the Outdoor Learning All-Party Parliamentary Group (OLAPPG), and we have welcomed publication of guidance for educational visits by the Department for Education in England – I’ve been working closely with the OLAPPG and the Department for Education in our campaign to ensure that educational visits can restart.
New guidance has now stated that outdoor learning single day educational visits can be reintroduced by schools from Step Two in the Government’s roadmap (no earlier than April 12th) and schools are also able to reintroduce domestic residential trips from Step 3 in the roadmap (no earlier than May 17th). Many outdoor education centres rely on residential school trips for the vast majority of their business and have seen serious financial difficulties as a result of the restrictions that have been in place for the past year and the school closures. Centres can also now do outdoor activities with family groups. I am delighted that clarification has been set out to establish when outdoor education centres can be reopen – this follows months of hard work with the Outdoor Learning APPG and I hope the news is welcomed by the sector as they are able to look forward to reopening and welcoming visitors back. The guidance is also welcome news for school children, who returned to school in March, as they will now be able to benefit from outdoor education, which is an incredibly important part of learning for children – it is good for their social development, their confidence, their skills and their mental and physical health.
I’ve also welcomed the Government’s new Restart Grants programme, which has been established to help businesses recover and bounce back once restrictions are eased. The Restart Grant scheme supports businesses in the non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure, personal care and accommodation sectors with a one-off grant.
Grants became available earlier this month and are given out to businesses by their local councils. The non-essential retail sector is able to access grants of up to £6000, whilst businesses in the hospitality, leisure, gym, accommodation and personal care sector may be entitled to grants of up to £18,000.
Businesses need to fulfil the following criteria in order to be eligible:
- Be based in England
- In one of the sectors eligible for grants
- Trading on 1st April 2021
Around 700,000 businesses in England will be eligible for the grant – this includes small businesses, who will be able to access thousands of pounds under the scheme. This Government has done an enormous amount to ensure that businesses and individuals have the financial backing they need and deserve throughout the pandemic, and the restart grants are another major cashflow boost as we come to the end of restrictions.
Local councils use their discretion to decide whether businesses meet the eligibility criteria and decide what amount a business will receive. We’ve already been contacted by several constituents who have asked us to help them in their applications for grants – if you would like any assistance or clarification about the scheme, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and my office will be able to help.
I’ve recently launched several surveys on road safety in the constituency. Road safety is something I’ve been campaigning on since I was elected, and it’s something that many communities across North West Durham are concerned about. I’ve met with residents of Summerhill, Shotley Bridge, Dipton, Fir Tree, Cornsay Colliery, Burnhope, Hollinside and Castleside to discuss road safety – this included concerns about cars speeding, dangerous driving, unsafe pedestrian crossing areas or walkways, traffic calming measures, and what the council can do to ensure that our roads are safe. I’ve now launched a further three surveys on the issue – please complete them to get your views heard:
- Road safety survey for Hollinside - here
- Road safety survey for Burnhope – here
- Road safety survey for Castleside - here
As always, I am here to help and am always happy to talk through any issues you may be having. I can be reached by emailing email@example.com or by calling 01207 500944. You can also fill out the contact form on this website, and a member of my team will get back to you.