Over the last year it has been the greatest honour of my life to represent the people of North West Durham. From my summer surgery tour to my weekends in my patch, I’ve met thousands of people and visited well over a hundred businesses, charities and local institutions – from schools to jobcentres to farms to local pubs. Getting out of Parliament and back to the constituency is always the best part of my working week.
Despite all the difficulties of the global pandemic, I don’t think I could have done much more in the past year more if I had tried. Being the first ever Conservative MP for North West Durham certainly has its challenges, but it is fantastic that expectations are so high, and people are excited about and expecting real change – and rightfully so. The overwhelming response to the work I have been doing has been positive, and I could not have asked for a more welcoming and friendly constituency. The thing I love is that all my constituents are happy to challenge me and hold me accountable for the work I am doing and how I am delivering for the area – this is how it should be and MPs should be challenged to ensure that they are doing all they can for their constituencies.
Probably the most rewarding part of the job is helping local constituents with personal problems they face – and we’ve had some real successes, whether it’s cases with Durham County Council (see here) or with organisations like the DVLA (see here). More generally, whether it’s on litter and the environment (see here), or speeding (see here) or the more local concerns, I think people clicked that they were not being listened to under Labour and many see a Conservative MP as a refreshing and long overdue change.
I know that the Prime Minister cares about the North East and recognises that it has been left behind and that this needs changing – and fast. The Government has responded remarkably well to me being pushy and making demands for our community which, as the MP, I should be. There is a real focus on the levelling up agenda from education, to health, to transport, to getting more police on our streets.
One of the driving forces for my work this past year has been the Six-Point Plan I made during my election campaign – you can read about this here. This plan was derived following conversations with thousands of constituents across the constituency, many of whom brought up the same issues time and time again and clearly wanted to see real changes in a few key areas. Over the past year I have been working hard to deliver on the promises I made:
PLEDGE ONE: Get Brexit Done.
Within weeks of being elected I joined my fellow Conservative MPs in getting Brexit done in a series of votes in the House of Commons. Following years of delay on delivering what the people voted for in 2016, the UK left the EU on 31st January 2020.
Since then Britain has been striking new economic deals worldwide, including with Japan, Canada, Singapore, Norway and 53 other countries and territories. We've now in the process of negotiating a Free Trade Deal with the EU too, on new terms. I hope that a 'Canada style' comprehensive free-trade agreement can be reached in which Britain's sovereignty is respected by the EU. If not, we will have an Australian style deal, trading on WTO terms in areas that we don't secure specific agreements either with the EU or with individual EU member states.
PLEDGE TWO: Fight for our local economy and local jobs.
My campaign in securing the reversal of the Motorhomes Tax was successful – you can read about this here. This tax was having an enormously detrimental impact on Elddis in Delves Lane, Consett, and could have seen the loss of hundreds of jobs. I have visited the jobcentres in Crook and Consett to understand the local needs and have also hosted a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions in the constituency and had the chance to show him Crook jobcentre and the work they’re doing there – you can read about this here.
This year and the international pandemic has had somewhat of an impact on the work I am doing in this area, but I am still working on the work that the Government is doing on its levelling up agenda. The spending review shows our commitment to support the economy and level up the North East (read about this here) and the Chancellor’s Winter Economic Plan will support jobs, businesses and individuals - here.
The Eat Out to Help Out Scheme was a huge success in North West Durham, with 2.5 MILLION meals claimed in the North East under the scheme and nearly 2500 premises participating - here. The Kickstart Employment Scheme has been launched and I highly encourage all employers to sign up to this – I’d be delighted to help or advise if you want any assistance on this or have any queries.
North West Durham has received tens of millions in support from the Government during the coronavirus pandemic and this is something I’ve been working with the Chancellor on and pushing Treasury to ensure we have the support needed – you can read about this here. I’ve also spoken in the House of Commons to praise the Chancellor for his £30 billion Plan for Jobs, which will support businesses across the country – you can see this here and here.
I will continue to fight for our local economy and jobs, ensuring we receive the needed investment to level up our area, ensuring that our public services are funded, people have good jobs and people that need support are provided for.
PLEDGE THREE: Campaign for better local transport.
One of the main things I wanted to see for local transport was a feasibility study into a new rail link between Tyne and Consett. A rail link would improve commuting, improve job and education opportunities, take traffic off our busy roads which would not only ease congestion but benefit the environment and would boost the economy in our area. The feasibility funding bid I campaigned for received the backing of my constituents by three to one – you can read about this here. Two weeks ago, it was announced that my campaigning has paid off and we are to see a feasibility study done – you can read about this here. I’ve been fighting for the campaign every day with the support of local people, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor and am delighted that we will get a study done. You can watch the Prime Minister voicing his support for my campaign here.
I’m also working to see improved bus services in the local area. I’ve recently spoken to the head of Arriva buses, who serve the Crook area, to share concerns constituents have raised about local transport, bus timetables, how local transport is operating during coronavirus and school transport. I’ve also recently visited the Go North East bus depot to discuss how they have been managing this year, and how they have adapted to continue providing transport for the community. You can read about the work I’ve been doing in this area here. I’ve also spoken about bus services in the House of Commons, which you can see here and here.
PLEDGE FOUR: Back and campaign for our local NHS.
As I am sure many of you know, my mum works in an NHS local community hospital and I have seen first-hand what a difference the NHS makes to people’s lives.
Earlier this year, I backed the NHS Funding Bill in Parliament, which delivered a record increase in the NHS budget – Government spending on the NHS will be £148.5 billion a year by 2024, meaning our NHS will get £33.9 billion a year more than it currently gets. This is the equivalent of a weekly boost of £650 million.
I wanted to see a new hospital built to replace Shotley Bridge, which is no longer fit for purpose or serving the community’s needs. A survey I ran showed that 92% of people were in favour of my campaign (see this here) and, through my work with the Public Accounts Committee, I found out that it is costing a shocking £2 million a year in running repair bills for Shotley Bridge Hospital. I hosted the Health Secretary at the hospital in what was the first visit from a Health Minister in decades – you can read about this here - and, shortly after his visit, he announced that my campaign had been successful and we will be getting a new hospital, which you can read about here. You can watch me speaking about this in the House of Commons here.
I am simply delighted that my campaign was successful and am going to continue to work with the Health Secretary and the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure that the new hospital we get is fit for purpose, serves the local community and make sure that our local NHS receives the support it needs.
PLEDGE FIVE: Protect and expand provision in our local schools.
I've visited Derwentside College twice, (read about this here) St Bede's, Consett Juniors and Benfieldside Primary and Consett Academy. I had hoped to get to more but coronavirus has made this more difficult than I'd hoped! So I've adapted and one of the things we've done is Q&As via letter instead. I've replied to letters from pupils at Esh Winning Primary School and Grove Primary School about coronavirus, the environment and my work in Parliament and I did a Q&A via the Weardale News with pupils at Stanhope Barrington. I’ll be visiting more schools when I can.
I’ve spoken about levelling up education in the House of Commons (here) and am constantly pushing the Education Secretary on this – I want to ensure that all schools in my patch have the funding they need. I’ve been in regular contact with teachers across the constituency throughout the pandemic – I’ve had zoom meetings with headteachers, teachers, supply teachers to discuss concerns they have, support available for schools throughout the pandemic and I’ve helped them resolve loads of issues, whether it was access to PPE or clarifying issues they raised with Health Ministers.
I’m really looking forward to next year as I am positive I will be able to resume the education work I am doing, visit schools, meet teachers in person and ensure that the Government is levelling up our education, giving children across the North East and North West Durham the same opportunities as in the rest of the country.
PLEDGE SIX: Back tough action on crime.
I recently welcomed the news that police numbers have risen across the UK – County Durham now has an additional 42 officers following a recruitment drive last year (you can read about this here). This is excellent news and part of the Government’s plan to keep our country safe and our communities protected. I’ve also recently spoken about the Government’s sentencing overhauls, which will help to crack down on crime and are another measure that will keep people safe - here. I’ve met with the local police frequently this year and have visited Crook and Consett police stations (here) – my team work closely with the local police and we recently saw the successful resolution of a case that was affecting road safety thanks to the police – see here.
As part of my campaign to improve mental health I’ve also spoken to the British Transport Police – you can read about this here.
I work closely with constituents who get in touch with my office about rural crime, drug dealing in our local towns and anti-social behaviour – this is something I am working with my North East Parliamentary colleagues on as the issues tend to affect the wider North East area. I am looking forward to continuing my work in this area in the next year as we continue to see the Government’s manifesto pledges met and more police on our streets.
On a more general note, I’ve been doing a lot of work in North West Durham throughout the year – running campaigns, hosting meetings and working on casework.
My campaign to ensure Access to Cash was very successful. I ran a campaign backed by locals to see the cash machine at Moorside be made free for use – previously, people were charged a huge £2 for the privilege of accessing their own money – and the ATM is now free of all charges – you can read about this here. I also campaigned to ensure that the cash machine at the Billy Row Post Office, which was due to be removed, is kept in place – this was another success and means that locals do not now have to travel to get money out – see here.
The Prime Minister recently awarded TWO North West Durham constituents with Points of Light Awards. Points of Light are awarded to outstanding volunteers who have made a change in their communities. Only one volunteer in the UK can be awarded per day. I got in touch with the Prime Minister to request that his constituents receive the awards for the outstanding work they have done in North West Durham.
Vera, a Consett resident, was awarded the Points of Light award on November 13th, having devoted 75 years of her life to campaigning for the Royal British Legion and raising over £1million for the charity, which the Prime Minister described as ‘staggering’. Venita was awarded the Points of Light award on November 16th for her work in creating the St John’s Chapel Remembrance event with over 5000 poppies created by her and the team of fellow volunteers she led to raise funds for the Royal British Legion. I presented each of them with their certificates from the Prime Minister. You can read about this here.
Following on from the above, I had the chance to lay wreaths throughout the constituency on Remembrance Sunday – the wreaths were donated to me by Vera. You can read about this here. I also visited St John's Chapel to see the memorial created for Remembrance Sunday – you can read about this here.
I recently announced that Amelia, aged 10, is the winner of my Inaugural Christmas Card Competition – her design was outstanding and the card will be sent to over 1000 people, including the Prime Minister – see here.
I have won my campaign to see County Durham recognised by the House of Commons catering team. I joined forces with Conservative MPs Dehenna Davison, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, to promote County Durham in the Houses of Parliament. I was campaigning to get more locally produced food onto the menus in Parliament and more food from across the UK into Parliament where up to 80,000 people work and visit every day to highlight the great regional produce from across the United Kingdom, particularly from County Durham. It has now been confirmed that, from January, the House Catering service will be promoting regional dishes, and regions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will all see their local dishes featured. You can read about this here.
I recently secured and led an absolutely crucial debate in the House of Commons on the Future of Coal in the United Kingdom, which was held on the 3rd December 2020. I gained the support of over forty MPs from across political parties and opened the debate, which focused on Britain’s need for coal within the steel manufacturing industry, the cement manufacturing industry and heritage rail. I put in for the debate as recently the Government refused consent for the Highthorn Mine in Northumberland, which would have employed 250 people in North East of England. I had the last open-cast coal mine in the UK in North West Durham until it was exhausted in August this year and many of my constituents would have moved to good, well-paying jobs at the Highthorne site. There are currently two potential coal mines going through planning, one deep mine in Cumbria and one at Dewley Hill in Newcastle. You can read about this here.
You can find out detailed information about what I’m up to and the campaigns I am running by visiting my website HERE.
Nationally, I’ve also been doing some really important work.
I’m a member of the Gambling Related Harm Across Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and am working with constituents, Parliamentary colleagues, the Government and external organisations to ensure that gambling in the UK is safe and not having a seriously detrimental impact on anyone – whether that impact is financial, mental or around relationships. The Government has recently announced a review into gambling laws, which you can read about here, and I have spoken about this in the House of Commons, which you can read about here. The work I am doing in this area has received overwhelming constituency support, which you can read about here.
I also serve on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a select committee which looks at Government and public spending - including on effective regulation. This is a really important role and I have weekly select committee meetings in Parliament – it gives me an additional chance to represent and push for change for North West Durham. I led a key PAC report on gambling, which you can read about here.
The above doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I have been up to. I hold weekly surgeries, do daily casework (which involves talking to constituents, Ministers, MPs and external organisations), hold daily team meetings, weekly constituency visits to meet business owners, local community groups, individuals who are having issues, I speak in the House on pretty much a weekly basis, I speak at events on a very regular basis, I have meetings with MPs, Ministers, I attend APPG meetings, I speak to external organisations with whom I am interested in working and, being an MP, I am regularly asked to do TV and radio interviews. Every single week is different, and every single week throws up a new challenge, whether it’s local or national.
As always, if you have any questions, queries, want to meet me or speak to me, please email email@example.com or fill out the contact form on this page. I am always keen to speak to constituents, whether it’s to help out with an issue or hear about a policy concern and, as the MP, I always want to know what my constituents are wanting, the change they want to see and how I can help the local area.
It’s been a completely mad, busy, exhausting year and, for the entire world, has been a complete unpredictable year. However, I couldn’t have asked for a better constituency, a better first year as an MP and I want to sincerely thank all my constituents for making my first year as the MP such fun, such hard work, and such an unforgettable year.