Dehenna's Diary- Teesdale Mercury, Tuesday February 7th
One of my resolutions for 2023 was to restart this column so I am grateful to the Mercury for welcoming me back!
January was another manic one following a busy few months to end last year. Fellow politics geeks may have seen that I was appointed Minister for Levelling Up in September. Following an unexpectedly swift change in Government in October, I was pleased to keep my ministerial role and then, in December, I announced my decision to stand down at the next general election. Local people were incredibly supportive throughout this period, for which I will always be grateful. Serving the people of Bishop Auckland constituency will be an absolute priority and a privilege until the day I’m no longer the MP.
Taking on the Minister for Levelling Up role has enabled me to bring insights from the ‘Red Wall’ right to the heart of Government decision-making. The very initiatives that I championed for our area on the backbenches - from local rejuvenation to devolution deals to community ownership funding - are now the policies I am shaping in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Conservative governments have already delivered £70 million in new funding to Bishop Auckland since 2019, and residents can be assured that I will maintain this support for areas like ours as Minister. I would not have taken the job otherwise.
For example, we were able to distribute over £2 billion to local projects across the UK in the second round of the Levelling Up Fund. Bishop Auckland had a successful bid in the previous round, securing £20 million to transform Locomotion, finally sort the Toft Hill Bypass, and fix Whorlton Bridge. It is local projects like this, proposed by local people, that communities across the UK were celebrating in January. On one trip back from Westminster, I travelled to Bishop via Barnsley and Cleethorpes to see how Northern towns would benefit on-the-ground from our investment.
Our area benefitted further from the “Levelling Up” agenda in January as Levelling Up Secretary (and my boss) Michael Gove visited our neck of the woods to sign the new North East devolution deal. The proposals commit a 30-year investment budget- worth over £1.4 billion- to a new North East Mayor which will allow this person to develop a long-term investment strategy for our region. Fiscal powers are also set to be devolved so that decisions on transport, education, housing and more will be taken closer to home. As Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland, it is a personal highlight that our area will be more powerful in future thanks to the work my Department has done.
Alongside my ministerial duties, I have also been out and about around our community. So far this year, I have visited our fire station, Whitworth Park Academy, local foodbank Shildon Alive and their incredible volunteers, the winner of my 'Best Cafe' competition The Grind, the Pineapple Gallery, River Wear fishing clubs, local training provider Learning Curve, met up with residents of Hamsterley Forest, and held a surgery to see how I can help residents with their concerns.
Now, back to work!