We put your questions to your local MP, Richard Holden of the Conservative Party.
Here are his responses to your questions which you sent to us via email, consettmagazine.com, and on social media comments.
Graeme Hall: Does our MP Richard holden agree with the U-turn its government (brought to attention by a young footballer) on assisting families with school meals over this School Summer holidays and how will families in North West Durham be assisted if there is a second wave of COVID-19 outbreak in a local school or nursery in coming months?
Richard Holden MP: The Government took the unprecedented step to provide free school meals over the Easter holidays and summer half term without any external pressure. I lobbied the Chancellor on this issue as I know that school meals will make an enormous difference to many local families facing uncertainty this year and I am glad that they’ve extended them this summer too.
Particularly for the children from the most challenging backgrounds, school is vital to given them the opportunities to thrive, so I hope every child will be going back as soon as possible.
The Government has done a huge amount to support families and the economy across North West Durham and has provided extra funding for schools. I hope there isn’t a need for a local lockdown in our area, and there is no indication that one will be required, but if there is there will of course be extra support available.
Anna S: I’ve not seen my grandchildren in months and have done my very best to shield myself and my family from the virus (as per government instructions).
What is Richard’s thoughts on senior government adviser Dominic Cummings coming here to County Durham from London (when the virus was spreading rapidly in the Capital) during the lockdown, potentially bringing the virus into County Durham?
Richard Holden MP: My grandparents have been isolating too – in fact, my dad who is a carer for one of my grandmas has had to maintain social distancing from my mum because she works in a hospital – so I do understand the utter frustration of so many people who are having to shield. The end is in sight though, with the ending of the special category of shielding on the 1st of August.
Sticking to the guidelines is the right thing to do. I made clear that I wouldn’t have made the same calls as Mr Cummings did.
Colin Simpson: I love the train line idea to be opened up again. But I think we need to get the buses to all surrounding villages to be more consistent. If I have to get to the hospital in Durham, I have to spend almost 2 hours to get there and two hours to get home. That’s with the connections of the buses and the waiting around you have to do.
Richard Holden MP: I agree – our rural transport and bus services are not up to scratch at the moment and are not serving the community as well as they should be. I am working on getting bus improvements – I want to see an improved timetable with more frequent services, especially in the evenings, at night and on weekends. The campaign I’m running for a fixed public transport link between Consett and the Tyne is part of a wider transport campaign I am leading for North West Durham and I believe we will see real improvements over time. The Government will publish it’s national bus strategy later this year which will be the backbone of any bid we make to transform local bus services, particularly for Crook/TowLaw/Willington, the rural villages surrounding consett and in Weardale.
KSChilds: Sure Start centres offered a lifeline for new parents and were a valuable part of the community, but were sadly closed. Could they be brought back?
Richard Holden MP: One of the things that I’m proudest of in the manifesto I stood on is the expansion of taxpayer funded childcare – it’s such a massive cost for so many families – like a second rent or mortgage. While I’ve backed the rollout of 30 hours free childcare for three and four year old children with parents in work and 15 hours for all two year olds there is still much more to do and some anomalies in the system (for example, I’ve a constituency case at the moment of a trainee doctor who can’t get the full 30 hours for her three year old because she’s a student) and I want to ensure that those are dealt with. I’d love to see a further expansion of childcare hours for working parents as a priority and would not be averse to sure start centres being in that mix.
Jonathan McGee: What provisions have your government put in place to replace the money we currently receive from the European Social Fund after we leave the EU? This money helps support thousands of people in your constituency and funds a lot of organisations that do good work in the community, so some clarity on the plan to support them would be greatly appreciated.
Richard Holden MP: Firstly – it’s our government and my party in Government. It must also be remembered that we are a net contributor to the EU – all funding Britain received from the EU was simply getting back a fraction of the money we gave them, meaning that we will be able to continue funding vital projects that have the same aims and outcomes as EU projects. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, we’re continuing to fund programmes through the transition period and the government has made clear that support in future UK schemes will be at least as generous as the ones we had access to from the EU. As soon as the details of those schemes come forward, I’ll be sharing them across my social media and directly with local stakeholders.
Kelli: What improvements and additions can be created for youth facilities, clubs and free recreational activities around the area, appealing to younger and older children, giving a place to safely congregate? This would include the upkeep of existing areas such as tennis and basketball courts, that sadly have been left to degrade over the years.
Richard Holden MP: I’ve been delighted to see so much great local work with young people going on from our local football, rugby, cricket, hockey and other clubs all the way through to some of the excellent sport at local schools. And I know that many residents have been disappointed by the loss of some local facilities – particularly in Crook over the last few years. I will fight for funding for local parks and sports facilities and am happy to campaign for cash from the council, who I think in pushing for their new County Hall rather than funding local communities are making a mistake. I am also currently pushing the government to re-open the Pocket Parks Fund – grants of up to £25,000 to help communities bring back parks into action. I’ll be posting more about this on my Facebook page and website if the funding is re-opened and would be delighted to meet with local groups interested in bidding for funds.
Peter Johnson: Why did you feel it acceptable to publicly claim that 72% of constituents supported a feasibility study into a rail link between Consett and Newcastle when actually you only received around 500 responses to a survey which never asked the question ‘do you support a feasibility study’. This is actually around 0.5% of your constituents and only represents your own subjective view of what constitutes support for your scheme?
Richard Holden MP: Most respected national opinion polls (of the UK population of c.60,000,000) are on samples of 1,000 people. – or 0.000016% of the population. Basic statistical analysis of standard deviation shows a poll of this size in the general population will get the result within a tight margin similar to if you’d asked all 60,000,000 people. That’s why the exit poll at the general election was so accurate, even though just a tiny fraction of those who voted were asked.
Moreover, as 72% v 22% of people back a fixed line connection, you’re right that I clearly understated the case for support for a feasibility study as there will be some people who want a feasibility study who are opposed.
More broadly, the reason I am running the campaign for a new railway was because during the general election campaign, when I visited every part of the constituency and spoke to literally thousands of constituents, it was something that was brought up time and time again. People know that for decades North West Durham has not had the same infrastructure investment of other parts of the country and so it became one of my six key pledges for the area. Transport is something I have people write to me about every single day, whether it’s roads, buses or trains, and it is evident that an overwhelming majority of my constituents do want much-needed improvements to our local transport infrastructure.
The fact that the overall response to the scheme was so positive was really fantastic. Especially as it had broad based backing from people who’d voted for many different parties at the last election. People see the environmental benefits of fewer cars on the roads, easier commuting prospects (which means better job and educational prospects) and the opening up of North West Durham to the wider North East, which will be an enormous boost for our local economy and our tourism. I’ve had loads of emails from constituents about it as well and they are overwhelmingly positive – people have been writing in to suggest what they want to see from a railway line and how they think it would improve the area.
Susan: Guidelines for schools reopening in September is to create “year groups bubbles”.
What are the caretakers, cleaners, dinner ladies, and all support staff advised to do?
86% of school staff in Scotland surveyed felt worried about a reopening, has there been similar a survey undertaken in England?
In the School, I work in we are all worried about the lack of info and proper guidance.
The official guidance is that masks shouldn’t be used in our School?
What about people not in the year group bubbles?
Should cleaners wear PPE? Should dinner ladies wear PPE? Should receptionists and caretakers wear PPE?
Richard Holden MP: First things first – free education is one of the most important things our country offers. It provides the basic underpinning of opportunity and I know every teacher and parent is keen to ensure that children, especially the most vulnerable, get that opportunity.
I know that the whole country is really grateful to the teachers and support staff who’ve been working throughout the crisis to support children. And I know that the overwhelming majority of teachers and heads are working together to find solutions in their schools to get schools back open as soon as they can.
On the specific question about people not in year group bubbles – PPE is only required when social distancing/bubbling can’t take place – for many support staff therefore this won’t be necessary, for others it might be. Without knowing the specific circumstances of your school I couldn’t say, but I’m sure the school’s Senior Leadership Team will be making a safety-based assessment.
If you are concerned about access to PPE please drop me an email and I’ll sort it out with the council and the Department for Health. Likewise, if you feel that your school has not received the guidance needed to open or you personally have concerns, please do get in touch directly.
Avril Pratt: I think Consett is already served well with some fine industrial art work (statues) perhaps the thousands a new one would cost could be better spent on services for the young and vulnerable in our area.
Richard Holden MP: I think that remembering our heritage is vitally important and fully support the memorial to the men who lost their lives 70 years ago in the Carbon Monoxide leak at the steelworks. But on your more general point about spending money on services for the young and vulnerable – I cannot agree more and remain utterly appalled by Durham County Council spending tens of millions of pounds on a vanity project of a new County Hall on a floodplain.
David Evans: Can we have a statue dedicated to the founders of consett aimed at its industrial past ?
Richard Holden MP: Genuinely brilliant idea – and something I’d support. I’ve actually recently reached out to some funding sources in this area and will update when I’ve had further discussions.
Carol Exley: Can something be done about the speed of the traffic going through Hamsterly Colliery, Low Westwood and Ebchester? The majority stick to about 30-35, but some are travelling at far greater speeds, especially at certain times of the day.
Richard Holden MP: Yes. I’ve had loads of meetings recently about speeding in our rural villages and am aware of how, unfortunately, some people completely ignore the rules of the road and show a total disregard for the safety of our communities. If you drop me an email (email@example.com) I’d be delighted to come and have a look at where the speeding takes place and I will see what I can do to help.
Andrea Neal: Given it is highly likely schools will be under pressure to accommodate pupils in the autumn term, is there any plans to extend and add classrooms where there is land to do so? These type of projects could be accomplished protecting the future education of our children.
Richard Holden MP: This will most likely depend on the school – if they feel that they have the land and space to accommodate extra classrooms then that may be a decision they take in order to reduce contact. This will not be possible for all schools though and we are still waiting for some guidance about how this will work. There will be ‘bubbles’ in place to reduce contact between year groups and so extra classrooms may not be needed.
Gary Dodd: Could we have a dedicated post office back in consett please
Richard Holden MP: Yes – I’m working on this. I’ve spoken with Royal Mail about it several times and am working with a local business to see where it could potentially be set up. It’s clear that the community in Consett needs a proper post office and, despite push back from the Post Office nationally, I’m going to do my best to see if we can get change on this.
Lucy Reed: How much is the intended feasibility study for the new proposed train line (that won’t happen because it’s pointless….)
Richard Holden MP: We don’t know yet – but it will be in the mid tens of thousands of pounds. The point of the application is to get the Department for Transport to look at the project and see if they think it’s worth it. If successful, the Department will fund 75% of costs (up to £50,000) and Durham County Council have pledged to fund the other portion of the campaign.
I’m sorry that you think that it’s pointless – I think that one should stand by the pledges upon which they were elected, and starting the process to get hundreds of millions of investment for our communities and connecting 72,000 people in the Derwent Valley to a proper public transport infrastructure is something worth fighting for.
Eileen Clare Marie Kavanagh: Just a bit more reassurance on schools going back in light of covid x
Richard Holden MP: I’m speaking with the Education Secretary regularly about this to ensure that all the guidelines are in place for schools. I’ve also been working closely with headteachers and teachers across the constituency throughout the lockdown to ensure that they are comfortable with the guidelines, have the PPE where needed and feel able to go back. Schools in North West Durham have remained open throughout the pandemic and so already have a lot of measures in place to stay open and be able to teach pupils in a safe way. Every single teacher and school I have spoken to is prepared to go back in September and we wouldn’t force anything through that would put our children at risk.
Danielle Boskamp: A leisure pool would be nice
Richard Holden MP: Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d be really happy to have a further chat about this and explore some options.
Terry Phillips: What about investing in Consett high street ? Or providing some outside space for young people to enjoy
Richard Holden MP: When the over £3 billion of funding for our town centres and high streets was open, I was shocked to find out that Durham Council and the previous MP didn’t even apply for support for either Consett or the three-town area of Willington, Crook and Tow Law. I’m pressing the Government to re-open this funding pot so that towns in my constituency can apply. I will naturally be a cheerleader for any application. I want to see high streets across towns in our constituency built for everyone, whether it’s outside space for young people or whether it’s investment to support their long-term futures.
Mark Pendleton: What representations have been made regarding the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital?
Richard Holden MP: Getting a modern replacement for Shotley Bridge Hospital is by number one priority for new investment in our community. I’ve had several meetings with Matt Hancock and other ministers in the Department of Health and raised it with them in Parliament. I also raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions. I’m partaking in regular meetings locally and am pushing for a ministerial visit to see the current site and show them why an upgrade is so vital. What really disappointed me is how infrequently this issue had been raised in Parliament before I become the MP just over seven months ago. In the last ten years Shotley Bridge has been raised just six times in Parliament. Four of those are in the last seven months. I think we’ve seen far too much prevarication on this, we need a clinical plan feeding swiftly into a business plan that can go out to the public for consultation and then I’ll be fighting with the Department of Health for the funds we need to get going with it.
Please note: Some questions were repeated or very similar, so if you asked a question and you don’t see it in this article it will have been answered in another question.
Richard Holden MP for North West Durham answered your questions in Consett Magazine (Print and Online August 2020 edition)
If you’ve got something you’d like to ask your MP or have any issues you’d like your MP to raise in parliament you can contact Richard Holden MP for North West Durham via email here: email@example.com or visit: https://members.parliament.uk/member/4813/contact