Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 5:24 pm, 18th November 2020

The people of Darlington have followed the rules, but this invisible virus has continued to infect them. Sadly, the infection rate remains high, with 337 cases per 100,000 last week. The local hospital trust, which includes Darlington Memorial Hospital, has more covid-positive patients than at the peak earlier in the year, so we welcome the additional 10,000 tests that have been made available to us.

As we entered the national lockdown, negotiations were under way to move the borough of Darlington, along with the other four Tees valley local authorities, into tier 3. It is my sincere hope that the efforts and impact of the lockdown will be such that, as we emerge from the current restrictions, we can remain in tier 2. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is aware that I and other colleagues from the Tees valley were opposed to an early move from tier 1 to tier 2, not because we wanted the virus to continue to spread but because we were concerned about the impact on the mental health of our constituents and the economic wellbeing of our communities. Part of that concern was alleviated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s additional support for those businesses able to remain open in tier 2 but adversely impacted. I welcome Darlington Borough Council’s efforts to distribute the grants as quickly as possible.

Darlington hospitality is legendary. We are proud to fly a purple flag, celebrating our town centre night-time economy. While hospitality businesses across Darlington are presently closed, I am confident that the support that has been forthcoming to Darlington will help us bounce back. We have had 9,000 jobs protected through furlough; 2,000 self-employed people supported, over £50 million of bounce back loans, millions in grants, rate exemptions and reductions. There is also the continued delivery of our levelling up agenda, with tangible investments, including £100 million in our expanded mainline train station and over £23 million through the towns fund, setting our plans on track for the development of the rail heritage quarter. Those investments will truly level up and help us bounce back.

I and many colleagues were elected not only to get Brexit done but to breathe new life into towns that stagnated under Labour control for decades. I am proud that, despite the wholly unprecedented challenge that this year has brought, we are continuing to deliver on those manifesto commitments. Recent figures reveal that in September the economy of the north-east bounced back at a faster rate than any other region of the country: a really positive sign.

We have the energy, drive and ambition of our Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, who has been at the forefront of much support through these times. With a saved airport, investment in hydrogen buses, trains and cars, carbon capture and storage and massive investment in offshore wind, new jobs in emerging technologies are putting the Tees valley at the heart of the green revolution. They make me confident that, certainly in the Tees valley and specifically in Darlington, levelling up is having a tangible and visible impact on the community I serve.

We all want to see the back of this virus. It has destroyed lives, changed everyone’s way of life and wreaked financial havoc on many businesses. I have been a champion for all the Government have done to support businesses, but on behalf of the people of Darlington, caught between the desire for liberty and their commitment to protecting the most vulnerable, I urge Ministers to continue their support for our local businesses and charities, and in particular—I declare my interest—to provide more support for our hospices not only in Darlington but across the country.

Finally, I pay tribute to the team at Darlington Memorial Hospital. They have adapted at pace, doubling their capacity in A&E and in ICU and working around the clock. They are doing all they can in the fight against this disease and delivering their other services too.