REVIEWING last year’s end-of-year column, I was struck by how many of the issues from last December continue to cast a shadow over our lives. A cost-of-living crisis stretching pay packets. A neglected NHS on its knees. Too many people struggling to get by and get on.

As we greet a new year, it’s right to reflect on 2023 but also to hope for new beginnings and to leave the challenges and adversity behind. As I do so this year, I know I won’t be alone in hoping this is the last time Rishi Sunak will take down the Christmas decorations inside Number 10 Downing Street – I think many of us will be hoping to give up this Conservative government as our new year’s resolution.

This year and over the past four years, representing the people of the City of Durham has been the greatest privilege of my life, but also an immense responsibility, the weight of which I have felt fully while speaking up for constituents this year.

My office has helped over a thousand people with individual pieces of casework. From securing housing repairs, to questioning ministers about our broken buses, whether an issue has been big or small I’ve sought to be Durham’s voice in Westminster, rather than Westminster’s voice in Durham.

My constituents have told me they feared dentistry in Durham was being privatised by stealth. Dentists leaving the NHS every day. Patients forced to go private or go without – others turning to horrific DIY dentistry. I joined alongside the British Dental Association to demand that the Government stop the rot in NHS dentistry. While the Tories have ignored this crisis, I’m proud the Labour Party have listened and set out a rescue plan for NHS dentistry which would provide 700,000 extra appointments and reverse this decline.

In 2023, the pupils and staff at St Leonard’s School have been pushed to overcome immense obstacles. Classrooms condemned just days before classes returned from the summer. Face-to-face teaching put on hold because ministers feared the ageing, crumbling concrete couldn’t hold up the roof above pupil’s heads. Thirteen years of Tory cuts coming home to roost. The education of 1,500 Durham pupils derailed.

I’ve been supporting the St Leonard’s community every step of the way; demanding ministers see first-hand and take responsibility for how they are failing local pupils. I won’t stop fighting for these children in 2024 until they have the new school and fair grades they deserve.

In Parliament I’ve continually raised tough questions with Tory ministers on their failure to support working people, to make England smokefree, and to deliver the change that we desperately need – there is much more work to be done in 2024.

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. I know I will be reflecting on his teachings and message that blessed are the poor, the merciful and peacemakers, as over the past year we have witnessed heart-breaking hardship, conflict and division across our world.

Whether religious or not, I think most would agree that our communities would benefit from the true Christmas spirit of greater compassion, cooperation, and conciliation towards all in our society.

I hope you and your loved have enjoyed a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a Happy New Year.