I have been approached by a large number of constituents following the Prime Minister’s press conference on Saturday, in which he announced a new national lockdown for England, which comes into force from this Thursday, November 5th, until 2nd December – following cross party parliamentary approval today (4th November).
The debate today was opened by the PM, in which he exemplified this invidious position, when he said:
‘None of us came into politics to tell people once again to shutter their shops, furlough their staff or stay away from their friends and family. In common with all Members, I feel the pain and anxiety that we will all share in the month ahead. But as Prime Minister, when I am confronted with data which projects that our NHS could even collapse, with deaths in the second wave potentially exceeding those of the first, and when I look at what is happening among some of our continental friends and see doctors who have tested positive being ordered to work on Covid wards and patients airlifted to hospitals in some other countries simply to make space, I can reach only one conclusion: I am not prepared to take the risk with the lives of the British people’
If you would like to read more the full debate is available here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-11-04/debates/94B2F2F9-3876-490A-96CA-6066CBFCFB37/PublicHealth
In less than a year, this disease has killed over 47,000 people in the UK and caused havoc to economies everywhere. In March, we all pulled together in a spirit of national sacrifice and community, acting together and for the benefit of all, we ensured the NHS was protected and thousands of lives were saved. Once again, our communities in Mid Sussex are being asked to rise to this challenge to keep those more vulnerable family, friends and neighbours safer. This is a significant ask.
This decision for me was not taken at all lightly and was a real personal struggle, but the PM has made it clear he believed it was crucial to move to act now, following the consistent and significant rise in infections, hospital admissions and tragically, more deaths across the country. There was absolutely no one keener than me to avoid a second national lockdown and I was actually pushing in the other direction to reopen sectors ie events, but it seems we all have to reluctantly accept this is not possible at present and adjust to the latest guidance and work comply with these short term updated measures, in order to return to normality sooner.
We as a Government, have been working tirelessly to take the tiers system forward and protect jobs and education, but current evidence was put forward showing this balance between protecting the NHS & elective patients without this new action would be impossible without broader interventions. I have joined multiple briefings, including several from the Health Secretary, who has assured me we are in a better place now to cope with this virus than earlier this year, with better treatments and higher ICU capacity to combat COVID-19 but this was not enough it has been argued. I wish Mid Sussex to return to a suitable tiered system (ideally the lowest) as soon as possible and have made that clear in Westminster subject to the next few weeks.
I am pleased the Government has sought to offer Parliament additional scrutiny, offering MPs a vote on changes to regulations wherever that is possible, on England or UK-wide measures before they come into place. It is vital for actions to be taken as swiftly as possible in the fight against Coronavirus, but I also believe it is important Parliament has additional opportunities to thoroughly examine new potential measures before they are put in place wherever this can be achieved. I have read multiple briefings and watched the debate to see why this action was needed.
There are some key differences to the previous national lockdown, with schools, colleges and universities being prioritized to stay open to protect the education of our children and young people, plus greater flexibility for businesses to who can work within Covid-19 secure guidelines, as well as maintenance of childcare and support bubbles. Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november .
Support for businesses
I am speaking to the Haywards Heath Business Association on Friday and I will do everything I can to listen to, help and inform local business owners in the difficult weeks ahead. The Government must do all we can to protect our businesses, which is why I was delighted to see the Chancellor confirm the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended for a crucial further month, covering 80% of employees’ wages for hours they are furloughed. This is in addition to cash grants of up to £3000 per month for businesses which have to close as a result of the new restrictions, as well as £1.1 billion for councils to enable them to support businesses more broadly over the coming months. There are also plans being put in place to extend the existing Loan Schemes and Future Fund to the end of January and an ability to top-up Bounce Back Loans.
The Government also recently announced an extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and has this week confirmed it will provide even more generous support to the self-employed, increasing the support to the self-employed from 40 per cent of trading profits to 80 per cent for November. As SEISS grants are calculated over 3 months, this increases the total level of the grant to 55 per cent of trading profits for November to January and the maximum grant will therefore increase to £5,160 over this period.
These announcements will give businesses, whether they are open or required to close, the flexibility to adjust and plan over the coming months – and comes on top of the £200 billion package of support the Government have committed since the beginning of the pandemic.
Following correspondence from constituents, I have lobbied my colleague, the Secretary of State of Health and Social Care, the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, over the prospect of allowing grassroots sports to continue, as well as keeping certain sports facilities open, including golf courses and tennis courts. I did this because I firmly believe in the importance sport plays in maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing, which is even more crucial in these immensely difficult times.
Unfortunately, my colleagues in DHSC told me that in order to reduce social contact, the Government will order the following to close over the course of this lockdown: leisure and sports facilities including leisure centres and gyms, swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, golf courses, fitness and dance studios, climbing walls, archery, driving, and shooting ranges. Only elite-level organised sports have been permitted to continue. I was hugely disappointed to hear this.
The Government has been clear throughout, should the number of cases escalate, they would not hesitate to take whatever measures are necessary to stop the spread, protect the NHS, protect the return to work and school, restrict social interactions when it appears they are increasing infections and save lives. While relaxations of restrictions over recent months have been welcome, sadly infection rates are rising exponentially. This is also the case in the South East of England, where cases are doubling every 14 days – faster than almost any other region in the UK.
I appreciate these stricter measures impact on our way of life, but we must comply and play our parts in saving lives and protecting vulnerable people. What we must remember is that, unfortunately, what is one person’s mild cough can be another person’s death knell. We must act in a spirit of togetherness to suppress this virus now to save lives and to enable us to avoid tougher measures later.
Our Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has also encouraged local people to abide by the new rules and has reinforced the national message with Sussex Police enforcing new measures as they have come in as well as continuing to have the power to do so.
I absolutely believe measures must continue to be proportionate to the risk the virus poses, and the impact on the economy, livelihoods and personal freedoms cannot be stressed too greatly. I will continue to make this, and the thoughts of constituents, clear to my Ministerial colleagues.