We start May with significant challenges in choosing the right path forward. Rates of transmission of the dreadful coronavirus have fallen, there are fewer new cases than we have been seeing and Somerset’s system is performing within capacity and with sufficient protective equipment, but that is a result of the measures that we have all been taking. If we ease up on those too quickly a second wave of infection and lockdown could be terrible. The reality of loss and the health problems many are facing are also undeniable.
Yet there are reasons to think aspects of the lockdown can be changed soon as we become more confident about the coronavirus outlook, and in my interactions with the Government I am reflecting the economic issues many of you are raising with me, as well as people’s other health needs. I called for the Treasury to introduce 100% Government backed loans for some businesses to get through this time and am really pleased to see that going ahead. If you run a small business do go to the Government website for details of the Bounce Back loans which will be available and processed quickly.
I have also asked for tips and recycling centres to reopen as soon as is safely possible. Somerset Waste Partnership have reported a 20% rise in recycling and food waste against this time last year as so many more people are at home and also having clear-outs of houses, gardens and sheds. It would be great to get garden waste collections resumed though as at the moment there is nowhere to put the rubbish and I have heard many concerns about an increase in fly-tipping.
For many of us one of the biggest issues is when and how schools and nurseries will reopen. This is a difficult judgement to make but I know how hard it is for working parents at the moment. Other countries are starting to trial alternating classes with days on and off but clearly it is very difficult to practice social distancing measures in schools. I also worry that wearing of masks, separation lines and other measures adults might accept are a somewhat dystopian part of the challenge could have a lasting and negative effect on our children, so I have recommended caution.
This week I was involved in the new virtual Parliament which is a strange experience but I think goes some way to allowing MPs to represent their parts of the country in formal proceedings again. I asked John Whittingdale, Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, about supporting community radio at this time and was encouraged to hear that the Government is looking at helping perhaps through a community radio fund. On Monday evening I also took part in the debate on the Finance Bill which was a chance to raise concerns about the economy alongside support for the Government’s action to enable our system to cope, and also put on record the brilliant job companies in Somerset are doing to support the national effort.