Very positive news this week as the Government has announced most shops can reopen in about two weeks’ time with outdoor markets and car showrooms a few days earlier. There will be some rules in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus being passed on and I hope health improvements might make these unnecessary before too long, but I am sure this will be welcome news to a huge number of businesses. I also hope it will be another stage in us all feeling like the world is starting to return to normal.
In the country as a whole the rate of infection of the virus continues to go down thanks to the massive efforts put in by so many people in so many different ways. I know there has been an issue at Weston General Hospital and am looking into it better to understand the reasons.
In Somerset, in addition to national schemes like the Job Retention, or furlough, and Self Employment support schemes, we have received over £475million of Government funding to help through this time. That is split between allocations such as business grants, rates relief, council tax relief and the Care Home Fund. If you run a business please do check to see what you are entitled to through the Government and South Somerset District Council websites or you can always get in touch with my office for help.
My priorities remain helping people here with their immediate problems, as well as suggesting and planning incentives and other conditions for recovery locally and nationally, as well as contributing to the national effort to find vaccines and keeping other national priorities moving forward.
I have had a series of positive interactions with Ministers and officials about how our local high technology engineering industries such as Leonardo can help spur the recovery, and remain very much engaged in trying to help Leonardo’s export campaigns. I was able to brief one of our Ministers for an important government to government conversation on a key one of them recently and I hope that despite the economic pressures many countries are facing we can still make progress.
I also had another small victory this week. Following representations from various MPs including me, the BBC have decided to review their decision to scrap the Red Button service. It may not be used by a huge number of people these days but those who do rely on it and I was really pleased at the decision. Let’s hope the BBC will also review its decision on licence fee exemptions that we continue to call for.
Overall my team and I are stretched across a range of challenges and are of course facing the same challenges as many other people such as working remotely and home-schooling our children. With schools starting to return next week, and Parliament going back to physical if socially distanced operation, we all need to try to work together as we get back towards normal and focus on the important tasks ahead of us.