We’ve had a start to the year that no one wanted with a national lockdown being reintroduced to step-up the fight against coronavirus. Some argue this should have happened sooner, others oppose the tough and expensive restrictions, but what is very clear is that the variants of the virus associated with Kent and more recently South Africa could not have been accurately predicted (viruses mutate all the time, often with no consequence) and have resulted in a need to step up our efforts. Experts may continue to disagree about projections but the current pressure on the NHS shows that action is needed.
The basics that we have all become so familiar with continue to make a difference. Limiting contact with others, social distancing, wearing a mask and washing our hands all still work in this fight.
Having already been in tier 4, like most of the country, the main difference we will notice is the closure of schools. I can understand concerns about how hard it can be to practice social distancing and form bubbles in that environment. I have also heard from many Somerset parents who would not have wished for their children to return to the classroom at this time. Similarly I know there are many working parents facing a very stressful time and both groups are motivated purely by wanting the best for their children. Teachers are understandably concerned not only for their own health but of those around them.
Overwhelming evidence from the spring lockdown and beyond though does show that children do better in the school environment. In addition to the formal learning there are a number of other developmental areas that are hard to replicate in other ways. We also know that disadvantaged children fall further behind without the formal structure and resources that a school can offer. This why we must get children back to school as soon as possible.
The Government has been providing laptops and has negotiated some increased data packages with service providers and I will lobby for these efforts to be stepped up. I have also made clear that pupils need certainty around the exam process and that needs urgent action in the case of vocational courses including some at Yeovil College.
The Government has announced a new £4.6billion support package for businesses including funding for the discretionary grants that I called for in the spring. There is additional support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses forced to close. Details of the help available as well as information on the restrictions are on the Government website www.gov.uk/coronavirus.
Of course, whilst things seem bleak we are in a different situation to that of the first lockdown. By Tuesday over 1.3million people had received a vaccine including 23% of the over 80s. The more we all play our part now in stopping the spread the more quickly we can start to get our lives back. On that note I have secured a virtual meeting with Secretary of State Robert Jenrick next week to discuss our successful £9.8million Future High Streets Fund allocation as well as other potential local growth funding and regeneration ideas.
As always, if I can be of any help please do contact my office on 01935314321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org