This week the Government hit its target of vaccinating our 15 million most vulnerable citizens by 15th February. Here in Somerset we can be especially proud to be one of the leading regions in terms of volunteers contributing to our vaccine programme, and we are all extremely grateful to them as well as Yeovil District Hospital, our GPs and other healthcare workers.
The big question now is where this progress leaves us in respect to the future of lockdown restrictions across the country. As you may know, I have advocated throughout this pandemic that, where it is possible to do so safely, restrictions should be relaxed to allow life to get back to normal, and my view is no different now. Our first priority should of course be to get children back in school, not only for the sake of their education, but so they can see their friends and enjoy some real social interactions again. With the PM set to announce our route out of lockdown next week, I expect this to be the first big positive step we see.
Through my role as chair of the APPG for Education I continue to lobby the Government for greater support for children with special educational needs and disabilities. I am delighted with the recent announcement of funding worth over £42 million for projects to help raise educational standards, improve services and provide practical support to disadvantaged families and children. The Covid-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on families in this position, and while there is a lot more work to be done on this issue, here we can celebrate a step in the right direction.
Some much-needed good news for businesses has come with the Government announcement of the new “Pay as You Grow” flexible repayment option for businesses who have taken Government loans, as well as that of a new £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund to help small businesses with changes to trade rules with the EU. However, whilst these measures will help, it remains the case that what these businesses really need is the return to some form of economic regularity that only the lifting of lockdown restrictions can provide. Whilst I will continue to be guided by the local NHS, once we have vaccinated everyone in the more vulnerable categories and ramped up rapid testing, there is a strong case to say the economic and social costs of restrictions outweigh the public health risk.
In local news, Connecting Devon and Somerset announced this week that mobile phone coverage for some of the most rural areas of Somerset is set to be improved under a new scheme. I know this is a problem some of our areas have been struggling with for some time, and I am really pleased to see some positive action taken.
Also the second tranche of Government funding for pothole repairs will see £30million for Somerset to go alongside our big projects like the A303. Both these measures will help us come out of this time a better place to live and do business.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about any of the above, or if I can be of any help, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01935314321.