In any other year November, would be a time of Remembrance Services, Bonfire Night and making plans for Christmas. The anticipation of get-togethers with family and Christmas Parties with colleagues. This year, of course, has been like no other and many of the things we took for granted, we’re unable to do.
Whilst I supported the Government’s approach in Parliament at the beginning of the month, I did so only after deep consideration. I did not go into politics to restrict people’s movements, ability to play sports, or limit who they can meet and where. As long as people aren’t causing harm to others, it should be up to people to live their lives as best and as freely as they can.
However, sadly, the medical advice that the Government received was clear that further urgent steps needed to be implemented not only because Covid-19 cases were surging in the community, but also because they were increasingly rapidly in hospitals, too. On a call with Sue Jacques, the Chief Executive of our local hospital trust this was made plain to me. Although the rates of infection are broadly falling, the number of over 65s with the virus are rising and there are now more people in hospital locally with Covid-19 than at the peak earlier in the year.
That said, I know how tough this is, especially, for local businesses and workers. Throughout the spring, summer and autumn of this year my team and I have had countless conversations with local businesses – from pubs, to beauty salons, to aerospace – about the impact of the virus on their lives.
I made clear to Government Ministers that they could only be accepted by people if they were accompanied by action to help the economy. I am pleased to report that the pleas I made – along with those made by other Conservative MPs locally – have been responded to so positively.
We’ve seen the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) for five months until March 2021. This will mean employers will only have to cover National Insurance and Pension contributions for their employees and ultimately will help secure thousands of jobs in County Durham and millions nationally. Meanwhile, Self-Employed Income Support has been boosted and will be paid out at a rate of 80% for of profits for self-employed people. No credit-rating impact mortgage payment holidays are also in place.
In tandem with these measures, the central Government money for grants of £3,000 to help businesses forced to close hit Durham County Council’s account on Friday so do apply if you haven’t already. This will really help many in the hospitality industry.
We’ve also seen a massive package of measures for the most vulnerable with an additional £170m coming through for local authorities to distribute in the winter grants scheme. Alongside this I was thrilled to see that a project I was very supportive of when I worked at the Department for Education – the Holiday Activities scheme – will also be extended nationwide to the most disadvantaged children from Easter next year.
The support in place across the economy for jobs and local businesses is unparalleled and rightly so. If we want to bounce back from this and build back better then we need to do everything we can to minimise the damage to the economy. I will continue to do everything I can to argue for our community, from the promised investment in a new Community Hospital to replace Shotley Bridge, to better transport links, police and education funding.
If anyone reading this has any questions about these packages of support, please do not hesitate to contact me and my team in Consett.
Best wishes, Richard Holden MP