So I am now done with Parliament this side of Easter, Wednesday was the last day Parliament was sitting. Normally an Easter recess would involve me meeting with hundreds of constituents and being busy across the town, this Easter recess will clearly be very different. So my job will be responding to constituents that are struggling and have got difficulties relating to the Coronavirus.
I know this is a really difficult time for all of us, especially for those from vulnerable groups that are self isolating and will be feeling lonely, but also for those businesses and those that are self-employed, it is very difficult for you and your families at this time. I will do everything I can to support you, whether that is chasing ministers for responses or getting answer to questions. If you have a specific enquiry or case you would like me and my team to look into, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your full address and I will respond as soon as I can.
I put together a video in support of Age UK Suffolk’s latest fundraising drive “Good day calls”. The role Age UK plays has never been more important in supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our community however as a result of the Coronavirus they haven’t been able to raise funds to support their activities by conventional means (charity shops, community events etc). Age UK Suffolk are looking to raise £30,000 per month to help ensure that there teams are able to make a ‘welfare call’ to all elderly residents who may be facing an extended period of isolation and loneliness. If you are able to make a donation, however small, please do, it could make the difference to the number of vulnerable people they are able to reach out to in Suffolk
Today, rather unexpectedly I got the opportunity to raise my first question to the Prime Minister. Following the Prime Minister’s announcements this week on social distancing and the passage of the Coronavirus Bill its clear that more pressure will be placed on Police resources as they are asked to enforce the social distancing guidelines. My concern is that certain criminal elements might look to exploit this national emergency to look promote their own insidious agendas. I asked the Prime Minister to confirm that if this does happen he will come down like tonne of bricks on individuals in question. I was glad that the Prime Minister confirmed that if necessary he would indeed come down like a tonne of brinks on such criminals. I really hope it doesn’t come to this but its best to be vigilant during times like these.
This morning I was on the BBC Radio Suffolk Mark Murphy show where I was quizzed about the announcements the Government made yesterday in relation to the Coronavirus. It could not be more important for us all to follow the advice that was set out by the Prime Minister yesterday, to not follow the advice is to put the lives of some of the most vulnerable within our society at risk. We covered quite a few issues during the interview, please have a listen if you get a moment.
A significant number of you have written in to outline your concerns about the lack of support provided for the self-employed and freelancers. So far the economic measures announced by the Government haven’t really touched these groups and this is something I am very aware of. The Government has dramatically improved access to the benefits system for the self-employed, but clearly a lot more needs to be done. I understand that Treasury Ministers are currently working on a package of support for the self-employed and this support should be announced within the coming days. As the Member of Parliament for Ipswich I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer making clear my views and that more support for the self-employed should be forthcoming.
I am well aware of the huge contribution that the self-employed make to Ipswich’s economy and I will do whatever I can to support you during this difficult time.
We are living through extraordinary times and I’m fully aware of how difficult things are for many of my constituents at the moment. Particularly many of the elderly and more vulnerable members of our community and those being advised to self-isolate.
For many of those who live alone and have been asked to self-isolate, loneliness may well become a key issue for many within our community. It’s for this reason that I am working with AGE UK in setting up “Talking with Tom” system so that anyone who wants to talk to me on the phone can register to do so and secure a time slot. In short I’m happy to discuss any issue under the sun and to provide company to anyone in my constituency during this difficult time. Whether you want to discuss the weather, your family, concerns about the virus or my first few months representing you as your MP and what I’m up to at the moment, please do get in touch with my office to set up a time to talk to me. If you know anyone who might be interested in this, please do pass them my details.
If people would like to book a slot to talk to me, they should call 01473 599155 or email me on: email@example.com, where one of my team will get them booked in to receive a call from me at a time that suits them.
The coronavirus is not just a health emergency but an economic one too. And this evening the Chancellor set out unprecedented Government intervention to match the exceptional health measures set out by the Prime Minister yesterday.
Many constituents have been in touch with me over recent hours and days to tell me of the concerns they have for their livelihoods in this difficult time. It’s absolutely vital that households and businesses are economically secure so we can all focus on our health and that of our loved ones.
When we emerge from this coronavirus outbreak as we undoubtedly will, we will need our local businesses and their hard-working employees to be at the heart of our recovery. This includes our local pubs, shops, restaurants and leisure businesses who are so much more than just the backbone of our local economy. They are focal points for our community and contribute enormously to the social cohesion of our town. If we are unable to support them with our custom, we must support them and their employees in whatever way they need in the meantime. The Chancellor has responded to this in his statement this evening as he announced the following measures:
A package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support business worth £330 billion initially. This will be available to businesses to pay their suppliers, rent and salaries. The £330 billion will be expanded with no ceiling if necessary.
For small and medium sized businesses, this money will be made available through an extension of the business interruption loan scheme announced in the Budget. This scheme will make loans available of up to £5 million per business with no interest due for the first 6 months. This scheme will be up and running by the start of next week.
Pubs, clubs, retailers and hospitality and leisure industry venues with an insurance policy which covers pandemics will be able to make an insurance claim.
For those types of businesses without insurance and a rateable value of less than £51,000, they will be entitled to an additional cash grant worth £25,000.
All pubs, clubs, shops and hospitality and leisure industry businesses will be exempt from paying business rates over the next year.
The 700,000 smallest businesses in the country will now receive a cash grant of £10,000, up from £3,000 as previously announced in the Budget.
A 3-month mortgage holiday for home owners affected by coronavirus.
The eligibility criteria for statutory sick pay will be extended so more are covered. Businesses will be supported with the extra costs incurred.
And for those who are ineligible for statutory sick pay, access to the benefits system will be sped up. Those eligible for universal credit will be able to access advanced payments without visiting a job centre. Support will be available from the first day of self-isolation or sickness.
Whenever statements like this are made which will have such a significant impact on people’s livelihoods, there is a focus on the detail which sometimes takes more time to come out. Many small business owners have already contacted me about how they can access the cash grants which will now be worth £10,000 and I’m urgently looking to obtain further information about this. I am fully aware that time is of the essence for their businesses and I’ll be working directly with pubs, shops and other local companies over the coming weeks and months. I will be available to meet with landlords, local business owners and store managers to go in to detail about the specific challenges they are facing. If you would like to arrange a meeting, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I understand the urgency of the situation and the importance of certainty for all businesses and households. I am closely following all developments and will be updating constituents as soon as I learn more. It’s welcome for example that clarification has already been given that pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to offer takeaway and delivery services if they wish thanks to emergency changes in the planning laws.
The Chancellor was clear that today’s measures only represent one of several steps that will be taken as part of a comprehensive national effort to support our economy and I understand that a number of issues have yet to be fully addressed. This includes those private renters who have contacted me with their concerns about affording their rent if they become sick or have to self-isolate. The Chancellor has said he will make further statements soon about the issues faced by private renters and I’ll be following what this means for my constituents very closely.
The Chancellor emphasised today that he will do whatever it takes to support businesses and households through these exceptional circumstances. It’s now essential that this approach and the measures announced are realised on the ground in Ipswich. As the number of coronavirus cases reaches a point of rapid increase, we must get this right now. I will do whatever it takes as your MP to get businesses and households in our town the support they need.
Since my statement yesterday, I have also written to care homes and churches across Ipswich to offer my full personal support and the support of my office to many of the vulnerable people that they serve. I hope to be able to engage closely with these organisations to coordinate help for groups like the elderly. I’m setting up a service called ‘Talks with Tom’ to keep the vulnerable in self-isolation company over the phone and I’m also making myself available to help with things like shopping and dog walking. I’ll be working closely with charities and community groups like Age UK to ensure these initiatives are as effective as possible. If you would like to get involved, please do not hesitate to get in touch at email@example.com
Please continue to follow the latest health advice through the NHS’s website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
And once again, please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any coronavirus concerns. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will keep you fully updated as the situation develops.
Over the last few days, there have been significant developments in the spread of coronavirus as we have seen more and more confirmed cases across the country. Tragically the number of fatalities from the virus has also risen. This is now clearly an issue which will have a profound impact on the lives of everyone in this country and in our Town. So far there have only been three confirmed cases of coronavirus in Suffolk but this is highly likely to rise substantially over the coming days and weeks.
From the start of the coronavirus outbreak, I have been in frequent contact with Ipswich Hospital to ensure that they have everything they need to cope with an increase in cases.
Today I spoke to the Chief Executive of Ipswich Hospital to get another update on the latest steps being taken. And I’ll soon be meeting with the Chair of the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group to go further into the detail. I am staying fully informed of developments from our healthcare professionals and I’ll keep in close contact with the Government to get all the support our local NHS needs.
Today the Prime Minister outlined new guidance, asking that all those with a cough or high temperature to self-isolate for 7 days if living alone. If one member of a family displays these symptoms, all members of the household should self-isolate for 14 days. This includes refraining from going outside to buy food and supplies if possible. The Prime Minister also set out how it is essential that everyone in the country avoids non-essential travel and non-essential contact with others, particularly with the elderly, pregnant women and those with certain underlying health conditions. This means working from home where possible and avoiding pubs, clubs and other social venues. We should also only use the NHS when absolutely necessary. Of course, things like frequent hand-washing and using tissues to catch germs remain vital.
There is also the possibility that those from vulnerable groups may be asked to self-isolate for significantly longer periods of twelve weeks in the near future. People most at risk must be shielded as much as possible.
I understand that the advice for more social distancing, particularly from our elderly neighbours and loved-ones raises significant concerns about loneliness and our ability to care for them over significant periods of time. I’ll be doing whatever I can personally to support the elderly get through this. I’ll be working with Age UK in Suffolk to set up a telephone system where I and others in the community can help keep our elderly neighbours company by phone. I’ll also be joining other charity and community groups to help with things like dog walking and doing people’s shopping where we can. I know many of you would also like to help so please get in touch with my office if you feel like you can lend a hand. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated by those in the greatest need at this time. My office is at the disposal of efforts to support the community.
I also understand that some of my constituents are stuck overseas following the suspension of travel between the UK and certain other countries. My office is providing continued support to Ipswich residents stuck abroad and will continue to do so for anyone else who is unable to get home. This is a highly stressful situation for them and I’ve written to the Foreign Secretary today asking him to step up Government support for repatriation.
I’m also acutely aware that the new advice will have a major impact on local businesses in Ipswich, including our local pubs, hotels, retailers and leisure companies. I’m clear that the unprecedented healthcare measures set out today must also be accompanied by unprecedented economic measures. It will now be essential that the Government steps in to reimburse these businesses for the time they are left without customers. Many constituents have already written in to me that greater clarity is needed on the £3,000 cash grant for small business in the Budget. This is one of the concerns I’m calling on the Government to urgently address.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, I’ve been clear that our town’s pubs and small businesses are the backbone of our economy and community and they must be supported throughout this outbreak so that they can be part of our recovery. They are absolutely indispensable for our town’s future.
I want you to know that throughout this difficult period, my office will be available to anyone who has concerns and my team will be prioritising coronavirus enquiries. If you need further information or would like us to write to the Government or any third party on your behalf, do not hesitate to get in touch. I have already had a number of people contacting me about what coronavirus means for private renters who may be unable to pay their rent during these exceptional measures. I am looking into the matter urgently.
Finally, I want to say that this is clearly a distressing time for many, particularly the elderly and those with elderly relatives. This is the situation that most of us find ourselves in, and I’m no different. I have elderly relatives and I understand the personal impact and disruption that this virus has on our lives. Throughout all this, we must remain cautious but also level-headed as we do our bit to follow the Government’s advice and do what we can to help those in the greatest need. Most importantly, we must come together as a community to support each other through this difficult time.
I will of course keep you fully updated as the situation develops. And please keep up to date on the latest NHS advice through the following link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Great to have Home Secretary Priti Patel back in Ipswich this morning. I invited her to Ipswich last week to meet our local police officers and to make the case for the Police funding formula to be reviewed, at the moment it is not fair on Suffolk, on average £154 is spent on policing per head of the population, the national average is £194. Suffolk Police are getting 54 extra Police Officers but I think it needs to go further.
We had a detailed discussion at Landmark House with the Chief Constable and local officers about the incidents of the past few weeks and I relayed to the Home Secretary the concerns that have been raised with me by my constituents. Following this we visited St Matthew’s Street where Richard Day tragically lost his life three weeks ago and then onto the Town centre where the Home Secretary was able to discuss matters with many of my constituents directly. The Government have committed to look at the police funding formula however the timeline hasn’t yet been confirmed. There is also an opportunity for Suffolk to benefit from the Safer Streets Fund that is focused on tackling theft and robbery. Most of my constituents who have discussed crime and anti-social behaviour with me feel that there needs to be a greater police presence not just in the Town centre but across the Town, I agree with them, however if this is going to happen then the Police needs the resources to do so it also needs its time to be freed up so it can do so. I was very glad the Home Secretary so soon after I raised my concerns with her and I think it says a lot about her determination as Home Secretary to tackle crime.
Today (11/03/20) Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, welcomed the Budget delivered by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, which addresses many of the issues Hunt had called to be addressed.
In a joint piece with Peter Aldous, Suffolk MP for Waveney, in the East Anglian Daily Times on Monday, Hunt had called for action on business rates and a reduction in beer duty to support local pubs. Both of these issues were addressed in the Budget, as the Chancellor announced a formal review of the business rates scheme this autumn. This is a priority for Hunt as he fights in Westminster for more support for Ipswich’s town centre and a level playing field high street retailers in the face of big online shops.
The Chancellor also announced a temporary suspension on rates for small retailers for the year 2020/21. Business rates will be abolished for leisure, retail and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000.
On beer duty, Hunt’s EADT article reinforced the case he’d previously made in a Westminster Hall debate on Beer and Pub taxation on 5 February 2020. In that debate, Hunt highlighted Suffolk’s proud pub heritage and the fact that 1,500 jobs are tied to pubs in his constituency. He urged the Government to get “150%” behind pubs by cutting beer duty in the next Budget so landlords felt less like tax collectors and more like small business owners. The Chancellor responded in today’s budget with a freeze on every single alcohol duty for the coming year. He also recognised the vital economic and social roles pubs play in towns like Ipswich as he announced that the business rates discount for pubs will increase from £1,000 to £5,000. Hunt recognises this as a step in the right direction, however, he would still like more to be done.
Hunt was also one of 35 MPs who before the Budget had co-signed a letter to the Chancellor expressing serious concerns about any rise in fuel duty. Today, the letter was found to have been successful as Rishi Sunak announced that fuel duty will be frozen for the tenth year in a row. This is an important victory for the hard-working people, many of whom rely on private vehicles to get to get to work or to run their business.
Hunt also welcomed the creation of a £1 billion fund for the removal of “all unsafe combustible cladding” after his campaign to make public money available for the removal of the type of highly combustible cladding that was on St Francis Tower in Ipswich. He also acknowledges that leaseholders at St Francis Tower will be keen to see more detail about how this money will be spent before fully breathing a sigh of release. But it’s positive that the Chancellor referred to ‘all unsafe cladding’.
Before, public money was only available for the removal of aluminium composite material cladding, the type found on Grenfell Tower, and not the equally dangerous high pressure laminate cladding found on St Francis Tower.
As part of this campaign, Hunt had raised the exorbitant bills being faced by leaseholders in St Francis Tower for cladding removal in a Westminster Hall debate on 12 February 2020. He had concluded his speech by calling on the Government for fairness for his constituents in St Francis Tower.
The Chancellor’s announcement of a £27 billion fund for the Strategic Road Network was also welcomed by Hunt as details emerge that improvements to the A14 Copdock junction will be part of this. The fund also includes a £2.5 billion allocations to fill up existing potholes and stop new ones from forming too. Improving road services and pavement services around Ipswich has been a focus for Hunt since his election as he personally visits streets across Ipswich to report potholes to the County Council. By working closely with Suffolk County Council Leader, Cllr Matthew Hicks, progress has already been made, including with the resurfacing of the pavement at Denton Close.
While it’s pleasing that many of Hunt’s priorities for Ipswich have been reflected in the Budget, Hunt still intends to speak during the Budget’s continuation debate over the coming days. It is vital that the investment issues facing Ipswich and Suffolk are represented specifically, having not received fair funding across the board over the years. This includes money for schools and education, Suffolk Constabulary and infrastructure.
Following the Budget, Tom said:
“Of course, this Budget will be talked about in relation to coronavirus and I welcome the strong measures the Chancellor to support our economy through this difficult time. The announcement that Statutory Sick Pay will be paid from the first day of absence is a particularly important step to give people reassurance when in self-isolation.
“As well as robust action on coronavirus, there are many positive developments in this Budget and we’re beginning to see real progress on many of the campaigns we have been working hard on. I am pleased to see the Chancellor has heard our concerns about ensuring ordinary people are not overburdened by taxes. The complete suspension of business rates for small retailers this year, and his commitment to a wide review the business rate scheme later this year, are crucial steps as we continue to fight for a vibrant town centre in Ipswich.
“The freezes in all alcohol duties and fuel duty also underline our efforts to ensure tax burdens do not fall on too heavily hardworking people. Before the budget, I co-signed a joint letter urging the Chancellor not to increase fuel duty and I spoke in Parliament about the need for Ipswich’s pub sector to be shown more support. I’m pleased that these messages are cutting through.
“It’s also good news that £1billion will be made available for the replacement of all types of dangerous cladding. It was unfair that St Francis Tower residents had to face exorbitant fees for the removal of the highly combustible cladding on their building just because it wasn’t the same type as that found on St Francis Tower.
“I will continue to digest the detail of this Budget and I intend to set out what it means for Ipswich and Suffolk in the ongoing debates on it next week”.