As you will have noticed I’ve been carrying out a number of surveys over the past month or so and I wanted to share the results of the latest survey. Like the last survey around 1,000 Ipswich residents took part and though I would hardly describe the survey as scientific, its still useful to get a bit of a snapshot of what my constituents are thinking regarding some of the key issues of the day. I shared the survey on my social media platforms and promoted to all those living in the Town and encouraged them to take part.
Here are the results:
- Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s plan to start the phased reopening of schools on 8th March?
- No, 8th March is too early to start reopening: 42%
- Yes, I agree with the plan: 48%
- Schools should reopen now: 10%
- Should all teaching staff be prioritised for the vaccine?
- Yes: 77%
- No: 23%
- Do you believe that any other key workers should be prioritised for the vaccine?
- All key workers should be: 70%
- Police: 17%
- Retail workers: 3%
- Do you believe University students should have to pay full tuition fees for the academic year 2020-2021?
- Partial refund: 70%
- Full refund: 21%
- Full fees: 9%
- Have you been satisfied with the vaccine roll out?
- Yes: 77%
- No: 12%
- Don’t know: 11%
- Do you believe that the temporary increase in Universal Credit should be extended beyond March?
- It should be extended for as long as the pandemic goes on for: 57%
- The increase should be made permanent: 21%
- No: 22%
I have to say that mostly these results correspond with my position on the key issues. I support the temporary extension of the Universal Credit increase beyond March but I’m wary about making it permanent. It’s clear at the moment many people are having to turn to the welfare state often for the first time in their lives due to the economic disruption caused by the pandemic and the support should be there for them. I also know that the effects of this pandemic will extend even beyond the current lockdowns and so I believe that adequate support should exist to keep everyone on their feet until the economy has fully recovered. However I also think that it would be wrong to commit to making the uplift permanent at this stage when we are still assessing what the impact of the pandemic will be on our public finances in the medium to long term.
I have to say, I also largely agree with the majority on the plan to reopen schools. Most people believe that schools should reopen on the 8th March. Any later than that, and I fear that our children will fall too far behind. Especially those with special educational needs who need in-person learning. Not only am I concerned for pupil’s level of attainment, but also their mental health. We need to get students back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
The fact of the matter is that if all key workers are prioritised, I do fear that we would end up taking away vaccines from those most vulnerable to the virus, due to the sheer number of key workers that there are across the country. It is for this reason that I think we should keep the exception only for teachers. The huge societal importance of getting our schools fully open again asap as well as the exposure of teaching staff to the virus mean that there is a special case prioritisation, in my view.
In terms of university tuition fees, I have made the point before that I really do think students should not be paying full fees while they are unable to use the facilities and do not have access to the full university education that they would otherwise have had outside this pandemic. It is not fair on them at all. I am glad to see that the overwhelming majority of respondents agreed with this position.
Finally, I’m not surprised that the overwhelming majority of participants in the survey have been impressed with the vaccine roll out. Huge thank you to all those NHS workers and volunteers who have made this possible at the local level. We will never forget.
I appreciate that pandemic has been difficult for all this year, particularly those who are vulnerable and have been shielding for many months now. I know that many people have had their livelihoods badly affected and my thoughts are with those who has lost loved ones.
I’m putting out this survey which I hope you will make the most of, because I want to make sure I am best representing the views of my constituents with regards to lockdown measures, thoughts about vaccination priorities and people’s livelihoods.
The survey is very short and it would be great to get some responses which I can look over.
Amongst other things the Chancellor stated this afternoon that he’s keen to visit the California Social Club once the pandemic is over!
This followed a question I raised in the House of Commons Chamber today about the Ipswich Hospitality. I informed him of the virtual roundtable event I held with the hospitality sector in Ipswich last month. It was a very sobering meeting and I was very sad to hear about the extreme anxiety many feel about the businesses many have poured their whole lives into.
While I welcomed the grant support that the Chancellor announced last week I pointed out that a number of publicans and restaurant owner still fear for the future of their establishments.
I sought assurances from the Chancellor that he would be reflecting on what further support might be provided ahead of the budget specifically regarding the potential extension of the business rates holiday throughout 2021 and also an extension of the support on VAT.
There is light at the end of the tunnel! But when we end up in that better place I want to make sure that all our great pubs, restaurants and social clubs are still with us.
The Chancellor recognised that I seek to champion Ipswich’s fantastic hospitality industry and assured me that he would bare in mind those suggestions on how the Government can look at providing further support. He understands that our hospitality industry is vital for our local communities, employing over two million people nationally and that they have borne the brunt of these restrictions and so deserve our support as we emerge on the other side.
Today I asked the Prime Minister a question about the importance of grassroots sports clubs in Ipswich, particularly boxing clubs and the support they will get. In the summer I visited Patrick’s Boxing Club which got help in the first lockdown but, like others, is struggling at the moment with fixed costs such as rent and utility bills. I also mentioned Unity FC and the Ipswich Kickboxing Academy as well which has a fantastic ‘jab not stab’ scheme which helps combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
I sought assurances that when he considers further support for these crucial clubs which are based in some of the most deprived parts of our town, that he will take into account not just the benefits for physical and mental health but also the key role which they play to keep kids on the straight and narrow, to keep them out of harm and trouble which makes such a fantastic contribution to our town.
The Prime Minister assured me that the Government would be supporting these clubs with an extra £210 million of funding to help wonderful community institutions such as Ipswich Kickboxing Academy through this pandemic. He also reminded me that Ipswich will be benefitting not just from kickboxing jabs but from vaccination jabs as well to help us get through this crisis faster.
Today has not been an easy or straight forward decision for me.
At the moment the COVID case levels in Ipswich are around the national average but the key thing is the direction of travel and sadly it’s currently going in the wrong direction. Ipswich is one of only 18 local authority areas (out of 315) to have experienced an increase in the COVID case rate during the second national lockdown (quite a significant increase). The vast majority, 297, have experienced a decrease. Across the country as a whole during the second national lockdown the number of COVID cases has declined by almost a third.
Over the past couple of weeks the number of cases in Ipswich has gone up from 87.6 cases per 100,000 to 142.4 cases. However, the latest figures are up to the week ending 25 November. Tomorow I’m expecting the latest data to be published.
What does worry me is that there have been increases in the levels of COVID amongst the over 65s. The demographic group most vulnerable to the virus. The virus is currently highest in south west Ipswich, in particular Maidenhall/Stoke area. However, areas with elderly populations such as Broke Hall, Belstead Hills and Stoke Park have also witnessed increases and this does concern me. Ipswich Hospital currently has 90 COVID patients, this is the highest level since the pandemic started and is also a cause for concern. At the moment I’m glad the Hospital is still able to carry out most of its planned elective work, however a further concern of mine is that this could become more difficult if the number of COVID patients at the Hospital increases.
At a time when COVID cases have been rising in the way they have been in Ipswich I reluctantly accept the Government’s rationale for designating Suffolk as a tier 2 area and will therefore be voting with the Government tonight in favour of the new tiered system.
As someone who has previously expressed significant reservations about lockdowns and restrictions this hasn’t been an easy decision. Throughout this pandemic I’ve been keen to ensure that the hospitality sector in Ipswich gets the support it needs and is able to operate in as free a way as possible. It employs thousands of my constituents and to say its undergone a horrid time throughout the pandemic would be an understatement. It’s this concern for the hospitality sector that led to me vote against the 10pm curfew and to abstain on the second national lockdown vote.
The moment I found out that the plan was for Ipswich to be placed in tier 2 and what this would mean for the hospitality sector in Ipswich, I’ve been calling for further support to be provided to the sector. Today it was announced that wet-led pubs that do not serve “substantial meals” would receive an extra £1,000 per month in support, in addition to the existing £3,000 monthly cash grants for businesses. This does not go as far as I would have liked and it also doesn’t provide the further support for pubs and restaurants that do serve “substantial meals” that I would have liked to see. Though I do still believe that some further support may well be forthcoming over the coming weeks and I will continue to lobby for this.
I know that the Government has provided support through the furlough scheme, business rates and grants but asking tier 2 hospitality to operate at such a loss during arguably their
busiest month, in my view, requires even more support than what has been provided. I will continue to call for more support and voting with the Government today does not mean that I see the support package as it stands as adequate.
I also believe that clearer communications to the hospitality sector is a must and that both local and national government need to show greater flexibility when it comes to backing the sector during the difficult weeks ahead. For example, earlier this week the Greyhound pub announced that it had invested in outdoor heated pods to allow its customers to eat and drink outside and were then told by the Borough Council that they couldn’t be used as they didn’t meet regulations. This is not the sort of positive, flexible attitude I would have liked to see.
As many of you will know, Suffolk was very close to being placed in tier 1 last week and its a realistic prospect that when the two week review takes place later this month that we could find ourselves in tier 1 and that needs to be the goal. What is clear though is that if we’re going to get to tier 1 we need to see the negative trend in Ipswich be reversed.
Voting for restrictions on the lives of my constituents and businesses within my constituency is not the reason I became an MP and its not something that sits comfortably with me at all. I have also made clear that we need to balance the need to protect lives with the need to protect livelihoods also, this is the main reason why this decision is such a painful one to make.
However, with the case levels increasing in the way they have done over recent weeks I accept the Government’s argument that Suffolk should be in tier 2 and the new tiered approach to tackling the virus .
I’m glad that the national lockdown has come to an end and we are moving to a more localised approach. And although tier 2 restrictions are limiting in many ways, they will also allow the reopening of both essential and non-essential retail shops, beauty salons and hairdressers, as well as Portman Road stadium with up to 2,000 spectators. I am also very pleased that after recently co-signing a letter with 48 other MPs to the Prime Minister that Churches will be open over Christmas, regardless of where people live.
Going forward, the two week reviews of which areas are in each tier need to be proper reviews and in two weeks time I want to see different areas (including our own) dropping tiers if the circumstances allow. There is a sunset clause for early February meaning that we will have to vote again towards the end of next month.
Clearly what has changed compared to a month ago is the positive news regarding vaccines. For the first time in a long time it really does feel like there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel and this is what we need to strive towards.
I spoke yesterday about the need for certainty as soon as possible across a number of key areas. I was able to relay to the Minister some of the concerns that were raised with me last Friday by year 10 and 11 pupils at Stoke High School about how they will be assessed this year, I was also able to raise the concerns that have been communicated to me by the retail and hospitality sectors in Ipswich.
This also follows a letter I received yesterday from Ipswich Central. Ahead of the 2nd December (end of national lockdown) they need certainty asap about what things will look like after this date. They need to be able to plan now and every day of extra planning matters and will make a huge difference in determining whether or not they will be able to make up some of the lost ground they are experiencing this month.
The Government should soon be outlining what the plan is post 2nd December soon and though I’m confident this will not involve an extension of the national lockdown, we need to know asap what any new locally tiered system will look like and where Ipswich will end up.
Back in May, the landlords of the Arcade Tavern pub got in touch with me to highlight the despicable behaviour of their insurance company. I raised in Parliament today how this insurer is refusing to pay out on the Arcade Tavern’s insurance against notifiable diseases by blaming the Government for the pub’s loss of income rather than Covid-19. And using technicalities in the contract’s wording to get out of paying.
This has left the Arcade Tavern facing the double burden of this pandemic while also having to fight for the money they’re entitled to. I’ve already written to the Chancellor and the insurance company in question about this case, but so far nothing has budged and it was appropriate to call out what’s happened to the Arcade Tavern in the Chamber today, and urge the Government to look very unfavourably on insurers who don’t honour their contracts. This mustn’t go without consequence when the pressure on pubs and other businesses in Ipswich has never been greater.
The Arcade Tavern is one of my favourite pubs in Ipswich and it’s not right they’re having to fight for this money when they did the responsible thing by taking out insurance. This case does have all the hallmarks of the small business being stitched up by the bigger one, and the Business Minister was right to describe it as incredibly concerning. I’ll be sharing the letters I’ve received from the Arcade Tavern directly with the Minister so this case can be looked into directly. I won’t let this drop.
Yesterday I raised with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the need for the newly announced £170 million Covid Winter Support grant scheme to be easy to access for those who need the support the most and that work must start now to ensure this is the case.
I welcome the fact that the Government are providing £170 million to local councils from the start of next month until March to provide targeted support to the children and families who are most vulnerable over the winter (80% ring fenced for food and bills) but we need to ensure that everyone knows as much as possible about the fund and how it will work in practice, as soon as possible.
In her response to my question the Secretary of State who is of course a Suffolk MP I was able to share with me that it seems that Suffolk is in line for around £2 million through this fund. However the work must start now to identify those who need the support the most and raise awareness of this fund.
Earlier this year the Government provided £800,000 to Suffolk and Suffolk Councils added further to this to provide a £1.5 million Suffolk Hardship Fund. However my concern is that awareness of this fund wasn’t as widespread as it could have been and I know that some concerns have been raised by those who have tried to access this fund through the hotline provided.
I plan to hold a number of meetings over the coming weeks to ensure that the support provided works as intended and that the moment this money is distributed to Suffolk we are well placed to ensure that the support gets to all those who need it as soon as possible.
All in all what was announced on Sunday was unprecedented in its scope and ambition to support the most vulnerable however it needs to work in practice on the ground and I’m keen to play my part to ensure this is the case. It must be easily identifiable, easy to understand and efficient in distributed support to all those who need the help.
As I’ve said before I really do welcome the Holiday Activities and Food Programme having seen it in action in Ipswich over the summer. The £220 million expansion of this support across the country to cover next Easter holidays, Summer and Christmas 2021 is hugely positive news.
This week I asked the Minister for Policing directly about getting robust punishments in place for those individuals who try to use Covid-19 as a weapon by spitting and coughing at police officers. Unfortunately we have seen reports of this despicable crime in Ipswich and around the country during this pandemic. And back in April I called in the House of Commons for the full force of the law to come down on anyone found guilty of assaulting our police officers in this heinous way, when they’re going above and beyond to keep us safe. I’ve also stressed the need to clamp down on this crime with the Government through written questions.
It was good to hear in the Minister’s response that the Government is seriously focusing in on this issue with prison sentences being handed out and that new laws are in the pipeline that will double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency service workers. Spitting at police officers is a disgusting crime at the best of times, but during Covid-19 it’s particularly aggravating potentially with severe consequences for officers’ physical and mental health. I’ll be making the case that these new laws on tougher sentencing should be brought forward as soon as possible.