On Thursday I sought assurances from the Government that when it comes to freeport bids, the Government would consider the hugely beneficial impact a freeport in Felixstowe would have on some of the most deprived communities in Ipswich.
A freeport would be hugely beneficial for Felixstowe. The port is already responsible for the employment of 6,000 of my constituents whether directly or indirectly and it would be a huge boost for us. When it comes to the government’s levelling up agenda, it is of course important that attention is paid not only to northern towns but also to measures which will help some of the most deprived communities in our town. This should be at the centre of the Government’s thinking when it comes to these freeports.
The Minister informed me that that was precisely the thinking behind these freeports and that it was right that we should be advocating for them on behalf of those who need opportunities and need to benefit from the levelling up agenda. He agreed that the benefits of the Governments free trade agenda should be shared across the country including in Ipswich. It would attract new investors, drive up trade, and create regenerate our communities by creating more jobs and providing better infrastructure.
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.
Used a question during the Spending Review today to welcome new measures like the £4 billion Levelling Up Fund for local infrastructure but also underline to the Chancellor how Ipswich must be very much part of the mix when it comes to this funding, alongside the Midlands and the North. These regions are often spoken about when it comes to levelling up the country but our town deserves to be a big part of this conversation as well.
I also welcomed the increase in the schools budget by £7.1 billion by 2022-23 compared to 2019-20 and the plans to rebuild 500 schools over the next decade are important but we have to be clear that children with SEND must get the benefits of this funding as well. And it was good that in response to me the Chancellor was able to confirm that £300 million has been allocated for new school places for children with SEND which is about 4 times as much than was provided to local authorities a year ago.
More high quality special school places is something I’ve been calling for since my election, and I’ve seen first-hand how these places make a huge difference to youngsters through my involvement as a Governor at the new Sir Bobby Robson school in Ipswich. A further special school on Woodbridge Road in Ipswich is due to open in 2022 for young people with speech and language difficulties which is highly positive. But that being said, I know there are still children in Ipswich who would benefit from a place at a special school but can’t get one and we must go further. And I’ll be looking very closely at how Ipswich can benefit from this increased funding for new places the Chancellor spoke about.
It is the case that special school places to cost more, but it’s the right thing to do and we’ll all benefit as a society if children with SEND are able to achieve their full potential.
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.
The Chancellor announced a number of welcome measures today for businesses and people with jobs that have been affected by additional social distancing restrictions:
💷 A more generous Job Support Scheme with employers contributing significantly less.
💷 Cash grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 – worth up to £2,100 a month and backdated to August.
💷 A doubling of the self-employment grant from 20% to 40% of self-employed people’s profits.
Much of this support is targeted at areas in Tier 2 which have much higher rates of Covid-19 than Ipswich does but hopefully it will be reassuring for businesses that, as of today, a far more generous support package will be available if the worst comes to the worst and Ipswich is moved to Tier 2 further down the line. However Tier 2 is a long way off for Ipswich and clearly I hope we never get to the point where Tier 2 is necessary.
I’ve been calling for a flexible and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties through this pandemic and it’s good this support package reflects that. It’s also right that these measures support businesses which remain open but are impacted by additional restrictions alongside support that is available for businesses which have had to close.
After his statement, I asked the Chancellor about supporting pubs through the winter by allowing them to use grants to help them purchase equipment like heaters and gazebos which would allow people to continue to eat, drink and socialise outdoors. Clearly in Tier 2, where groups of up to 6 from different households can only socialise outside, having this equipment available is absolutely critical. Even in places in Tier 1 like Ipswich, where social distancing is in place, this is an important way pubs can use the space available to them to welcome more customers.
We need to think carefully about how we can support businesses, including in Ipswich’s hospitality sector, to stay open as much as possible. On the other hand it’s clear that the Labour Party’s approach of shutting Ipswich’s pubs and restaurants down completely, despite the low levels of Covid-19 in our town, would be a hammer blow to them and put the livelihoods of many who work in the sector at risk.
I’ll continue to follow all aspects of Chancellor’s announcement today and what it means for pubs and other businesses in Ipswich.
Got an important question in virtually today about the return of Ipswich Town Fans to Portman Road. I visited the stadium last week where the club had been ready to welcome back 1,000 fans to a test event before the Government announced a nationwide postponement of fans returning.
I made the point to Jacob Rees-Mogg that this blanket decision is a disappointment for Ipswich when we have a relatively low rate of Covid-19 and our local club is confident it can welcome back a small number of fans safely. The club is an iconic feature in our town but it’s struggling and we need to get to a place where lockdown measures take local factors like this into account.
I’ll keep doing everything I can to support Ipswich Town through the challenges it’s facing
Our local pubs are at the centre of Ipswich’s economy and cultural life. Like many across our town I’ve had many great experiences in them and I feel personally connected to many of them. It was therefore very hard to hear from the landlord of the Belstead Arms in Chantry last weekend about how he had to watch his loyal customers leave the pub at the 10pm curfew and go and spend their money at the off licence across the road instead.
Ipswich has comparatively low levels of Covid-19 compared to the rest of the country and had the blanket national curfew come up for a vote in Parliament, I would have on balance likely voted against it. I support MPs taking more responsibility for these decisions which affect our constituencies and yesterday we secured a commitment from the Government to hold a vote on future measures wherever possible. The curfew won’t come into this though and that’s why I asked the Health Secretary today to keep it under continuous review with a view to lifting it as soon as possible.
Good to hear the Health Secretary commit to this today. Everything must be done to get the balance right between lives, livelihoods and liberties and I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure Ipswich’s local interests are heard loud and clear when these difficult decisions are made.
This morning I asked the Transport Secretary to communicate very clearly to Highways England Ipswich’s expectation that a speed limit solution to the closures is in place before the next windy winter period. The closures of the Orwell Bridge grind our town to a halt and cause immense disruption to residents and businesses alike. And this was something that came across very clearly in the responses to my surveys in Ravenswood and Chantry recently. It was good that in response to my question the Transport Secretary did send the message very clearly to Highways England today that the timetable mustn’t slip.
He also mentioned the safety work being done by Highways England in a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel was closed due to Covid-19 but I was able to get the work prioritised after I sent a letter to the University in question. I’m glad the Transport Secretary is also expecting this on his desk by the end of this month. I’ve got another progress call with Highways England next month where I’ll be sure to raise the results of the wind tunnel work and the timetable. The pressure on Highways England to deliver must be kept up as we reach the crucial point in this campaign.
I share many of the concerns of beauty salons in Ipswich that they won’t be allowed to re-open on 4 July as expected at the same time as hairdressers and other businesses. And I raised this in the House today with Work and Pensions Ministers.
Many beauty salons around the county have sadly already shut their doors for good due to the hardship caused by Covid-19, and this has also caused a number of job losses. Beauty salons need to reopen as soon as possible to avoid more irreversible closures and more job losses, and the uncertainty over the July 4th date has only increased the challenges they are facing.
The beauty salons I’ve been in contact with, like the Beauty Academy in Ipswich, are already well-placed to reopen as they have high levels of hygiene and sanitisation as part of their procedures already. And I urged Ministers today to protect jobs in beauty salons, including by reconsidering the July 4th date. At the very least, local beauty salons need certainty as to when they will be able to reopen so they can plan effectively as businesses. I’ll keep raising this issue at the highest levels to get beauty salons this clarification as soon as possible.
I’m looking forward to going on a socially distanced bar crawl in Ipswich on 4th July to support our local pubs after the Prime Minister announced today that they will be able to reopen on that date.
As well as pubs, a number of changes were set out today to the lockdown which will allow people to see more of their friends and families, and allow more businesses to reopen their doors to customers.
From July 4:
Pubs 🍻 and restaurants 🍝 can reopen
Hairdressers 💇can reopen
Hotels and B&Bs 🏨 will also be able to reopen their doors.
2 households will be able to meet up in any setting with social distancing measures
If they can do so safely, other hospitality businesses and community centres will also be able to welcome back customers and visitors, they include:
Places of worship and community centres. 🛐
Outdoor gyms 🏋️
Museums and galleries 🖼️
Theme parks and arcades 🎢
And libraries and social clubs. 📚
The Prime Minister also announced that the guidance will allow people to keep a one-metre plus distance from each other when two-metre distances aren’t possible.
We must continue to make reducing the spread of Covid-19 our top priority and that’s why “close proximity” venues such as nightclubs, indoor gyms, water parkers, bowling alleys and spas will remain closed for now.
As long as we stay vigilant, this summer presents an unmissable opportunity for all of us in Ipswich to rally around our local businesses and support them with our custom. The support they have received throughout the lockdown has been essential but it’s just as important that they can reopen successfully and start to get back on their feet. I’m looking forward to visiting many of them as soon as I can.