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.
Used a question in the House today to welcome the £5.2 million investment in an new Molecular Lab for Ipswich Hospital which will allow our Hospital to keep increasing testing up to 3,000 Covid-19 tests a day by the end of March. (It was actually the Prime Minister who was planned to respond to my question today. But the Health Secretary had to step in at the last minute when his virtual connection to Parliament broke.)
The news of this investment was released to the Hospital on 11 November after I wrote to the Health Secretary on 29 October calling for this new lab to be approved. I had been informed by the Hospital that testing there was at capacity and the lab they were working in wasn’t appropriate for scale of the task, but their bid for this new Molecular Lab was essentially sitting on Ministers’ desks just waiting for final approval.
It’s crucial that Ipswich Hospital is where it needs to be on testing and it’s good we were able to get this investment into the Hospital where it’s needed. These tests will also be turned around in hours, rather than days as was the case at the start of the pandemic when all tests had to be analysed in Cambridge before being returned.
The new lab will also have long-term benefits for Ipswich residents as it will improve services for a wide range of effective diseases and cancer diagnosis.
I also raised the reports that NHS England are looking to use Gainsborough Sports Centre in Ipswich as Suffolk’s first site for delivering vaccinations if and when a vaccine is approved. Increased testing and a safe and effective vaccine represent two crucial ways we can beat Covid-19. And it’s important that Ipswich is at the forefront of both issues for Ipswich residents as we hopefully move ever closer to defeating this virus.
I’ll be monitoring the roll out of any vaccine and increased testing in Ipswich exceptionally closely over the coming weeks and months, raising them at the highest levels and supporting our local NHS. And I’ll be looking very closely at everything the Prime Minister has said today about the restrictions after the end of the national lockdown and what they mean for Ipswich.
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.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate before Wednesday’s vote on the second national lockdown. I’m spending a lot of time studying all the data and reading the emails sent in by constituents before deciding how to vote. I want to hear your views as well so please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org and later today I’ll be sharing a poll on Facebook where your can tell me what your views are.
In my speech yesterday, I mentioned some of the issues which are very much on my mind with this national lockdown. Clearly this is a difficult national decision which the Prime Minister has agonised over, and agree or disagree, I believe it’s a decision he’s taken with the need to protect lives, livelihoods and liberties in mind. I know this will be a difficult decision for some in Ipswich to understand while we still have relatively low rates of Covid-19 despite recent rises. And while I understand there are no patients with Covid in our local hospital’s ICU, being mindful all the time that this is likely to change. I also raised the 18-year-old I met in Chantry a few months back who was working every hour God sends in a bar to provide for his three-month-old daughter and was terrified what a second lockdown would mean for his livelihood. I’m reflecting on all of this before making my decision but one thing we must be clear about now is that this national lockdown must be the last and it must end on 2 December. I’m glad the PM has made this promise.
I hope the Government will also look closely at issues like communal religious services which currently won’t be able to go ahead from 5 November. A large number of constituents have contacted me about this and I know how significant they are to many people of faith in Ipswich. This should be an area where we look at what can be done in the guidance going forwards.
I also mentioned Ipswich Town FC and the meetings I’ve had with the club and the EFL about getting a support package in place to protect our clubs future. The club is woven into the DNA of our town, it’s at the heart of our economy, culture and community and we must support it while fans can’t return.
I’ll be weighing up all the factors before the vote tomorrow and once again please do get in touch with your views at email@example.com I’ll be making this decision based on what I think is right for Ipswich.
In the Chamber yesterday I raised the comments made by England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, with the Health Secretary when he said: “A national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall and East Anglia”. And that it would be very difficult to justify to these communities. As things stand with relatively low levels of Covid-19 in Ipswich, I strongly believe he is right. We need a balanced and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties, not the one size fits all national lockdown being proposed by the Labour Party and Ipswich Labour which would completely shut Ipswich’s hospitality sector.
This sector employs thousands of people in our town and includes many great businesses like our local pubs. Labour’s blanket approach would unnecessarily put these livelihoods at risk. It’s important to underline that the situation locally could change but we must be flexible and not approach this crucial issue with the blunt instrument Labour is proposing. It was good that in response to me the Health Secretary re-emphasised Professor Van-Tam’s comments and the need to take action where necessary but not take it where it’s unnecessary. I’ll keep monitoring all aspects of what this pandemic means for Ipswich and represent our town to the best of my ability at every stage.
Today I voted against the 10pm curfew being applied at the national level and it applying in places such as Ipswich which have a very large hospitality sector and comparatively low levels of COVID-19. This is the first time I have ever voted against the Government in Parliament and it wasn’t something I took lightly. I was elected as a Conservative MP however I have always said that I will always make decisions based on what I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents and the Town and therefore its likely that from time to time, on occasions like today, that I may take a different position to that of my Party. In Ipswich we are in the position of having a very large hospitality sector and great pubs, restaurants and bars that employ thousands of my constituents whilst at the same time having very low levels of COVID-19 compared to other areas of the country. In addition to this I’m not convinced that the 10pm even makes a positive difference to tackling the spread of the virus. Often what we’ve seen is crowds of people all leaving hospitality venues at the same time and crowding together. All the time when I vote on big items as your MP I ask myself the question, “how does this impact my constituents, on balance positive or on balance negative?”. Having carefully considered the 10pm curfew and discussed with the hospitality sector here in Ipswich I decided to vote the way I did. The reality is that the 10pm is hurting our pubs, restaurants and bars just when they are looking to recover from the first national lockdown. Many of the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents are likely to be lost because of it. I fear it could be the difference to your local making it through this or not. The negatives it brings in my view at this moment in time far outweigh any public health benefits it brings. I was one of 82 MPs voting against the 10pm curfew today but it ended up comfortably passing so it continues but I made my stand. As you will likely already know Ipswich is in tier 1 meaning that things continue as they have been for the past few weeks with the 10pm curfew and the rule of 6 but other than that whilst be careful (hands, face, space) we can largely go about our business as usual. I must say I was a little surprised at quite how many other areas were in this category. Within this tier we have Ipswich and other areas with very low levels of COVID-19 but also areas with much higher rates that are teetering on being moved up to tier 2 such as London for example. It’s a shame that there couldn’t be a tier specifically for low Covid-19 areas where we could look at replacing the 10PM curfew, even an 11PM curfew would be a big improvement allowing restaurants and pubs that serve food a second sitting (this is what they’ve done in Northern Ireland). I am not cavalier about the threat posed by COVID-19 to public health and the lives of some of the most vulnerable within our Town. We need to do everything we all can to contain the spread of the virus. We also need to be alive to the fact that the level of COVID-19 is increasing in Ipswich and Suffolk and neighbouring counties. However, as I’ve previously stated, its critically important we get the balance right between protecting “lives, livelihoods and liberties” and it is my view that at this current time the 10pm for Ipswich doesn’t do this. Just this week we’ve seen the number of those out of work in Ipswich jump and jump at a higher rate that other surrounding areas and I think it would be fair to assume that at least some of this is to do with the size of our hospitality sector and how hard its already been hit by COVID-19.
With regard to the Labour Party’s position and the position of Sir Keir Starmer? They now want a second national lockdown and to close the entire hospitality sector nationwide for up to 3 weeks. Could someone please tell me how closing all the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich will help those COVID-19 hot spots tackle the spread of the virus? The reality is that if we were to shut down all of the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich right now many simply wouldn’t reopen and we should unemployment in the Town rocket to a degree never seen before. This Labour position would be terrible for our Town. There are difficult times ahead and as I’ve said before we need to be vigilant in playing our part as we have all already done to stop the spread of the virus.
This is a very challenging period for the Government and I have every sympathy for the Prime Minister who is desperately trying his best to balance the need to protect lives and livelihoods at the same time. He won’t get everything right and either will I however rest assured that whenever I take a decision its always in what I believe to be the best interests of the people I have the honour of representing, my constituents.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in about with their latest views on the Government’s plans to introduce a quarantine for international arrivals from next week. On Wednesday, I got the chance to share them in a question to the Home Secretary in the Chamber.
It is disappointing that the quarantine was not introduced earlier when there were deep concerns during the peak of Covid-19 that 15,000 people were still flying into the country every day and the impact this could have on public health. I called on the Government at the time to introduce much stricter controls at the border.
Now on balance I think it’s right that this quarantine still goes ahead because preventing a second wave of the virus must be the top priority. But we also have to factor in that we aren’t where we were a number of weeks ago and other considerations are becoming increasingly important. In the Chamber I mentioned the particular contact I’ve had with people who have loved ones, including spouses, in other countries who are now hoping to make plans to visit them after months apart.
That’s why I called on the Home Secretary to take a flexible approach towards the quarantine moving forwards. We need robust health measures at the border but we must also be prepared to strike a balance where it is safe to do so.
A few months ago towards the beginning of the lockdown, a number of constituents got in touch to raise concerns that the measures in place at our borders to prevent more cases of Covid-19 coming into the country weren’t robust enough. I shared these concerns as 15,000 people were continuing to fly into the country every day while countries around the world had cancelled international travel or introduced strict quarantine measures for arrivals. That’s why I wrote to the Home Secretary at the time, urging her to implement stronger measures at our borders as soon as possible.
Since I wrote that letter on 20 April a considerable amount of time has passed but the Government now intends to introduce a 14-day quarantine for international arrivals due to start next week. Many of the arguments in favour of such a quarantine still stand and it’s important that all necessary steps are taken to protect against new imported cases of Covid-19 and ensure our infection rate can fall.
There are however a number of different factors to consider now given the time that has passed and the sense that the virus has started to recede slightly. Some other countries are beginning to look at loosening their restrictions and there have been concerns raised by the tourism and aviation sectors that the economic cost of introducing these measures now could outweigh the benefits. Some families in the UK may also be thinking about their own plans for the summer holidays and how this quarantine will affect them.
I would be interested to here what your views are on the Government’s plans for a quarantine. It’s disappointing that these plans weren’t brought in earlier but I’d like to know your views on them going ahead now. Please don’t hesitate to add a comment here or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.
People have made enormous sacrifices over recent weeks to make the lockdown work and beat Covid-19. This is a national effort to beat a virus which affects all of us and we must all play our part no matter what job we have or position we hold.
I therefore understand why people are angry that Dominic Cummings drove with his wife and son to his parents’ house in Durham. Personally it’s not something I would have done even if it was within the rules. I understand his reasoning for doing what he believed to be in the best interests of his loved ones and clearly that’s what motivated his decision to travel to Durham. However, this doesn’t change the fact that many of my constituents have also faced extremely challenging personal circumstances, some perhaps similar to Mr Cummings and yet they decided to “stay home”.
I have been contacted by constituents with many stories like this and behind each one is a human story and a unique set of circumstances. Sometimes there has been uncertainty around how some aspects of the guidance apply to individual cases and I’ve tried to help clarify where I can. But ultimately I’ve always said they must do what they believe to be in the best interest of them and their family while not endangering anyone else.
I watched the press conference today and the allegation that Mr Cummings made a second visit up to Durham was categorically denied and I believe that there is evidence to back up the fact that there was no second visit. It’s unfortunate that this aspect of the national media coverage like some other aspects has been misleading and inaccurate.
The press conference clarified some key points but some other questions do remain. I continue to have concerns regarding the trip to Barnard Castle, in particular why it was necessary to drive that far to test his eye sight and also the fact that he got out the other end.
Though I well understand much of the anger there is about there at the minute bearing in mind the sacrifices we have all been asked to make I do strongly oppose the behaviour of some who have sought to harass and intimidate Mr Cummings and his family. There is no room for it. This does seem to have been part of his calculation when he decided to travel to Durham.
I have been contacted by a large number of constituents on this matter and I want each of them to know that I have read each of their emails and considered their views carefully. Though some politically motivated individuals will have no doubt sought to use this whole episode to score political points this hasn’t been the case for the vast majority who have contacted me. They have legitimate concerns about what has gone on.
Though I believe his actions were motivated solely by the desire to protect his family, that he didn’t endanger the lives of others and that his situation was quite complex, I do believe he has made errors of judgement and frankly I do share much of the confusion and anger of many of my constituents.
I have and will continue to represent both the concerns of constituents and my own concerns to Government over the coming days.
I and many colleagues do have concerns that this is distracting from the central focus of Government right now which is to continue to tackle COVID-19 and set out a path to recovery. That needs to be the central task and all energy should be spent on this.
I do think it’s important that the Prime Minister reflects on the anger that this episode has caused and makes absolutely sure that we are able to move on from this ASAP to deal with the great challengers at hand for both my constituents and country more generally.