For the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, the Prime Minister made a statement in the Commons about the Government’s response. Sadly there was no humility over the catastrophic mistakes it’s made, and the new strategy of “Stay Alert” is muddled and confusing. I’m not surprised it’s been rejected by the devolved administrations. I wrote about the litany of failings in my column for Metro.
Prime Minister’s Questions
I had my own chance to question Boris Johnson directly during Prime Minister’s Questions. I pressed him on the importance of ensuring that any recovery package is one that also helps to address the climate and nature crises, and in particular sought assurance that any taxpayer-funded bailout to airlines would have strict climate conditions attached. You can see my question – and his response – here.
Earlier in the week, I spoke in the parliamentary debate on Coronavirus via video link where I criticised ministers’ consistent failure to make the right calls at the right time and their sense of English exceptionalism, which leads them to believe their way is always best and they have nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. You can read my speech on my website here. While waiting to speak, I was struck by how Conservative as well as opposition MPs were highly critical of ministers’ handling of the crisis. There will no shortage of issues to look into for the Public Inquiry on the response to coronavirus when it happens, as it must.
Very gradually, parliamentary business is returning and I spoke in the debate on one of the most important bills going through Parliament – the Agriculture Bill. It will shape food and farming for a generation or more, yet does little to address some key issues: pesticide use, the need to transition to a sustainable farming system and agroecology, and the role of farming in the climate emergency. My speech is on my website.
Coronavirus crisis in care homes
I remain in close touch with the care sector in Brighton and hear their continuing concerns over issues like access to PPE, the delay in the arrival of supplies and its cost. They are also worried about access to testing, the length of time test results are taking, and staffing levels because of care staff having to self-isolate.
Coronavirus and self-employed
I continue to raise the issue of support for the self-employed with the Chancellor, because too many people are falling through the gaps – in particular, those whose income comes from dividends or who combine self-employment with a part-time PAYE job. I also asked him to consider cutting the VAT on tourism to 5%, an issue which has support across the House of Commons, to help that sector recover when lockdown is lifted.
I also took part (via video link) in a self-employed ‘summit’ in Brighton to hear more from self- employed people about the ongoing challenges facing them. Among other things, we spoke about the Government’s Bounce Back loan scheme, the discretionary fund for small businesses which is being managed by Brighton and Hove City Council, and the discrimination against both recent start-ups, and against women (since they are most likely not to have a full 3 years self-employed earnings which ministers use to calculate the amount owing to them, since many will have taken time out for maternity leave and childcare).
Staying in touch with the Council
I remain in regular touch with Brighton and Hove City Council, following up grant applications for local businesses. BHCC was slow to start paying out these government-funded grants, but I’m pleased that some small businesses are now receiving them. Please do contact me if you’re still waiting.
I was dismayed to hear the Government say people could drive long distances for exercise, which effectively gave the green light to day trippers to visit popular tourist areas like Brighton. The police are already over-stretched and, as I told the Argus, those businesses which would normally cater for tourists cannot do so because they’re not allowed to. I discussed the challenges of policing social distancing with both Sussex police and the Police & Crime Commissioner.
I’ve met (by video link) the Vice Chancellors of both universities in Brighton in the past two weeks, raising with them the concerns of students and staff. I’ll also be talking to colleges in the city too, and remain particularly concerned about the challenges facing special schools who teach some of the vulnerable children with acute special needs.
I was delighted to attend an online Ramadan event on Sunday to mark Iftar, the end of the daily Ramadan fast. Ramadan is usually a time which brings members of the Muslim community together and when the city’s mosques are full, so this year’s Ramadan has been very strange. But the spirit of Iftar was there, even though we could not attend in person.
Green Steps to Better
I hope some of you were able to follow my Green Steps to Better campaign on social media over the last two weeks. It sets out the initial steps that we should take to build a better, fairer and greener society as we emerge from the coronavirus crisis.
All the steps, and the full report, are on my website here. The momentum towards building back better and greener is growing as more and more people, politicians, experts and commentators resist the pressure to return to business-as-before.