The move by the Government to end the virtual Parliament has been a shambles: made without any thought to how parliamentary scrutiny might work in a time of social distancing, nor with any consideration for the health of MPs and the staff on the parliamentary estate. The long lines of MPs queuing to vote summed up the chaos.
The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees Mogg, has been forced to amend his original plans and make arrangements for MPs who are vulnerable, but he still hasn’t accepted the fact that by forcing MPs back to Westminster, he’s putting lives at risk and ignoring public health advice. They hybrid parliament was working well and ironically offered greater scope for scrutiny than the new arrangements.
Brighton and tourism
A combination of poor Government messaging, a premature easing of the lockdown and warm, sunny weather made it inevitable that people would flock to Brighton’s beaches at the end of May. I fear the Government has lost control of the response to Covid-19 and is taking a huge gamble with public health. Scientists on its own advisory committee say the lockdown is being lifted too soon, public health official say social distancing has broken down and the police say the new rules are unenforceable. We saw the consequences on Brighton’s crowded beaches last weekend.
Visitors are vital to our city’s economy, but with so many bars, restaurants and other venues still closed because of coronavirus, we are not yet ready to welcome them.
I had a call with Julia Weeks of the Brighton and Hove Tourism Alliance and talked about the measures needed to support the sector, including sector specific package of grants to help businesses become more greener and more sustainable, support and training for upskilling hospitality staff, dedicated personal business advice. I have undertaken to liaise with Network Rail and GTR over their development plans (eg redevelopment of Gatwick Station and addressing the bottlenecks at East Croydon) to try to minimise the impacts on businesses in the city at what is already such a difficult time.
Coronavirus in Brighton
I continue to have regular meetings with council and public health officials about the local situation. The test and trace system which the Government said would be operational at the beginning of this month is still not properly up and running, and testing is taking too long. This needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Work is progressing on a local outbreak plan, and I expect this to be made publicly available once it’s completed.
Challenging the Government on the response to coronavirus
I continue to question ministers about the response to coronavirus, and the level of support available. In particularly, I’ve raised the needs of families with SEND children who are unable to go to school; the desperate situation facing the creative and cultural sector because of the lockdown; and the need to ensure local authorities’ children’s services are properly funded. You can see all my letters to ministers on my website here.
I have also again pressed ministers to revise the SEISS support scheme for the self-employed because of its many loopholes which are leaving too many people without support – particularly those who take their income partially through dividends, and women who’ve taken time out recently for maternity leave or for childcare reasons. I had a (virtual) meeting with the Treasury minister Jesse Norman about this, and will keep in pressing for change.
I’m pleased that it’s now possible for small businesses which have been badly impacted by coronavirus to now apply for discretionary grants of up to £25,000. The grants could be a lifeline especially for those in the arts & creative sector, or hospitality, which have missed out on other government support schemes. Here’s the website for applications.
Black Lives Matter
Like many of you, I was shocked and angered by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, there is still so much to do to address injustice towards people of colour. Many of you have written to me about supporting this cause. I was glad to see Brighton & Hove City Council speak out in support of Black Lives Matter, and the minute’s silence and “Take The Knee” protest on Friday evening was a powerful way of showing solidarity with the black community.
Actions speak louder than words, however, and I was pleased to join MPs in calling on Government to stop exporting tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to the US and to call on Ministers to follow up the report on the impacts of COVID on the BAME community with real action to tackle systemic discrimination, and to help deliver justice for Belly Mujinga.
A Green recovery from coronavirus
There is plenty of speculation about a green recovery from the economic shock of the coronavirus lockdown. But if we are to act with the ambition and at the scale required by the climate and nature crises, we need a new approach. This new approach was set out in a report by the Environmental Justice Commission, which I co-chair, at the end of May. It makes a number of important recommendations. As ministers themselves start to talk about a green recovery, we need to ensure that those words are backed up with action. As I said on my Twitter feed, bailing out the oil and gas industry was not a good start.
A green recovery must be more than just empty words or promises. I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament (available here) to mark World Environment Day, setting out what a green recovery must include if it’s to be worthy of the name.
Natural History GCSE
A new GCSE in Natural History is a cause that’s been close to my heart for several years, after first hearing about the initiative from the naturalist and writer Mary Colwell. It’s now come a step closer with the launch of a consultation process by the exam board which is backing it. When we are facing a devastating nature crisis, with the accelerating loss of so many species in the UK, it is vital that young people are given the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world around them and given the tools to understand it. A new GCSE in Natural History is a brilliant way of doing this, particularly as the course will involve extensive field work, studying species in their habitat. I wrote about why I feel this would be such a valuable addition to the school curriculum in the Independent.
If you want to contribute to the consultation process, you can do so here.