Welcome to my latest newsletter, with news of what I’ve been doing over the past two weeks.
I was in Parliament last week with the opportunity to question the Treasury minister about what plans the Government had for a green recovery from coronavirus - although the Prime Minister has promised this, we’ve had very few details. So I asked for assurances that nature would not be bull-dozed in the name of an economic stimulus. You can see my question here.
On the same theme, I gave a virtual talk to CogX, a festival of leadership and technology, about how we get the next 10 years right. The IPCC has warned us that this is all the time we have left to get off the climate-wrecking path we are currently on, so the discussion about economic recovery from coronavirus felt even more urgent.
I’m very honoured to be a patron of the Carers’ Centre in Brighton – which gives so much support to adult & young carers – with workshops, legal advice & just the chance to meet other carers and share experiences. Coronavirus and the lockdown have massively increased the strain on them, with the loss of many of the support systems like the regular Friday coffee morning. We had a virtual coffee morning at the end of Carers Week, which gave me the chance to hear how carers have been managing and to explain what I’ve been doing to advocate for them in Parliament. I have also tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament about the urgency of more support for SEND families.
Small businesses and coronavirus
The lockdown has had a disastrous impact on many small businesses in Brighton and Hove, and I’ve spent much of the past few months trying to ensure they get the support they need: helping secure the discretionary grant fund, calling for an extension to the ban on commercial evictions, pushing for an extension to the SEISS scheme and for the gaps in it to be closed, and repeatedly urging ministers to keep the scheme in operation for some time to come as sectors like hospitality and tourism are going to take months to recover.
I’m pleased the Government has extended measures to prevent companies being evicted over the summer, but another three months does not give these struggling businesses the security they need to be able to plan for a post-coronavirus future.
I continue to hear from many businesses in the city who are struggling to access grant funding or loans that the Government has made available. So in addition to lobbying ministers, I’m making representations to HMRC and the local Council on their behalf.
I heard more about the situation in the city on a video call with the local Federation of Small Businesses. We discussed what the "new normal" might look like, what restrictions may stay in place and how both public and business spaces can be managed as lockdown restrictions start to be lifted.
Brighton seafront and open spaces
Many constituents have written to me recently about the easing of lockdown, the busier streets and the difficulty of maintaining social distancing. I've raised this with Brighton and Hove City Council, in addition to some of the particular challenges on the seafront, which includes people not disposing of their litter properly, public urinating and other anti-social behaviour.
Tackling discrimination in Brighton and Hove
I've also been receiving correspondence from constituents who have experienced race-related discrimination, some in the past and others more recently. Whilst I'm encouraged that more of my constituents are feeling able to speak out about their own experiences, it's important that they are heard and feel supported when doing so. I've been in contact with the Chief Superintendent in Brighton and Hove about some of the individual cases.
Lockdown impact on domestic abuse
Domestic abuse charities have reported worrying increases during lockdown in the number of calls from people who feel threatened or at risk. In my own constituency, the domestic abuse charity RISE has seen a tripling in the number of calls. The Government has provided some emergency support, but it has to be spent before the end of October – and this could be the moment when domestic abuse survivors first try to access support. I wrote to the Minister for Women asking that this time limit be removed, and sufficient funds be made available for organisations to give the help that survivors need. You can read the letter on my website here.
I also wrote to the Education Secretary raising my serious concerns about the way the Government has failed to make education and schools a priority (the letter is here). Children face losing five months of their education, and parents feel abandoned. Where parents are working, they have had to balance childcare, home-schooling and work – a near impossible task. The recent announcement of a £1 billion catch-up tutoring fund is welcome, but it has come very late in the day and there are still no clear plans for a safe return to school in September.
East Sussex Fire & Rescue
Reforms to the local fire service, including a reduction in the number of fire crews and the possible change in response times, have caused real concern among firefighters, who are rightly worried and want there to be a full consultation – something that is difficult giving current restrictions. I had a meeting with the Fire Brigades Union and plan to speak with the Chief Fire Officer next week.