Today, Parliament is being recalled to vote on the new National Lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on Monday night. Over the last few days, I've received dozens of emails and spoken to many people about the new measures and the need for more restrictions, and I wanted to set out my thoughts to you directly before voting today.
Overall, my feelings are similar to those of most people I have spoken to - that a new national lockdown is extremely disappointing. But given the pressure that our local and national NHS is now under, it is a necessary decision.
I spent much of yesterday speaking to Ministers - including the Health Secretary Matt Hancock - and government officials. The situation we face is now very serious.
Cases are growing exponentially. On 29th December, the UK recorded 80,000 cases - a record high. Although cases in the Bradford District are now much lower than the national average, they are rising. I have spoken with our local NHS providers and I know that pressure on our service is increasing. Without further action now, there is a real risk the NHS could become overwhelmed. That is why - on balance - I support these national measures.
This pandemic has been tough on the whole country, but especially for people across Keighley and Ilkley, where we have been living under enhanced local restrictions since the end of July, and of course we had the first lockdown before that. I know that many of you will have questions, queries and concerns. I have therefore outlined the basics of what these new restrictions mean below.
The key message is that you should now stay at home, and only leave home for the following reasons:
For work, if necessary and you cannot work from home.
To only shop for essentials.
Exercise, on your own, with your household, or with one other person outdoors.
To provide care, or to help a vulnerable person.
Any medical need, or to escape the threat of harm or violence.
Schools will close, except for vulnerable children, and those of key workers. Early years settings (including nurseries and childminders) can remain open.
Support bubbles and childcare bubbles can continue.
All non-essential retail, hospitality and personal care must close, alongside restaurants, though takeaway can continue.
For more detail on these restrictions, please Click Here
These measures are very similar to those we faced in March and April. However, there is now real light at the end of the tunnel. We now have two approved vaccines, and our vaccination programme is well under way. To date, the UK has already vaccinated more people than the entirety of the European Union combined. That is a remarkable achievement. The government has a plan to vaccinate all of the four most vulnerable groups (13.9 million people) by the middle of February. The most vulnerable people account for the overwhelming majority of hospitalisations, and sadly, deaths, and we have to do all we can to protect these people.
As many of you know, at the start of December, I voted against the Tier 3 restrictions for Keighley and Ilkley. One of my key reasons for doing so was the lack of financial support being provided to businesses affected and specifically being asked to close.
I am now very pleased the government has listened and announced further financial support to businesses being asked to close as a result of further lockdown.
Depending on their rateable value, businesses will receive an additional one-off grant, as outlined below.
- £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
- £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
- £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000
These one-off grants are in addition to grants worth up to £3,000 per month for closed businesses. And of course, this comes on top of the government furlough scheme, self-employed income support scheme, mortgage holidays, and much more.
Locally, we will also receive a share of a £594 million fund which will be offered by the Government through a discretionary grant fund scheme to other businesses impacted. This money is being distributed to Local Authorities to deliver to local businesses, and therefore how this money will be allocated and the criteria for businesses to apply will be set locally, by Bradford District Council.
I have always been clear that sectors that have been particularly hard hit, such as dance and fitness studios, and the hair & beauty industry, amongst others should be able to access this discretionary fund money. In Keighley and Ilkley, these were some of the last sectors to open because of the local restrictions in place. That is why I am calling on Bradford Council to include these sectors in their discretionary grant fund scheme. More information on how to access this new grant funding will be made available very soon by Bradford Council.
None of this is easy, and another lockdown is going to be tough. But given the rapid rise in case numbers, it is - on balance - the right decision, so we can return to normality as soon as possible.