As we enter the fourth week of lockdown, I hope, like me, you are continuing to adjust to this new way of life, our new normal. What a strange and hugely difficult moment in time we are living through.
My own routine has largely revolved around telephone calls, emails and conference calls, including Treasury Select Committee meetings, using unfamiliar, but surprisingly effective technology such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Zoom. I hadn’t ever come across any of these before last month but now consider myself to be somewhat of an aficionado. Sort of. I think we all miss the human interaction of being in the same room, but it is a great thing to be able to see and speak to people and to conduct work, as close to the ‘real thing’ as possible.
Last week, on top of the hundreds of individual pieces of casework we received, I was able to offer some assistance to an organisation that I know is both important to the community and which provides an extremely valuable service. The Food Bank in Bishop’s Stortford contacted me about the supply levels of necessities, such as long-lasting milk. With many shelves not being quite as full as they usually are, and people understandably and rightly limiting what they buy, the knock-on effect has been a drop in the number of donations. The same has happened across the country.
We were able to offer some assistance and I am very pleased to report that Hertfordshire County Council has been instrumental in helping them to temporarily plug some of the holes. The Bishop’s Stortford Independent is helping to lead a campaign for donations both to help see them through the current Covid-19 crisis and to provide for the longer term. It is a very worthy cause and well worth supporting.
I am expecting confirmation this week that a virtual parliament will return on 21st April. How it will work I am not quite sure, but I am looking forward to putting more questions to the government in a formal parliamentary setting. That is not to say, though, that MPs haven’t been able to access and scrutinise Ministers. In fact, quite the opposite has been the case. Ministers and officials have made themselves readily accessible to MPs and I have been able to lobby them on behalf of my constituents. I have not been able to get every single answer or change to policy I have asked for, but I know that the government is trying hard and making vast resources available to as many people, businesses and organisations as possible whilst acknowledging that it is virtually impossible to cover every individual circumstance. They are, though, trying to provide support to those who need it most now and I was particularly pleased to see the £750m for charities, including £200m for hospices. I would also encourage local sports clubs to apply for help via the Sport England Community Emergency Fund which aims to help community sport and physical activity organisations which are experiencing short term financial hardship or the ceasing of operations due to the crisis.
As I wrote last week, the volume of constituency work has been overwhelming, though the type of communication can largely be broken down into three categories.
- Enquires about how the support schemes for employers, employees and self-employed workers will work and when it will be made available. Whilst the schemes have been able to encapsulate most of the population there are inevitably those for whom the schemes do not quite fit and many are approaching us to try to find the best solution for their own situation.
- A huge variety of views and suggestions on how the government has either got it right or got it wrong; when and how the lockdown should end and how we should return to normality. This has of course included the supply of PPE at the front line, the number of tests being conducted, the supply of different types of food in shops and the measures being taken by the government and police to enforce social distancing guidelines.
- The repatriation of British citizens stuck abroad, often from some of the most remote and hard to reach corners of the world. We have been working very closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on this and will continue these endeavours over the next few weeks too.
To the Government’s credit, they have sought to amend schemes to better fit the needs of the right people, followed scientific advice given to them and enlisted the support of the Army to get the right equipment to the right places at the right time, and successfully brought home many thousands of people that were stuck abroad. They cannot provide absolutely everything that people are asking for, but we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good. Please keep contacting my office with your concerns, though, and we will do our best to support you on each individual case that you bring to me.
Finally, the entire nation breathed a sigh of relief when the Prime Minister was discharged from hospital over the Easter weekend. His personal battle with Coronavirus reminds us that this deadly disease does not discriminate and can reach us all. We have heard the soundbite countless times, but it cannot be repeated enough. Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.