November has been a busy month for new announcements in Parliament. We heard from the Prime Minister and his scientific advisors how the COVID restrictions would change following a month of national restrictions and the Chancellor gave his Spending Review to announce budget changes to get our country’s finances and economy back on track.
Perhaps the most anticipated announcement came as the Health Secretary told us which tier we would find ourselves in.
I know for many, especially in those industries most affected, it will be disappointing to see Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire will be in tier 3 of COVID restrictions from 2nd December. We have seen some incredible efforts from everyone to get the outbreak under control and thankfully due to these efforts the number of people catching Coronavirus locally is now reducing.
However, the transmission rate in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire remains very high and our NHS locally is currently facing unimaginable pressure treating very high numbers of COVID patients and large numbers of NHS worker off isolating or ill as a result of COVID.
I cannot thank our NHS and care workers enough for all they have done throughout the pandemic, many have put their own health at significant risk to treat others and some are seriously ill as a result. We will never forget all they have done to treat and care for those most in need at this challenging time.
Tier 3 restrictions mean that you can’t meet people from other households inside (excluding support bubbles) but you can see up to 5 other people outside in a public place with social distancing. Hospitality, including pubs and restaurants, will unfortunately have to remain closed but can open for takeaways.
Although tier 3 is the strictest tier, there is reason for some Christmas cheer. By leaving lockdown and with COVID secure measures in place, we will be able to re-open shops, personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons, gyms and leisure centres, and places of worship. For many who have suffered particularly with mental health, I know reopening of many of these places will be of huge relief.
Equally will be the 5-day easing of restrictions over Christmas, many will have not seen close family for months. Three households will be able to come together from the 23rd-27th of December to form an exclusive bubble. Even with this easing I know people will want to act cautiously and with common sense in mind.
While I know many will question if we are being too strict or too lax with these restrictions. What is most important now is we all continue to keep up the efforts to get our COVID rate down so we can move to tier 2 as soon as possible and give the chance for vaccines to start to be rolled out.
I regularly meet with the Health Secretary and Ministers at his department, ensuring they know how hard the people of Stoke-on-Trent are working to control the virus. The ratings will be reviewed every two weeks and I hope we will be able to have an early Christmas present when they are reviewed.
We also heard from the Chancellor last week about getting our country’s finances back on track and expanding on the Governments work of levelling-up opportunity across our country.
Among the Chancellor’s announcements was a £4bn fund for levelling-up. I will be working hard with other local MPs and the City Council to ensure Stoke-on-Trent gets as much of this investment as possible. Our area has missed out far to often in the past and we will not allow that to happen again.
This fund will be paid for by a reduction in our foreign aid commitment. While foreign aid is important in helping the most vulnerable worldwide, we cannot continue to make such large commitments at a time when our financial need at home is so significant. This is a temporary much needed move and even with the reduction our contribution internationally will still be one of the highest.
In terms of wages; nurses and NHS workers will receive a pay rise, and the national living wage will increase so those on the lowest wages will see a boost next year. Schools and police will also see a funding increase, helping us to meet our commitments of hiring 20,000 new police officers and making our streets safer.
Whilst this Christmas will not be the same; I hope we can all at least enjoy some Christmas festivity and following the successes of vaccines and testing look to the future with optimism and hope.