Most recently, Stoke-on-Trent made national news, utilising our formidable public spirit to so far avoid a regional lockdown, as seen all around us in Leicester, Birmingham and North West England.
At a time when the pandemic has been rising fast in many areas, people across the UK saw what Stoke-on-Trent residents are capable of. We should all be proud of the way we were able to come together in overwhelming adherence to the guidelines to reduce Coronavirus cases, at a time when an increase would have prompted a lockdown. Thanks, must especially go to the work of public health and council officials who have responded rapidly to get on top of localised outbreaks where they occurred.
The Government’s focus has been to make clear the basic measures we should all follow “Cover Face, Make Space, Wash Hands, Only Meet 6”. By following these common-sense measures, we can control the spread of coronavirus.
Of course, the actions we have had to take to control the virus have had a huge impact on businesses, our way of life and the livelihoods of people in Stoke-on-Trent. Trade has dried up; businesses have had to limit their opening hours and more people have had to work from home. Many people across the Potteries will be worried about what the future holds and the challenges we must face with unemployment.
In Parliament, I have repeatedly urged the Chancellor and Treasury to consider this, as we move towards the end of the Furlough Scheme. And, especially for areas like ours who have felt, even without the pandemic, left behind and that we had not had our fair share. The Governments levelling-up agenda must deliver for our communities and the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
As someone who has pushed for adult learning to be properly prioritised, I am delighted the Government has launched the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. Working with educational providers, the Government will offer anyone without an A-level or equivalent qualification free retraining. People who fall into this category will be able to take a fully funded college course, offering a unique chance for retraining.
In an area like ours where the number of people with higher level qualifications is well below the national average, this policy could be truly revolutionary. Upskilling the people of Stoke-on-Trent, investing in our people and allowing them to access better employment opportunities that pay a good wage.
We need our people to seize this opportunity, grabbing the bull by the horns and I will be working with our local colleges to encourage people to take full advantage. Some industries will undoubtedly be harder hit than others. But under this new scheme, people who have lost their jobs and are having trouble finding new work in their industry will be given a new life chance to retrain, to find new work.
This comes on the back of an offer to younger people looking for their first job. Under the Kickstart Scheme, which is again fully funded by the Government, businesses will be able to offer placements to people aged 16-24 currently on Universal Credit. 100% of the national minimum wage will be paid by the Government, as well as employer National Insurance contributions for six months.
The Furlough Scheme helped preserve millions of people in work, but undeniably it could never be indefinite. As we come to the end of the Furlough Scheme, my fellow MPs and I made clear to the Government we would need a transitional scheme which would help businesses sustain jobs. Many businesses are fully viable and are working well but are finding it hard to pay their bills right now. They need a helping hand from the Government, and under the Jobs Support Scheme, that’s just what they’ll get.
For jobs where people are working at least 33% of their normal hours, the Government will fund 2/3rds of what their wage would be if they were working their full hours. This means businesses will find it much easier to keep employees on through this difficult time.
Lastly, we need to have measures in place to control the virus, as well as control the impact of the virus. That’s why I’m encouraged by the release of the Government’s new Coronavirus App, which has seen record numbers of downloads, over 12 million people already.
This app allows people to log where they travel in public, making it much easier to trace cases and prevent larger outbreaks. The app also features the latest government advice and guidelines and allows you to quickly check your symptoms. With this app, we have another tool to help control the virus without shutting down our country. I urge everyone who can to download it from Google Play or Apple store.
This community-minded action will keep Stoke-on-Trent’s record of standing strong together to defeat Coronavirus.