Anne Marie's Weekly Column - Covid-19 Update

Catch-up Fund

The Government announced a £1 billion Covid catch-up plan focussed on helping children disadvantaged by the pandemic. £650 million will be made available over the 2020-21 academic year, to help head teachers provide extra support to children who have fallen behind, through interventions like small group tuition. It will be for schools to decide how to spend this money. A further £350 million will be put towards high-quality tuition for the most disadvantaged children. This will help accelerate their progress and prevent the educational attainment gap widening.

The Government also announced last week, that it will be providing a Covid Summer Food Fund to help support disadvantaged children during the summer months during which families are facing an entirely unprecedented situation. Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families to spend at supermarkets.

I was very pleased to see so many primary schools open this week and the number of pupils growing. Some secondary schools are also open for those facing exams next year. It is right that the government has given schools the flexibility to provide as much education as they can – and schools are stepping up to the mark to do just that. All schools in every year group will be open in September.

Treating Coronavirus

Following the world’s first successful clinical trial for a coronavirus treatment, the Government has made the drug Dexamethasone immediately available on the NHS across the UK. There's strong evidence to show that this drug can reduce the risk of death significantly in coronavirus patients on ventilation by as much as 35 per cent and patients on oxygen by 20 per cent. The Government has acted to secure supplies of the drug in the UK, and now has in place enough treatment for over 200,000 people from stockpiles alone and has taken steps to protect supply for UK patients.

The Government has invested an additional £84 million into accelerating vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities to ensure the UK is in a position to manufacture at scale if a successful vaccine becomes available later in the year. This investment has meant that the world’s front-runners to develop a vaccine, Oxford and Imperial, are right here in the UK. The UK is leading the way in the global fight against coronavirus – with the best clinical trials, the best vaccine development and the best immunology research in the world.

Improving Connectivity

On Thursday, Devon MPs met “virtually” with Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) about improving broadband provision across the County. CDS is a central and local government partnership that subsidises the construction of broadband infrastructure mainly in rural areas, bridging gaps in commercially funded networks. CDS has recently launched its Fibre Extension Programme, comprising two new initiatives with Openreach and Airband that will, between them, deliver full fibre to more than 8,000 additional homes and businesses across our area by the end of 2021.

Internet connectivity and access to a mobile signal are crucial in rural areas like ours. While this is a good start we made it clear more must be done especially in the hard to reach areas. Tendering is now in place for these medium to hard to reach areas and we hope to see this project starting in 2021 too. A voucher system remains in place for communities wishing to do this themselves and a new mobile voucher system has been launched by the Local Enterprise Partnership covering our area – The Heart of the South West – to enable households to obtain signal boosters in their homes. The government will also be launching a centrally funded and managed project to fill any final gaps before 2025.

My next phone-in surgery will be Thursday 2nd July at 2-3pm. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.