The South West is still reporting the lowest number of reported cases of coronavirus in the country. Our hospitals are more than coping and have plenty of capacity should things change. The personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to support our key workers, remains an ongoing challenge, and I cannot but praise enough local schools and colleges and local businesses for addressing the shortfall. I will continue to do what I can to improve the situation. A major challenge has been the logistics of actually getting the PPE to where it is needed. The army are thankfully on the case and I am hopeful the issue will resolve soon.
For me the big challenge now is getting the health service reopening its elective services so that cancer patients can be scanned, treated and operated on, heart patients needing a stent can have one, and those needing a new hip can have their surgery. These patients are really important and the impact of long delays on their health must be prevented.
The million-dollar question now is how to we get from here, lockdown, to some sort of new normality. One thing is certain and that is social distancing will be here for a long time and we now need to think about how we adjust our lives. I am pleased that the business community is already addressing this, and those businesses which were in any event able to stay open, are now reopening but with new social distancing working arrangements. It was never the case that non-essential businesses had to close. The only ones that had to close were on a prescribed list. I am hoping plant nurseries can open soon with supermarket-like arrangements to enable social distancing.
Government is now struggling with the difficult decision as to what the next steps are. I am hoping that Boris once back in the saddle will grapple with this and find a sensible solution which manages to both get business back up and running and at the same time continues to protect those vulnerable to this virus. The message to stay at home has been a powerful one, but the message now needs to be “social distancing saves lives” – and it does. It needs to be part of how we think and behave in everything we do.
Dental Practices and Veterinary Surgeries
Our business community has been seriously challenged, disproportionately in the South West because of the huge number of small businesses including those working from home. If you don’t have premises, you miss out on the £10,000 grant and the business rate reliefs. The bank loan schemes are not yet properly working but our ministers and I’m pleased to say my neighbouring MP Mel Stride as Chair of the Treasury Committee are on the case to change this. Work is also being done to look at how those remunerated by dividends rather than PAYE, which is entirely legal and often encouraged, can be supported. Slowly but surely the government is looking at those businesses which fall between the gaps.
Dentists and vets are a clear example of businesses that are still falling through the cracks of the range of Government support that is available. I have called on the Chancellor to raise the £50,000 cap on support through the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, ensure easier access to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan, and extend business rates relief to these businesses. We need both to survive and thrive. Emergency access to dental care has been a particular issue and Devon MPs have asked the Secretary of State to look at allowing them to reopen in a managed way. The hubs established to deal with dental care have not been established in a way which makes them accessible.
My next phone-in surgery will be Thursday 7th May at 1-2pm. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.