Monthly updates from Laura Farris
MP for Newbury
Welcome from Laura
I start by wishing all of you a very Happy New Year although the announcement of a full national lockdown on Monday 5 January was not the start to 2021 that many of us expected or hoped for. But as the crisis in many hospitals has intensified, the Government was left with no alternative. Before the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Chief Medical Officers raised the alert level to 5 to reflect the very real risk that the NHS could breach capacity within 21 days without immediate intervention. I understand that in some parts of London, they estimate they have less than 14 days.
The situation was laid out to MPs in stark terms by the Deputy Chief Medical Office, Jenny Harries. Covid hospital admissions are now reaching 25,000 (at the Royal Berkshire admissions over the last 7 days are up by 120%) and the average rate of infection across the country is approximately 400 per 100,000. In peak areas, this is closer to 1,300 and even in lower incidence areas infections are doubling approximately every four days.
The Government’s desire to keep education settings open was no secret. The disproportionate impact on children from disadvantaged children, educational attainment and child protection and mental health issues were considerations which weighed very heavily in the balance. But, ultimately, it was left with little choice but to shift learning online and I will support schools in every way possible to deliver education to West Berkshire’s pupils.
There is of course one major difference for us all: the rollout of the vaccine, which is imminent in West Berkshire. Nationally strong progress has been made with 1.3 million people already receiving the vaccine nationally, 650,000 of whom are over the age of 80, roughly 25% of the age group. Building further on this progress will be no easy task and should be remembered in the context of intense global demand, complex manufacturing processes and safety checks to every batch.
Vaccine Rollout in West Berkshire
Locally, I have spoken again this week to the local CCG and Primary Care Networks – who are responsible for the rollout – and they confirmed that both the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines will be available in West Berkshire from the week of 11th January, though the precise date is not known.
Care home residents will receive their vaccinations in their home and I understand that the first batch received here will have sufficient doses for the approximately 500 residents in this constituency.
Individual GP practices have the choice of whether they will offer vaccination and many of you will be aware that some in the area were not offering the Pfizer vaccine. From those I spoke to, it was clear that this was because of the logistical challenges associated with its storage and temperature. However, many of the same practices will be offering the Oxford vaccine and as supply increases I expect to see this in operation.
The priority list for receiving vaccines can be found here and in the constituency, the initial priority groups number just over 10,000 people. It is important to note that GPs will already hold the relevant information about patient ages and vulnerabilities and people will be contacted directly. There is no need to contact your surgery to get on the list, but if you do wish to raise an issue you can do so by contacting Berkshire West Patient Liaison.
News from Westminster
UK-EU Trade Agreement:
Without doubt, the biggest news to emerge from Westminster before Christmas was been the successful conclusion of our negotiations with the European Union.
I regret that I was not called to speak in the debate that took place on 30 December (of 240 MPs who put into speak, only the top 56 were called) but put the following statement on my website here.
In short, I welcome this deal. The issue of our future relationship with the European Union contributed to the most rancorous and divisive period of British politics that I can recall. There were many who said a deal would not be reached – especially not in the space of a single year and certainly not going further than the barest terms on trade. In fact it is a £600 billion pound free trade agreement that encompasses security, data protection and the administration of justice. This is a huge achievement by the Prime Minister and Lord Frost.
There is more to do: the Agreement makes express reference to future negotiation on services and I hope this will proceed swiftly. I also think we can go further on security. But crucially, this is an excellent start that sets the stage for constructive and mutually beneficial collaboration in the years ahead as we forge a new future.
Out in the constituency:
Prior to Tier 4 restrictions, I was able to continue to get out and about in the constituency. From holding a surgery in Thatcham Town Hall to celebrating Small Business Saturday with superb businesses in Thatcham and Newbury, the opportunity to (briefly!) resume visits was most welcome.
A particular highlight was setting the best of British defence intelligence in action with a visit to Denison Barracks in Hermitage. I continued my discussions with hospitality and events businesses across the constituency throughout the months to listen to their concerns and raise these as necessary with Ministers.
My visits to the constituency’s primary schools continued as I spoke to staff and students Whitelands Park Primary school and I look forward to these continuing after national restrictions are lifted.
Finally, I made excellent progress in virtually meeting many parish councils in the constituency. So far, I have covered Hamstead Marshall, Hampstead Norreys, Greenham, Hermitage and West Woodhay with the remainder in the coming weeks. It is a source of real sadness that so much of my first year in politics has been dominates by Covid and all the restrictions this has entailed. I wish I didn’t have to hold so many meetings via my laptop but nonetheless parish council meetings have been a great opportunity to get a proper insight into village communities and discuss specific local issues from littering and fly-tipping to housing and development.
Out in the constituency:
- My speech in the Westminster Hall debate on Nurseries and Early Years settings (watch here);
- My question to Matt Hancock on the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine (watch here);
- My question to the Business Minister on extending the rates relief benefiting many retail and hospitality businesses in West Berkshire (watch here);
- My question to the Foreign Secretary on the appalling situation with the Uyghur Muslims in China (watch here);
- My question to the Lord Chancellor on tackling the backlog in employment tribunals (watch here).