Monthly updates from Laura Farris
MP for Newbury
Welcome from Laura
January got off to a difficult start. As the new variant whipped through country, we once again found ourselves confronted by a grim choice: enter a third national lockdown or see the NHS become overwhelmed. As I outlined in last month’s newsletter [linked], the Government eventually had no choice but to take very difficult measures to save lives and protect primary healthcare services.
We don’t know what lies ahead. But, at the time of writing, the national rate of new positive cases has fallen by over 66% from its peak at the start of January. The UK’s case rate per 100,000 has more than halved, from 641.7 per 100,000 in early January to 218 as of the 2nd February. In West Berkshire, the current rate stands at 171 after declining from 430.4 at the start of the new year.
New hospital admissions, too, are starting to fall and for the first time since the 9th January the number of coronavirus patients in England’s hospitals has fallen below 30,000. Our local Royal Berkshire Hospital is also seeing a slight drop in the number of patients in the hospital after an extremely concerning acceleration in admissions – although I should stress that its most recent correspondence to me reiterates that the pressure upon it remains high.
The vaccination roll-out across has been hugely successful so far and we remain on course both nationally and here in West Berkshire to meet the Prime Minister’s target date of 15 February for vaccinating the first four priority groups. At the time of writing 12 million people have been vaccinated with just under 3 million still to be completed in the next 8 days.
I have received a recent update from local healthcare leaders in West Berkshire which I want to share with you:
- Frontline health and social care staff, and all those who are resident in care homes and over the age of 80 have all now been offered a vaccine.
- The vaccination programme moved to vaccinating those aged 75-79 from 1 February in line with its timetable and is moving at lightning speed.
- As of Sunday 7 February the vaccination site at the Racecourse had vaccinated more than 10,000 people.
- Take up has been very high overall. With almost all over 90s accepting the vaccine and approximately 90% of those aged over 80. Although it should be noted that some of those people did not accept the vaccine because they were unwell and it was decided that they would attend again at a later date.
- The majority of housebound patients have been received a vaccine this week. More staff have been allocated to this exercise and I anticipate that faster progress will be made with this cohort.
- People living in sheltered accommodation, warden managed accommodation and homes for younger residents will be invited to the vaccination centre or visited at home by someone from their surgery if they are housebound.
- The first pharmacy in West Berkshire to offer the vaccine opened on 4 February: the Triangle in Tilehurst. Its success will hopefully lead to the opening of many more vaccine centres across the constituency.
My visit to Newbury Racecourse vaccination centre
News from Westminster
January saw the return of the Government’s landmark Environment Bill – the most transformative piece of environmental legislation any British Government has ever produced and which will establish the framework for all future environmental policy including our target of reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050. It creates statutory obligations and evidence-led targets on biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, recycling and plastic pollution. Its current timetable will mean it should become law before the UK hosts the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November this year, where we will promote environmental good practice across the entire globe.
I made my first ever virtual speech to Parliament (which you can watch here) highlighting how the Bill and recent amendments dovetail directly with issues that my constituents face, including Thames Water’s failure to prevent raw sewage flowing into the River Lambourn during last year’s flooding.
The Government has also set out its plans to radically improve the energy performance of new homes, underpinned by low carbon heating. The Housing Minister’s decisive action on this sets the pace on the decarbonisation of our housing stock and something which I have lobbied hard for. This is a welcome step will reduce emissions from new homes by at least 75% and will boost green jobs and investment across the country.
I am delighted to announce also that proposals in the Planning White Paper (which so many of you contacted me about) for housebuilding on a much larger scale across constituencies like mine, has been abandoned. The Secretary of State has agreed that housebuilding should be redirected to the Midlands and North and our current local targets will remain.
My full range of questions and contributions can be found below:
- My speech on Labours Opposition Day debate on employment rights including the lamentable “fire and re-hire” practice which has affected so many of my constituents employed at BA or British Gas (watch here);
- My speech in Labour’s Opposition Day debate on Covid security at the borders (watch here);
- My question on Alexei Navalny to the Foreign Office (watch here);
- My question on the vaccines rollout to the Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi (watch here);
- My question to the Business Minister Paul Scully on supporting women’s employment in the recovery (watch here).
Opposition Day debate on employment rights.
Out in the constituency:
I held a number of discussions with local businesses including those in hospitality, pubs and live events this month to discuss the challenges they face and how I can support them as society reopens. These conversations led to representations to Ministers and I have continued my push for the extension of business rates relief into the new financial year.
I was also delighted to be able to convene a mental health roundtable with counsellors, health care professionals and charities from across Berkshire. This pandemic has underscored the exceptional work they have been doing in our community for decades and it was extremely beneficial to hear from them directly. The pressure on young people, those who are isolated and those with pre-existing mental health problems has been extreme over the last 12 months and demand for their services is rising sharply. As life starts to return to normal, I want to make sure that we have the resources in place to offer the right support and restore confidence and resilience. You can read my piece on the subject in the Newbury Weekly News, which you can read on my website here.