Monthly updates from Laura Farris
Welcome from Laura
This is not my normal monthly newsletter but these are not normal times.
I would like to be able to tell you about the visits to schools, businesses, community and environmental groups that dominated the first part of the month. I would also like to discuss the Budget, the opportunities it creates for West Berkshire and the contribution I made to the debate on the floor of the House. However, even though that was only a few weeks ago the world has moved on significantly.
I know that everybody’s concern and attention is consumed with Covid-19 and the extraordinary impact that is exerting upon our lives – whether because we have contracted it, or because our businesses or workplaces are facing serious set backs or simply because we are living isolated from those we love. I have been working hard to support the residents of West Berkshire with Treasury and Health support, information and guidance and will continue to do so.
I would also like to reassure you that despite the restrictions, Parliament is continuing to work remotely and behind the scenes. Yesterday I participated in a session of the Home Affairs Select Committee by Zoom conferencing. We questioned six of the most senior police officers in the country who spoke movingly about the high level of public compliance with the social restrictions that have been put in place, and the speed and scale with which the police have adapted to their new powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 which was passed by Parliament in record time. I wanted to relay to you the important point that, contrary to certain media reports, the police feedback is that the majority of people are playing their part and I am hopeful this will be reflected in diagnosis and mortality rates soon.
I also wanted to let you know that I have today written to the Prime Minister – on behalf of all of us here in West Berkshire – to send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery and hope that he will soon be back at the Dispatch Box.
I send my best wishes to all of you and a reminder that if I can be of any assistance you can always reach me at email@example.com
The COVID-19 Emergency
The virus has caused a threat our public health, economy and way of life which is almost unprecedented in living memory. For the full range of Government advice about how to protect yourself and those around you, details on school closures (including those key-workers whose children are still eligible for childcare provision) and travel, please click here.
On March 23rd, the Prime Minister addressed the nation instructing people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. You are able to leave your home for the very limited purposes of shopping for basic necessities; one form of exercise a day; any medical need or to provide care for a vulnerable person; and to travel to work only when it cannot be done from home. To protect those most vulnerable in our communities, it is important that we stick to these simple instructions. Read the full address here
It was announced that certain businesses are to close to help prevent further transmission of the virus. For the list of these, click here
I have also written an article for the Newbury Weekly News about the ongoing crisis, which I will continue to do over the upcoming months. In it, I discuss the package of measures which have been announced by the Government. Read it by following this link. To see my article for the Times 'Red Box' emails, click this link here
My office and I have made a list of FAQs, based on the questions you and many others are asking. It is a good first port of call for coronavirus questions you may have, but we will, of course, be more than happy to answer any further questions as soon as we can. Follow this link to access it.
The Government has announced a range of extraordinary measures designed to stop the support businesses and workers. These measures include:
Support for the self-employed
‘One of the most generous support schemes for the self-employed anywhere in the world’, which will see anyone who is self-employed and whose work has been affected by coronavirus entitled to 80% of their profits (based on a 3 year average of annual trading profits under £50,000) up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The scheme will be available by early June and backdated to 1st March. All you need to have done is completed a 2019 tax return and HMRC will contact you if you are eligible. If you need emergency funds you can apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, you can defer your next income tax payment in July 2020 for personal expenditure (you are also under no obligation to pay VAT until the end of June 2020) or apply for Universal Credit.
Click here for more details.
The Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme
The Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme is designed to support businesses and protect workers from being laid off during this crisis. HMRC will pay employers with a PAYE scheme a grant worth 80% of an employee’s gross salary, up to £2,500 a month. This is one of the most generous schemes of its kind anywhere in the world and will safeguard workers from being made redundant. It is initially open for 3 months and will be extended if necessary.
Click here for more information.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Rebate
The SSP rebate will support employees who have, or will have to, take time off work because of coronavirus. It will allow small and medium-sized businesses to reclaim SSP cover of up to 2 weeks per employee who has been off work for coronavirus related reasons.
Support for households
As well as these measures to support jobs and businesses, new legislation will protect renters so that landlords will not be able to evict anyone for a three-month period regardless of if they have paid rent or not. Equally, homeowners will be entitled to a three-month mortgage holiday if they cannot make payments.
Additional measures to support businesses and vulnerable people
A range of other measures designed to support businesses have been announced by the Government in the last few weeks, such as a business rate holiday and cash grants for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and a Government-backed lending and credit facilities for all small and medium-sized businesses. For the full-range of measures available, click here.
West Berkshire Council, alongside a number of other local charities and groups have established the West Berkshire Community Hub, a place for you to volunteer their efforts to help those most vulnerable in our community, as well as ask for assistance should you need it. For more information, click here.
To support our fight against COVID-19, Parliament passed the Coronavirus Bill last week to equip Ministers and our public services with the tools they need to turn the tide. I attended Parliament to debate this time-limited legislation which gives the Government a range of powers. These include the ability to force the quarantine of infected people, close schools, relax the recruitment requirements of NHS and social care staff to allow recently retired doctors and nurses, as well as those on a career break, to return to work to join in our national response. This extraordinary piece of legislation is reflective of the fact that we are living through no ordinary times.
March also saw the first Budget since the December 2019 general election. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak much welcomed measures such as:
- Increasing the National Insurance Contribution threshold from £8,632 to £9,500;
- An additional £33.9 billion per year by 2024 for the NHS, the largest post-war increase in public services, committing to creating more than 50 million more surgery appointments, ensure there are more 50,000 new nurses and new support for people with learning difficulties and autism;
- £650 million to end rough sleeping;
- A plastic packaging tax to build on existing policies fighting plastic waste;
- £640 million ‘nature for climate fund’ to protect natural habitats, plant 30,000 hectares of new trees and foster biodiversity;
- £800 million for carbon capture clusters and £500 million to build our electric vehicle rapid-charging infrastructure as well as generous consumer subsidies when purchasing electric vehicles.
I spoke in the Budget Resolution debate which follows the main announcement, addressing the positive impacts that the Budget’s public services funding will have on our constituency. You can watch it by clicking here, or read it by clicking here.
I also attended the International Women’s Day Debate on 4th March, highlighting to the House an incredible charity in Newbury, Afghan Connection, which has built or renovated over 100 schools in Takhar province and providing a culturally and religiously sensitive learning environment for girls. Watch it here, or read it here.
Finally, on 3rd March, I spoke during the Westminster Hall on Children and Domestic Abuse, highlighting how perpetrators of domestic abuse can use children as pawns in the family courts and how children can be placed in potentially highly dangerous situation. You can watch my intervention here, or read it here.
In the Constituency:
Despite the spread of coronavirus meaning that many of my constituency meetings this month have had to be postponed, at the start of March I was still able to visit some amazing places across West Berkshire.
At the very start of the month, I visited Ladybirds pre-school, one of the many wonderful nurseries and early years who call our constituency home. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet staff and pupils as well as discuss some of the problems nurseries and early years settings.
It was a privilege to have a tour of Mary Hare, a school just outside Newbury which has specialist provision for hearing impaired students. I met their incredible and dedicated headteacher, Peter Gale, and spoke to a range of pupils about their time at the school.
I also visited two amazing companies in the area, Edward Life Sciences and Parachute Studios. Both typify the pioneering spirit which we see all around the constituency with Edward Life Sciences using state-of-the-art medical technology to save and transform the lives of patients suffering form structural heart diseases. It is an issue which affects around 12% of constituents over 65, so I am so proud to see a local business at the forefront of finding innovative therapies for this big issue.
Parachute studios is another global company at the vanguard of their industry. Featuring on the BBC’s The Apprentice, as well as working with other global brands such as Vodafone. I visited their offices, met their staff and even tried on some VR goggles. Starting on the streets of Westminster, I ascended into the atmosphere and explored some areas around the constituency. It was a truly exceptional demonstration of the exceptional talent that exists in the Newbury constituency!