The news of tier 4 at the weekend is not what any of us wanted to hear. However, in response to a rapidly worsening situation action had to be taken. Kent appears to be the home of the new strain of the virus. While in July there were already 12,000 mutant strains of the virus known to scientists, this particular strain now accounts for a majority of the spread in our region. It is not thought to be more harmful, and it is thought the vaccines will still be effective. However, there remains a lot we don’t know about it and therefore precautions must be put in place.
For me, my priorities in the short term are clear:
- Ensure the delivery of mass testing, and that the vaccine is available across the Sevenoaks district as soon as possible for residents, and NHS and care home staff. I have been in conversations with local hospitals and GP surgeries, the Department of Health and the Vaccines Minister over the last week. And, hope to have an update for you very soon.
- Secure additional financial support for business. I have been calling for additional support for the hospitality sector since the tier 3 restrictions came into place, and now it is clear that more also needs to be done to support those businesses who have to close under the tier 4 guidance – including non-essential retail, leisure and personal care. I am in conversations with the Treasury and will continue to make the case so local businesses can access the help they need.
I will post updates on the latest data regularly on Facebook over the Christmas period so you can see how the situation is changing in our area.
This is not going to be the Christmas we all hoped for, but I hope you and your family stay safe. If anyone has questions or would like help or support, please do not hesitate to contact myself and the team on firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to 2021, and hope it brings brighter times.
MP for Sevenoaks and Swanley
Below is a snapshot of what we have been working on. If there is anything I can do to support you, please get in touch.
- Protecting our greenbelt has always been my priority. I am therefore delighted that during a call with the Housing Secretary last week it was confirmed that the Government have agreed not to go ahead with their proposal to use a new algorithm which would have set an increased housing target for Sevenoaks. Instead, we will see a return to the standard method which was created in 2017. This is good news for both Sevenoaks, and wider Kent. I have been campaigning for this continually and it is wonderful that Government has listened, and acted upon concerns raised by myself, Sevenoaks District Council and many local residents.
- I was pleased that NHS England has now updated its maternity guidance on supporting pregnant mothers and parents – including for neonatal services. The changes mean any pregnant women can now have a partner by their side during maternity appointments, labour and after birth, despite the ongoing challenges with Covid-19. I have been raising my concerns over these restrictions repeatedly at sessions of the Health and Social Care Committee, as well as supporting the campaign led by my colleague Alicia Kearns. Our local trusts have reassured me they are operating within the guidelines with immediate effect; however I will be keeping a close eye on how successfully the changes are implemented.
- I have spoken many times before about my desire to ensure victims of domestic abuse have both the support they need, but also can rely on a justice system that will protect them and punish those who are guilty. Earlier this month, I asked the Justice Minister for reassurance that, despite the backlog of court cases which have accumulated as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, focus will be placed on accelerating cases of domestic abuse given that we know more cases of this type get dropped the longer the process takes. I am delighted he has agreed to meet with myself and our Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott, to discuss what more we can do to ensure domestic abuse crimes are not overlooked.
- I was devastated to hear of another incident at the Gracious Lane Bridge and my thoughts go out to the victims family and friends. Sadly, this bridge has gained a reputation for attempted suicides, and I know that local residents, the parish council and local councillors have long been calling for safety measures be put in place. Not long after I was elected, I too raised this with Highways England who promised action would be taken. In October, I followed up again, and obtained a commitment for the works to be carried out in March/ April 2021. In light of this new incident, I have written to the Chief Executive requesting all works be brought forward to help prevent any further tragic incidents.
- Ahead of Small Business Saturday, I visited Sevenoaks High Street to see some of our brilliant local retailers. We all know the impact that Covid-19 has had for local businesses this year, and I applaud the resolve and determination they have shown in innovating and adapting to the challenges of the pandemic. I also know how important it is that they now get further support.
- Last week I hosted – after some considerable technical issues – the Rail Minister, Chris Heaton Harris who discussed progress on securing the Thameslink rail service on the Maidstone East Line. I’m pleased the Minister confirmed the line would be going ahead, and stopping at Otford and Swanley. Thanks also to Tom Tugendhat MP and Cllr Michael Payne for joining and sharing with attendees a rundown of rail improvements taking place across Kent. I look forward to the promised meeting with the Department for Transport, Network Rail and GTR in January, and will come back to you all with details for a follow up event once progress has been confirmed in the new year.
- It was a pleasure to be invited to officially open Frank's Barbers in Riverhead. Frank has been a much-loved barber in the area for a number of years, and this month opened his new, and bigger, premises on White Hart Parade. Frank and the team have taken huge steps to ensure the space is Covid-safe, and I hope his customers will enjoy his new home. Congratulations to all involved in the opening.
- Earlier this year I received over forty letters from year six pupils at Chevening and St Laurence Primary School, who had taken the time to write to me with their concerns for the environment. Reducing our plastic pollution was their number one request. As a member of the Conservative Environment Network, I share the pupils support in conservation and decarbonisation, and this month asked the Environment Secretary for reassurance that Government will act to stop this attack on our environment, and that the pupils will see change in their lifetime.
- At Prime Minister’s Questions I urged the Prime Minister to ensure the increase in the education budget will be spent on school building repairs, particularly for multi-academy trusts and voluntary controlled schools, such as Orchards Academy in Swanley and West Kingsdown CE Primary School. I know from my visits over the summer that these schools have been unable to apply for the previous funding support, and their buildings are in urgent need of repair.
- Last month I spoke in the House of Commons debate on Covid-19. I discussed the need for a data-led approach when assessing the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions so that we can prevent any further national lockdowns. I also raised the need to publish data to explain why golf, tennis and children’s sport were not able to continue in November, called for testing in care homes to be made accessible for visitors so no one is suffering on their own, and urged the Government not to reintroduce the 10pm curfew when lockdown ends. I am pleased that many of these have points have now been addressed and acted on.
- Finally, I was absolutely delighted to hear that the Archbishop’s Palace Conservation Trust in Otford has been awarded £10,500 though the Heritage Recovery Grant. Last year the Trust signed a 99-year lease and have great plans to renovate the Gatehouse of the Palace, as well as establish an educational study centre. The Palace is hugely significant for our local history, and I am thrilled this grant will allow the Trust to continue in its fantastic work. Congratulations to all involved and I look forward to visiting once it is safe to do so.