My priority over the last few weeks has been helping the thousands of local businesses and residents who have reached out in need of support. From establishing what support residents and businesses are entitled to, to taking their case to a Minister, or getting people home from countries around the world. Locally I’ve been challenging rogue landlords, arranging food deliveries, supporting with welfare concerns and ensuring our communities feel safe. I have also been supporting our local businesses and community groups who are producing PPE to deliver it to those who need it most across Rutland and Melton and have worked very hard to. I have also included below my 'This week I' for the last two weeks, so you can see a summary of what I have been doing.
I am immensely proud of how we in Rutland and Melton have responded to the pandemic. Indeed, I remain truly touched by the number of outstanding 'Unsung Hero' nominations I have received. If you know an outstanding person or organisation, please do nominate them using my new online nomination form as I would very much like to recognise and thank people for their incredible efforts.
I am also extremely impressed at how Rutland and Melton has adopted the lockdown measures with such a positive attitude. It is spirit-lifting to see so many rainbows displayed proudly in windows, thank you signs for refuse men and women and keyworkers, and to hear everyone's huge appreciation for the NHS every Thursday evening.
Boris is Back!
I am so pleased that our Prime Minister has recovered and is now back in Downing Street leading our national action to beat the virus. It is clear that my feelings are shared by the many Rutland and Melton Residents who got in touch to express their warm wishes for his speedy recovery.
I could not agree more with our Prime Minister. Now is not the time to lessen the lockdown, to stop protecting our families and country. To do so would put too many at great risk.
We have flattened the peak, the NHS has not been overwhelmed and has been able to provide the critical care needed for all those with COVID-19. This was our primary goal, and lesson taken from other countries such as Italy where we saw most sobering and devastating scenes.
If we were to lift the lockdown too early, to have to re-impose lockdown measures would cause great harm.
The science will rightly inform how we move out of the lockdown, as it has informed how we responded to this virus and I welcome that we will also engage with businesses, experts and other parties.
But, the science is still changing and setting out how to move out of the lockdown too soon, beyond our five pillars, would be impractical.
We will get the British business engines revving again - but for now, we must continue in our collective resolve to stay home and defeat this virus.
Welcome back Boss!
Standing Up for Our Publicans
Very pleased that after a month of work, where I’ve brought together almost 100 MPs, we have secured the agreement of the Wellington Pub Company to offer a 3-month rent free period for those tenants unable to pay. This will not only give Publicans some relief, but will enable them to more easily access COVID-19 Business Interruption Loans. There may be more support needed, and I stand by to do just that.
Thank you to Nick at The Geese and Fountain for bringing this to my attention, and working so hard to support all Publicans across the country. This will also benefit other Wellington Pubs in our area such as the Wheatsheaf in Langham, the Royal Duke in Oakham and the Royal Oak in Uppingham. Now we can all support all of our pubs who are open for takeaways!
New Loans Scheme for Businesses
Over the last few weeks, having been in touch with a number of Rutland and Melton small business owners, I have been working hard with my colleagues in Government to ensure there is robust and readily available support for small businesses.
I am very pleased that today, the Government is introducing a new loan scheme, providing simple, quick, easy solution for businesses in need of smaller loans.
From 9 am next Monday (4th May), businesses will be able to apply for new Bounce Back Loans up to a maximum of £50,000, or 25% of turnover, with the Government paying the interest for the first 12 months.
Having relayed resident's concerns, I have been assured by Ministers that there will be no forward-looking tests of business viability or a complex eligibility criteria; just a simple, quick, standard form for businesses to fill in. Subsequently, loans should arrive within 24 hours of approval.
I welcome that the Government has addressed our concerns, and the Chancellor has decided, for this specific scheme, that the Government will support lending by guaranteeing 100% of the loan.
I hope you agree that we shouldn't ask taxpayers to bear all the risk of lending almost unlimited sums to businesses who may have very little prospect of paying those loans back – and not necessarily because of COVID-19. I believe the £50,000 cap balances the risk to the taxpayer with the need to support our smallest businesses, which will help target extraordinary levels of state support at the businesses who need it the most.
New Critical Jobs Website with Immediate Starts
For those residents currently seeking employment, I am pleased that the Department for Work and Pensions has created a new website to specifically advertise the critical jobs with immediate start dates our country needs to fill, for example in agriculture and care.
You may be able to apply for one of these jobs and still receive your salary while you are on furlough if your contract allows it.
I look forward to hearing how Rutland and Melton's residents use this tool to support our national effort!
Standing Up for Our Dairy Farmers
I have raised the issue of support for our dairy farmers with DEFRA almost every day for the last three weeks. They are very much aware of the need for urgent support for our farmers, and recognise the implications for our wider industries as well such as cheese-making.
Last week I discussed the issue again with the Secretary of State as well as the Farming Minister.
DEFRA confirmed on the call that farmers can access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Any bank suggesting that farmers are ineligible is incorrect, not least because farmers do not receive state aid. I am happy to write to any bank for a local farmer to make clear the Government’s expectation that they provide loans to farmers.
DEFRA has put in place mechanisms to ease competition law. They have also introduced easement to driving hour restrictions.
I continue to advocate for Government mandated changes to allow those dairies currently restricted from bottling milk on their dairies to do so, Government contracting mechanisms to be urgently revised to allow farmers to tender (easily) for Government contracts, a hardship scheme for those farmers most grievously affected by the pandemic, and a review of the many issues with supply chains. I have also backed calls for a Government-led advertising campaign calling on the British people to buy British dairy.
I also raised the importance of making long-term changes to better support British and local providers once we are through this crisis as Long Clawson Dairy raised with me. I highlighted how current labelling systems are misleading with the preponderance of fake farm brands. The British people want to buy British and support our local farmers, we must ensure they are able to do just that. We also discussed the importance of supporting our cheese-making industries and Long Clawson specifically.
Support for Market and Business Park Businesses
During the Pandemic there have been a number of issues that have been critical for Rutland and Melton. One of which is access to Government support for our local businesses based in our Cattle Market, Business Parks, Markets and Councils.
I have been working tirelessly to lobby the Treasury, MHCLG & BEIS on this issue and am hopeful we are close to a positive outcome. I will keep working my hardest to get the result we need.
Joining the China Research Group
At the weekend, we launched the China Research Group, of which I'm a member of the Steering Group. It aims to promote debate and fresh thinking about our relationship with China.
I also spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live about COVID-19 and China's handling of the pandemic, which you can listen to using the button below.