I hope that everyone had a relaxing Easter weekend despite the stunning sunshine one day and snow the next!
I know what joy being able to see loved ones and friends - even if just in the garden for now - has brought to me and my family and I’m sure that feeling is shared.
The Prime Minister has now confirmed that next week we will move, as planned, to the next stage of the roadmap out of lockdown when outdoor hospitality, all shops, gyms and outdoor attractions can re-open. This announcement was very welcome news and has been achieved due to the brilliant work of all those contributing to delivering the vaccine, the test, track and trace programme, the British public following the Covid-19 guidance, getting tested and vaccinated and all our key workers for protecting and supporting us all this past year.
Huge strides are being made in the Covid-19 vaccination programme this month, with over 65 per cent of our population (56,779 people) having received their first dose in Rutland and Melton. Nationally, over 37 million have had their first dose, and over five million their second dose as I write this today.
Many of you have written to me regarding vaccine passports now that we have done so well with vaccinating such a large proportion of our population. I want to be clear: no decisions have yet been made, and MPs from all sides are weighing this heavily. For my part, proof of vaccination for international travel seems unavoidable and an accepted part of the course with many major viruses, but domestically I am engaging with ministers as I wish to return our full liberties in the most pragmatic way possible at the safest and earliest opportunity.
The focus currently to help people and businesses out of these troubled times is to reopen the economy in line with the roadmap. The Government announced grants to support high streets which will be worth £35,628 to businesses on our high streets across Rutland. These funds will cover the additional costs of managing re-openings and adaptations.
Moreover, I’m delighted that the Culture Secretary announced four further organisations in Rutland and Melton will share £109,317 as part of the Culture Recovery Fund. As a keen supporter of the arts in our communities, I have been working hard to ensure that this fund is targeted at those who are in greatest need, and I’m thrilled that in Rutland Rocks By Rail and Pinder’s Circus will be some of the beneficiaries of this funding.
Finally, many of you have shared concerns with me over Rutland County Council’s rejection of £29.4m of Government funding last month, and what that means for Rutland’s local plan and how we prevent a housing free for all across our beautiful county. Please rest assured that I am doing all I can to ensure that our local plan remains viable, and our communities aren’t flooded by developers building inappropriate developments across our villages and towns. The local plan was ratified by Rutland County Council, and I will do my utmost to see it accomplished.
More immediately though, I want to make sure that Rutlanders are as safe as possible. The key is to continue to make progress with our vaccination campaign and to get our Covid-19 rates lower. You will have no doubt seen a large increase in our local rates in the last week. At this point there is no need for alarm, this is not due to one or several mass outbreaks, but it does remind of us of the need to isolate if we have symptoms, to keep getting tested if working away from home – especially next week when more people return to work -, and to get vaccinated. I want us below the national average again.
We are on track to beat this virus and meet every stage of our re-opening. I am thrilled that shops will be re-opening from next Monday, and I know we all look forward to safely supporting our wonderful local businesses again in person.