26 February 2021
Chancellor must use the Budget to support those who have been excluded
It was encouraging to see the Prime Minister unveil a roadmap out of Covid restrictions this week. I welcome his new, much more cautious approach this time round; the last thing we want is to have to go into yet another lockdown later this year. I’m also really pleased to see that the vaccination programme is proceeding apace.
What we also need to hear from the Prime Minister, however – and from his Chancellor in the Spring Budget next week – is some clarity as to what support there is going to be for businesses and individuals who have been hit really hard during the past year, and in some cases are struggling to keep their heads above water.
The Chancellor must use the Budget to finally address the glaring gaps in support for the three million so-called “Excluded”, such as freelancers, people who’ve set up small limited companies, and some self-employed, who have so far fallen through the gaps in the Treasury’s support schemes.
We’re also facing a situation in which indoor hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants won’t be able to open their doors until May 17th at the earliest – weeks after the furlough scheme has ended. With 4.6 million workers still on furlough this will inevitably lead to more redundancies. In response Labour is calling for a smarter version of the scheme which isn’t time limited, will include provisions for training, and strict protocols to prevent abuse.
This safety net of support could be reinforced with an extension of the current VAT holiday and business rates relief. Having been in constant contact with companies in my constituency of Bristol East I’m aware of a desperate need for funding and economic breathing space.
Despite being completely dependent on live events for income, events and exhibition businesses have missed out on support every time, and I raised this with the Prime Minister in the Commons this week. The fact that they’re not customer-facing means they miss out on Leisure, Hospitality and Retail grant, the fact that they haven’t actually been forced to close means they’ve lost out on local Council grants for businesses which have, and the fact they aren’t arts organisations has denied them Arts Council funding.
Local authorities have been issued with vague guidelines and inconsistent advice on where discretion should be applied, leaving supply businesses stuck in a cycle of mis-categorisation.
The Government must understand that without the entire supply chain, the whole sector falls apart. Weddings rely on caterers, photographers, and musicians, and no gig or festival I’ve ever been to would’ve been the same without the sound and light engineers. Stage crews, audio-visual companies and coach drivers have all been denied support they need.
It’s exciting to think that the return of live sport, music, and events is now on the horizon, but some businesses are telling me they simply can’t survive till then. The Chancellor needs to support Bristol businesses in his Budget, so that we’re all able to enjoy live events this summer.
Kerry writes for the Bristol Post, December 11th 2020.
As Christmas approaches, I know the prospect of having limited contact with friends and family may feel especially bleak. In this difficult year, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unimaginable challenges for all of us, both personally and professionally. From being separated from loved ones, to NHS services placed under immense pressure, to businesses struggling to cope, it’s been particularly hard to feel festive – but the tide is turning.
We’ve recently heard the brilliant news that the Government has approved Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine. It’s purchased an initial 40 million doses of this vaccine ready for a mass immunisation programme, starting with those most at risk. Final trials of this vaccine show it has 95% efficacy, signalling a real light at the end of the tunnel. Here in Bristol, immunisation has started at Southmead Hospital, with 98-year-old Jack Vokes receiving the first vaccine in the city on the 8th of December. The vaccine will soon be rolled out into community settings, too – including a mass vaccination programme at Ashton Gate. Of course, there are challenges ahead in the storage and distribution of the vaccine, but this still offers strong cause to celebrate and feel positive, as it takes us one step closer to resuming our normal lives.
With Bristol in Tier 3 following the most recent national lockdown, we’ll still have to keep doing our bit to keep our communities safe, reduce Covid-19 case numbers, and give the city the best chance of moving into a lower tier as soon as possible. I know that this is hard, too, especially as we see the world opening up around us, but I’ve been inspired by Bristolians’ ability to work together and help one another through the pain and the pitfalls this virus has caused.
Our citizens have done all kinds of amazing things, from volunteering to do errands for the vulnerable, to distributing food through FareShare, Bristol Food Union and Bristol Food Network, to helping neighbours through city-wide mutual aid groups. All of this is testament to the generous, creative and welcoming spirit of our vibrant city.
For all of this, I want to say thank you – especially to those working for our brilliant NHS. Bristol’s people are its beating heart, staying practical and resilient in the face of everything Covid-19 has thrown at us. I’m immensely grateful to represent Bristol East and am proud of my constituents’ response to the hardships they have had to endure. I’ll keep doing all I can to be your voice in Parliament through thick and thin. As we move towards better days, I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas.
Kerry writes for the Bristol Post, August 7th 2020
For many older people, even in ordinary times, television provides something of a lifeline. During the past few months it has become even more important, especially for those who are living alone, confined to their homes during lockdown. A survey for Age UK found that many older people have relied on TV not just for entertainment and distraction, but as their main source of information about Covid-19.
That’s why the Government’s decision to break its manifesto promise and scrap free TV licences for the over-75s is such a blow. I’ve had constituents writing to me about this, and I’ve raised their concerns with the Government on a number of occasions.
The Tories have tried to shift the blame for this decision over to the BBC, saying it is their choice not to fund free licences. But the truth is that it was the Government’s choice to offload responsibility for free licences to the BBC – knowing full well that the Corporation would never be able to fund them.
The 3.7 million pensioners who do not receive Pension Credit – many of whom are still not that well off – now face having to find an extra £157.50 a year for a licence. Some will struggle to afford it and will face a choice between foregoing some other essential, or living without a television. Age UK has repeatedly expressed concern about the mental health of older people living on their own if they have to give up their television sets, which are a vital tool in alleviating the chronic loneliness many older people face.
The truth is that this Government has taken an ideological decision to scrap free licences – all as part of their campaign to undermine the independence of the BBC. Forcing the BBC to assume the cost of providing free licences for the over-75s would lead to cuts equivalent to the closures of BBC2, BBC4, the news channel, the Scotland channel, Radio 5 live and Sports Extra, and a number of local stations.
The BBC is one of our most internationally respected institutions. Here in Bristol we play host to the BBC Natural History Unit – renowned the world over for its amazing nature programming.
At this time of national crisis, the BBC’s mission to educate, inform and entertain has proved more essential than ever.
But the Government’s ideologically driven actions risk undermining our beloved broadcaster while at the same time penalising those people who are most likely to rely on their televisions for company and comfort. Rather than trying to pass the buck, Ministers must sit down urgently with the BBC and work out how to keep free TV licences for the over-75s.
If you are one of Kerry’s constituents and need to get in touch, you can email her at email@example.com or call her office on 0117 939 3136.
Kerry writes for the Fishponds Voice, August 2020
As lockdown has eased, and the public health risk has receded, it’s become clear just what an effect coronavirus has had on jobs and the economy. In Bristol East, more than 15,000 jobs have been furloughed, nearly 5000 self-employed people have claimed from the Self-Employment Support Scheme, and the number of people claiming Universal Credit went up from 2,960 in March this year, to 4,525 in June.
What’s most worrying is that we know we have not yet seen the worst economic effects of the crisis. Reports suggest a quarter of furloughed workers could be made laid off in the coming months, with a roll call of companies announcing redundancies in recent weeks. There have been worrying announcements from Airbus and Rolls Royce, which will affect jobs in Bristol. I’ve been speaking to both companies to try and minimise the impact on those people in Bristol East employed in the aerospace industry. It’s not, of course, just about jobs at those big companies, but many associated jobs in the supply chain and local services too.
When you look at the whole picture, it’s clear the support package the Chancellor announced in his mini-Budget is woefully inadequate and offers little consolation to those people whose jobs and livelihoods are on the line. The Government’s ‘one size all’ approach takes no account of the fact that some sectors have been hit harder than others. It also ignores the opportunities that could come as we rebuild the economy – for example, targeted support for car manufacturing could accelerate the phase out of diesel and petrol vehicles, which will help us meet climate change and clean air goals, as well as keeping people in work and making sure the UK gets a share of the electric vehicle manufacturing market.
But we also need to protect people employed in sectors which can’t open fully yet. Much of Bristol’s night-time economy will be unable to return to normal for months. The public health restrictions that – understandably – remain in place mean that thousands of jobs could be lost. That’s why we need a continuation of the furlough scheme for workers in sectors like these – rather than the Government’s approach, which is to leave them to fend for themselves in the face of economic turmoil.
I know many people in Bristol are concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their finances, and I’ll keep pressing the Government to support everyone who needs it. In the meantime, if you have any problems or concerns related to finances and redundancy, please do get in touch with my office on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 0117 939 9901.
Read the full copy of the Fishponds Voice, August 2020 here.
Kerry writes for Bristol Post ‘On the House’, May 29, 2020
Making Liveable Neighbourhoods
As you may have heard, the Mayor recently announced ambitious plans to pedestrianise the Old City – that is, the area around St Nick’s Market – along with proposals to make some of our busier streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and a ‘School Streets’ scheme, getting rid of traffic and helping combat air pollution outside some of Bristol’s most-affected primary schools.
In the longer-term, the Council is looking at developing ‘Liveable Neighbourhoods’. I’ve been talking to representatives of London councils in my new role as shadow Transport minister about how they’ve introduced such schemes, working with local residents to regenerate their neighbourhoods, make the streets more people-friendly and reduce the need for car trips by, for example, by reviving local shopping areas.
Bristol is also likely to be one of the first cities to trial e-scooters. It is currently illegal to use these on the road, but the Government has announced that this restriction will be lifted soon. It will still, rightly, be illegal to use them on the pavement.
I’m very aware that not all people are able to walk or cycle, perhaps because of their age, health or disabilities, or because they need to transport other people or things, or because of the distance they need to travel. But it’s more important than ever to promote active travel right now is because it will be a long time before public transport returns to normal.
Last week I made my Commons debut as a shadow Transport Minister (albeit from a virtual Despatch Box in my living room!) I challenged the Government Minister as to why he hadn’t done more to talk to local councils before lockdown started to be (partially) lifted, so that they could prepare for a safety-led scaling up of passenger transport. Since then First Bus has issued details of how the company will enforce social distancing on its buses, which will mean capacity is reduced by around 70%.
If public transport isn’t available, many people will feel they have no alternative but to get back into their cars, or, indeed, use them far more than they did before, bringing back all the air pollution and congestion that had disappeared from our streets during lockdown. I’m sure none of us want this to happen, which is why it’s important that those who can walk or cycle do so, and why I am calling on the Government to do more to support local councils in their efforts.
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