Kerry McCarthy Labour MP for Bristol East
As we continue to live with the shadow of Coronavirus, there are increasing concerns about the personal protective equipment being provided for our key workers. There are of course global issues with supply and stock, as the virus affects countries across the world. But there have been worrying reports this week that the Government has missed the opportunity to procure much-needed items and the NHS Confederation has warned that care homes, GPs and community services are still facing real shortages.
Keir Starmer used his first PMQs session as Leader of the Opposition to highlight the issue of adequate protection for key workers – and revealed that dozens of British firms have contacted the Labour Party after their offers to produce PPE were ignored by the Government. The details of these companies have been passed on to the Government by Labour in an effort to support the national drive to adequately equip our key workers.
PMQs of course came as part of the first-ever virtual session of Parliament, with only a few MPs inside the House of Commons (and respecting social distancing rules!) but most taking part via video call. It’s so important that we are able to scrutinise the decisions the Government is taking at this extraordinary time, and I’m really pleased that – like so many other employers – the Parliamentary authorities have been able to use technology to make sure that MPs can still do their jobs. I’m looking forward to asking my first remote questions to Ministers next week. I also took part in Petitions Committee and Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) remotely this week, and I’m pleased that our EAC meeting on the 14th May will also be broadcast live.
As vitally important as our NHS workers are, it’s important to recognise that there are other key workers putting themselves at risk – and they also need the appropriate protection. Here in Bristol, our bus drivers are still going to work every day, and making sure other people doing vital jobs can get around the city. Tragically, this week we learnt that a third Bristol bus driver has died after contracting Coronavirus. I’m concerned that the Government has been slow to take action to support our transport key workers, and I’m working with local trade union representatives to make sure that bus companies take whatever measures they can to protect their employees. Labour’s shadow Secretary for Transport, Jim McMahon, has also written to Grant Shapps this week calling for clear guidance from the Government on issues ranging from whether cash should be banned on buses to how social distancing can be effectively managed. We’re backing calls by trade unions for the creation of a national operators’ forum to bring together the government, the various bus companies and unions.
Here in Bristol, I’ve had my usual round of conference calls, including with Mayor Marvin Rees, our Police and Crime Commissioner and the Local Resilience Forum. Clearly there are issues to resolve around PPE provision and plans for testing, and I’m continuing to hear from workers who are falling through the gaps of the various employment support schemes. I’ll keep raising these issues in the appropriate forums to make sure everyone in Bristol gets the support and protection they deserve.
Unfortunately during this lockdown, a minority of motorists are taking advantage of the clear streets and driving at excessive speeds. Such driving poses a risk to risk to others, especially as they might come across inexperienced cyclists or pedestrians walking into the road to remain socially distant from other people on the pavements, so I am pleased to see Avon and Somerset Police are taking enforcement action to catch those responsible. I have already reported several local speeding ‘hotspots’ to the Police. If you’re a constituent and know of a problem area where drivers repeatedly speed and this is causing danger for others, please email me so I can raise this with the Police on your behalf. I know there have been some calls for roads to be closed to allow for more social distancing but it’s important that we have a balance as we need to retain access for delivery vehicles and emergency services.
My office remains reachable by phone or email, and as ever, please do contact us if we can help on email@example.com or by phoning 0117 939 9901. Remember – stay home, save lives, and do keep washing your hands!