Although there has not yet been an official announcement, it seems likely that lockdown will continue in its current form for at least a few more weeks – and it’s really important that we don’t let our efforts so far go to waste. I know it’s incredibly difficult not to spend time with the people we love – and as brilliant as video calling is, it’s no substitute for a hug or a catch up face to face. But by making these sacrifices now, we can protect ourselves, our family, and our friends – as well as supporting the amazing key workers who are still out doing their jobs in the most difficult conditions.
As lockdown continues, it’s important to make sure that everyone is able to understand and access the support they are entitled to. The Chancellor this week detailed a new ‘Bounce Back’ loan scheme where SMEs will benefit from a new fast-track finance scheme providing loans with a 100% government-backed guarantee for lenders. The scheme has been designed to ensure that small firms who need cash injections to keep operating can get finance as quickly as possible. You can find more information here.
Bristol City Council have approved over 5,400 applications for Small Business Grants with a value of almost £70m to support businesses in Bristol. The team is in the top 25% nationally for local authorities distributing grants, and the top 10 for the total value given. However, there are over 1,200 eligible firms yet to apply and confirm their details. If you think your business might be eligible, you can get further information and find out how to apply here. There are also some local businesses who fall through the gaps in the Government’s criteria; please do get in touch if you are one of these, so I can lobby the Government.
Despite the restrictions of lockdown, I’ve had another busy week. On Tuesday, I had my first ever virtual Parliamentary Question, when I asked the Attorney General about the Government’s policy on releasing people on bail. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic began there was a 37,400 backlog of Crown Court cases and now that courts are barely functioning it will be much higher. Many of those affected will be remanded in custody where there are concerns about the spread of the virus in the closely-confined quarters of the prison estate. It was good to get the opportunity to raise the issue but I certainly didn’t get a satisfactory response and I’ll keep pushing the Government on this issue.
You may have seen that Bristol Council hosted its first virtual Cabinet meeting on Zoom this week, and Mayor Marvin Rees shared his vision of how tackling inequality and addressing the ongoing climate emergency will be at the heart of Bristol’s recovery and economic success following the Covid-19 pandemic. In my role as the shadow green transport Minister, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the way our normally busy streets have been changing over the past few weeks. With less traffic on the road than ever, there is an opportunity to provide more space for walking and cycling. There is also emerging evidence that exposure to air pollution increases the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, and after the lockdown, many people will reconsider how they get into work. We simply cannot simply return to how things were before, or go to even higher levels of car use as commuters reject public transport. I am calling on the Government to provide councils with the powers and funding to ensure that active travel can become a first choice for many. We can use this as an opportunity to meet our goals on air pollution and increasing active travel rather than just going back to business as usual.
In last week’s roundup, I mentioned the minority of motorists who are taking advantage of the clear streets and driving at excessive speeds during the lockdown. Many of you have subsequently been in touch expressing concerns and sharing your experiences. You might have seen or heard me on BBC Bristol and Radio Bristol raising awareness of the problem this week. I’ve also been speaking to Bristol Council and to our local police force to make sure we are doing everything we can to stop this idiotic and irresponsible behaviour.
My office remains reachable by phone or email, and as ever, please do contact us if we can help on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 0117 939 9901. Remember – stay home, save lives, and do keep washing your hands!