Publication: Blackmore Vale Magazine
At a time that is fraught with such uncertainty, I know that the disconnect between those charged with taking decisions and those who feel their effects can feel wider than ever. Over the last six months, my team and I have given 55 advice surgeries, replied to over 38,000 emails from constituents, supported over 500 businesses and processed around 200 cases a week from those in need – on everything from PPE shortages in care homes to businesses attempting to navigate through the maze of government support schemes.
But the last few weeks have also seen some critical debates in Parliament. With that in mind, I thought I would take this opportunity to give an update on what I’ve been doing in Westminster to support the people who live in our part of Somerset.
· I spoke in two debates relating to Government support for the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. My constituency houses some incredible businesses and freelance workers within the creative industries and it’s an area that’s too easily overlooked when economic support measures are being pondered. As a former composer and musician, I’m passionately committed to ensuring the arts community gets the support it needs, and though the £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund, the Job Support Scheme and the Self-Employed Support Scheme have provided a safety net, I’m conscious that there are many for whom this has not been enough to ensure their businesses remain viable. Some key sites (including the Cheese and Grain in Frome) now have support in place, but there’s much more to do.
· I spoke in a debate on the Internal Market Bill which is designed to ensure the UK is able to continue the free movement of goods within its borders – regardless of the outcome of our continuing negotiations with the EU. This is not only economically important, but constitutionally vital in ensuring all four parts of the UK can continue operating as one.
· Over the last few months, many of us have become richly familiar with the Zoom calls and other online meetings – outside the chamber of the House of Commons, I’ve had innumerable conference calls with Ministers and local authorities to ensure that COVID-related financial support from central government is reaching those people in Somerton and Frome who need it most.
· I’ve also been discussing the proposals for restructuring local government in Somerset to ensure it’s better placed to deliver efficient and responsive services to the most vulnerable. The superb work of our local authorities in coping with the current crisis serves to remind us just how critical they, and the services they provide, really are. And as I’ve been leafing through organograms restructuring proposals, I’ve been keeping that question – how the delivery of public services to the most vulnerable can best be structured – at the forefront of my mind.
· Only a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part in a Westminster Hall debate around rural productivity – especially important in a post-Covid recovery context. In that debate, I banged the drum for full dualling of the A303, ensuring that the Government’s £5bn investment in rural broadband targets our hardest-to-reach areas and ensuring that agriculture and food production is not forgotten.
I’m conscious that by the time you read this, we may be subject to new national measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. If you find yourself in need of help (and you’re within Somerton and Frome), please don’t hesitate to contact me on email@example.com.