The vaccine rollout effort is going very well, and I am very pleased with the uptake in North Cornwall. From this week we are calling on anyone aged 70 and over who has not been vaccinated to contact their local NHS to arrange a jab, as we surpass the 12 million vaccinated mark. Thanks to the huge efforts of the NHS, volunteers, and local authorities we have vaccinated an incredible 12 million people so far - including around 9 in ten of all over-70s.
The Government is on track to meet our goal of offering everyone in the top four priority groups a jab. Until now, we have asked over-70s to wait to be contacted by the NHS, however, we are now urging everyone aged 70 and over who hasn’t yet had a vaccination to come forward and contact the NHS to book in their jab. This is particularly important in constituencies like North Cornwall which have a higher proportion of retired people. Vaccines are our way out of this pandemic and, by ensuring you and your loved ones get booked in for a jab, the NHS can give those most at-risk the protection they need as we continue to fight this disease together.
A number of constituents have asked me about patient transport to and from vaccine sites. Although most people are able to attend without issue, I am aware that some people have struggled to make their appointments. Volunteer Cornwall (01872 265305) and Age UK’s transport service (01872 223388) are available for support if you’ve been asked to travel to a vaccination clinic and have no other way of getting there.
Last week the Armed Forces Bill had its second reading in Parliament, a vital step towards ensuring fair treatment for our armed forces personnel, veterans and their families. We owe our armed forces personnel, veterans and their families an enormous debt of gratitude for their selfless actions in order to help keep our country safe. It is only right that we ensure that they are not disadvantaged by their service when accessing key public services. By enshrining the Armed Forces Covenant into law we are helping to ensure that UK Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families are treated fairly while accessing key public services such as healthcare, education or housing – no matter where in the United Kingdom they live. This will help us to build on the progress we have already made in improving the lives of armed forces personnel, veterans and their families – which is no less than they deserve for risking their lives defending this country day in and day out. Protecting our veterans was an election pledge for me in 2019 and I am pleased that this vital legislation is moving through the House.
North Cornwall is home to small distilleries and larger breweries including Sharps, so the industry is at the very centre of our community, employing many people. The economic effects of fighting coronavirus last longer for businesses than the duration of any given restrictions, and we need to go further with our support. While I appreciate that lockdowns are unwelcome news for publicans, it is reassuring that the Chancellor has unveiled further economic support for businesses, including pubs. New one-off top-up grants have been announced, worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring. For those businesses not eligible for the grants, a £594 million discretionary fund is being made available by the Government as a matter of urgency. The new one-off grants come in addition to billions of pounds of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 per month for impacted businesses once they reopen.
Some pubs have unfortunately been forced to close their doors permanently due to financial strain. As hard as this is for owners and communities, it may not be the end for the pubs themselves. Since 2017, planning regulations removed permitted development rights from all pubs, requiring that planning permission must now be obtained prior to change of use or demolition. If listed as Assets of Community Value, this allows communities to have up to six months to bid to buy them if they have been put for sale. Ultimately, local councils must decide whether a building or land should be listed as an Asset of Community Value. I know the Government is nonetheless committed to making it easier for community groups to protect and take over local assets like pubs and will continue to explore options to strengthen the rights of our communities to do so.