Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Response to reports in the media about British companies shipping PPE abroad



Recent reports of British companies having ship their PPE abroad highlight two important facts about our response to COVID-19 in this critical time: 1) That we in fact have a good supply of PPE here in the UK despite accusations of the contrary, and 2) despite the best efforts of the UK government in running a military-sized operation in delivering PPE to everywhere that needs it, not all businesses have been selected to supply PPE.

There are many possible reasons to a business's PPE supply application being rejected or turned down: It could be that the PPE they supply simply do not meet the standards we have and are therefore inadequate, or are of such poor quality that they are simply defenseless against COVID-19; it could be that another supplier is able to put forward a more competitive offer or provide a quicker delivery time of the PPE than what the business is putting forward; it could even be that we are actually well stocked up on the particular kind of PPE that the business is offering, as there are a variety of different PPE items required and different providers will be more well stocked up on different types of PPE and less so on other types.

What I do know, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Matt Hancock, is that the Department for Health and Social Care is being inundated with offers of PPE on a regular basis, and are working hard 24/7 to process them as quickly as possible.

But as with any procurement process invariably some businesses will not be selected. It would be wrong to expect every single business and person that steps forward with a PPE offer to be accepted as an approved supplier.

COVID-19 is an international challenge some British businesses for one reason or another have decide to divert their supply of PPE to other countries. This is ultimately their decision and one that MPs have little control over.

I also want to make clear that here in Cornwall we have secured a sustainable supply of PPE for our NHS doctors and nurses. I am well aware of the PPE challenges facing a small number of care home providers and my team and I are working very hard to get them the PPE they need. 

The Government is not underestimating the size of this challenge, but the Prime Minister has said he will do everything in his power to keep healthcare workers safe as they care for the rest of society. We know there is more to do in this area, and the full weight of the Government is working to deliver that as quickly as possible.

As General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of Defence Staff, made clear during the government news conference on 22 April:

"First and foremost this has been a logistic task and I would say that I think in all of my more than 40 years of service this is the single greatest logistic challenge that I have come across."

In dealing with this unprecedented challenge, what everyone must recognise is that our NHS – like any health service around the world – only has a limited number of doctors, nurses, and specialist equipment. This means it can only deal with so many sick people at once.

The more people that get sick with Coronavirus at any one time the harder it is for the NHS to cope – meaning more people are likely to die from the Coronavirus, as well as other serious illnesses. Therefore, if we can slow the spread of Coronavirus so fewer people are sick at any one time, we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope.

That’s why, in addition to improving the capacity of the NHS, the Government is asking everyone to stay at home and stay safe. It is simply the best weapon we have to slow the spread of the virus. That way we can protect the NHS and save lives.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.

Newspaper column 29 April 2020 - COVID-19 Update 7


The impact of the lockdown is being felt by every household, business and organisation in our country. Parliament is no different.

Last week we saw Parliament officially returning from the Easter recess, but it was certainly a long way from business as usual. We saw a small number of MPs sitting in the chamber with others, up to 120 MPs, being able to ‘appear’ by video link. This enables MPs to question government ministers both in the usual set question sessions such as Prime Minister’s Questions, as well as raising urgent questions and in statements from ministers.

MPs are being asked not to travel to London and attend Parliament in person unless it is absolutely necessary for us to be there. We are requested to remain at home, as we are asking the rest of the country to do, unless it is essential for us to travel. I have no intention as things stand to go to Westminster, unless something comes up that really does require me to be there. But I will be seeking to engage as much as possible with proceedings in the chamber from here in Cornwall.

As the number of MPs who can engage with proceedings from home is limited to only around 20% of all MPs, it is necessary to register your interest to participate at least 24 hours ahead. MPs are then drawn via a ballot (which is often the way MPs are selected to ask questions) in order to be one of those who connects via Zoom. Of course, everyone, not just MPs not selected to appear via video link, can watch via the Parliament Channel on our TVs at home.

Watching proceedings last week certainly brought home just how different this is going to be. There was a very different atmosphere in the chamber with so few MPs able to be present. In some ways this does feel appropriate as it perhaps better reflects the mood of the country at this time and just how sobering and serious the issues we face are. But there is no doubt that although it at least provides some sense of Parliament functioning, it is a long way from normal and will have limitations.

People are often not aware just how much an MP’s role in Parliament actually takes place outside of the chamber. Whilst some committees are meeting virtually, there is a still a great deal that is not able to happen. There are all the informal and sometimes spontaneous meetings with other MPs, government Ministers and officials that take place dozens of times a day as we move around the Parliamentary estate. And as we are not voting in the lobbies we miss the opportunity that provides to catch up with other MPs on all manner of subjects.

So, while the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Whips and House authorities must take huge credit for what they have enabled to be put in place to allow Parliament to function to some degree, we must also accept this is a long way from a fully functioning Parliament. I certainly hope that these measures will be very temporary, and we can find a way to allow MPs to safely return to Parliament as soon as possible.

One issue that has not yet been resolved is enabling votes to take place. As a result currently no legislation or business that requires a division to take place (that is when not all MPs agree with what is being proposed and MPs ‘divide’ into the aye and no lobbies) is able to be put before Parliament. With important legislation needing to be passed in the coming weeks such as the Finance Bill to implement the Budget, legislation on our new immigration system along with important environment, agriculture and fisheries legislation, that is vital as we leave the EU and other issues that I am sure that will emerge in the coming weeks, it is vital we find a way for MPs to be able to vote remotely if we are not able to return to Westminster for a prolonged period.

This week I will certainly be aiming to participate in the House of Commons via video link in order to represent our constituency in these challenging times. Hopefully, I will be lucky enough to be selected in the ballot and next week I can report on what it was like.

In the meantime, my important work here in the constituency continues and if I can be of any assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can find details on my website – www.stevedouble.org.uk
 




Monday, 27 April 2020

Campaign response - Right to Stay



Thank you for constituents who have recently contacted me concerning the EU Settled Status Scheme and the Scheme's ability to operate in light of the impact of COVID-19.

The EU Settlement Scheme has been open since 30 March 2019. More than 3 million have already been granted status and EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens, and their family members still have 15 months before the deadline of 30 June 2021 to apply.

Applicants only need to complete 3 steps – prove their identity (via passport and other ID documents), show that they live in the UK (which can also be done via HMRC, DWP and other government records), and declare any criminal convictions they may have.

Contrary to what this email campaign suggests, the Scheme has not been suspended by the Home Office. In line with the latest Public Health England advice, some of the support services and application routes have temporarily changed.

However, individuals can continue to apply using any laptop or mobile device and they can still use the “EU Exit ID Document check app” to complete the identity stage of their application.

While applications continue to be processed, during this challenging time they will take longer than usual. A range of support continues to be available online, by email and telephone for those who have questions or need help applying: https://www.gov.uk/help-eu-settlement-scheme

The Home Office is keeping this situation under constant review and will endeavour to reinstate support services and application routes to their original capacity in line with public health guidance.

Having engaged with the policy idea on a number of occasions in recent months, I do not support the idea of declaratory system where EU citizens won’t have to register and could potentially bypass all of the checks that will be in place under our immigration system.

I understand the declaratory system is now being branded as the "Right to Stay". To be clear, EU Citizens already have the right to stay and remain in the UK and the Settled Status Scheme to enshrine and protect EU Citizens' right to stay in the UK going forward, with latest statistics showing that the vast majority of applicants have secured status without any trouble.

Since Windrush, the Home Office have been extra cautious in preventing a repeat of the scandal.

Giving people a digitalised status, and ensuring that they have a trackable record of their application and status by asking them to apply, is the way forward to prevent a future Windrush scandal.

The Government also needs to be able to distinguish between those who have come here before/after Brexit, and this system allows for that distinction to be easily made.

By all accounts the Government is achieving great success with this policy and EU citizens and community groups have welcomed this scheme and more engaged approach from the Home Office.

All EU citizens living in Cornwall and the UK are valued members of our community and I have always been clear in communicating my message of support and welcome to them - I want them to stay after the implementation period and continue to live, work and contribute to society. If any EU citizens are experiencing particular difficulty with securing their status to remain in the UK after Brexit, please do by all means get in touch with me on office@stevedouble.org.uk. My team and I would only be too happy to assist them.

Campaign reply - PPE Revised


The Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced in decades – and this country is not alone. All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer. Which is why the Government is working to a scientifically-led, step-by-step action plan – taking the right measures at the right time.

NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Let me assure you that ministers are doing everything they can to ensure the NHS and care workers has the equipment and resources they need to get our country through this crisis. I was also pleased to hear General Sir Nick Carter make his views known on both the scale and challenges faced in delivering PPE to the frontline during the government news conference on 22 April:

General Sir Nick Carter told the daily coronavirus press conference at Downing Street: "First and foremost this has been a logistic task and I would say that I think in all of my more than 40 years of service this is the single greatest logistic challenge that I have come across."

He said in 25 days the NHS had gone from the 240 customers they normally deliver to, up to nearly 50,000 customers, adding that it involved creating 260,000 sq ft of distribution warehousing.

Gen Carter also said: "Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the frontline – that’s both the NHS and social care – with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support."

He also praised Captain Tom Moore, the veteran who raised millions for NHS charities before turning 100: "I think everyone would agree that Captain Tom Moore embodies the sense of service and duty ingrained in our Armed Forces."

Gen Carter also spoke about the military involvement in preparing mobile pop-up testing centres in a bid to roll-out more COVID-19 testing.

He said: "We think the innovative idea of pop-ups, rather like mobile libraries, would be a very useful way of going.

"What we are trying to do at the moment is up-scale that idea so that we have enough capacity to get out into those areas which are harder to reach."

He added that more Armed Forces personnel could be deployed in the fight against coronavirus: "Between three and four thousand of our people have been involved, with around 20,000 available the whole time at a high readiness."

A total of 2,848 personnel are currently deployed to assist with 73 military aid to the civil authorities (MACA) requests.

Here is the link where he made his remarks:

ENDS.

The Government has now brought together the NHS, industry and the Armed Forces to create a nationwide PPE distribution network, almost from scratch. This is working to deliver critical PPE supplies to every single hospital trust every 72 hours and soon daily.

Priority drops of tens of millions of items of PPE to Local Resilience Forums have also been arranged. The LRFs are prioritising delivery to key frontline workers according to local need.

In the coming weeks, the Government will be scaling up our PPE delivery system even further, including a new website allowing the system to order PPE from a central inventory. This will mean we can track demand in real time so we deliver according to need.

This is in addition to a 24-hour helpline that already allows providers to request emergency drops of PPE to meet immediate need.

All of this will help us deliver the Government's plan to ensure PPE gets to where it is needed most: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-plan-for-national-effort-on-ppe

Government sets out plan for national effort on PPE - GOV.UK
To date, over 761 million pieces of PPE delivered across the UK Full, 24/7 military operation underway to manage supply and demand right across the UK New domestic PPE manufacturing effort with ...


The Government is not underestimating the size of this challenge, but the Prime Minister has said he will do everything in his power to keep healthcare workers safe as they care for the rest of society. We know there is more to do in this area, and the full weight of the Government is working to deliver that as quickly as possible.

In dealing with this unprecedented challenge, what everyone must recognise is that our NHS – like any health service around the world – only has a limited number of doctors, nurses, and specialist equipment. This means it can only deal with so many sick people at once.

The more people that get sick with Coronavirus at any one time the harder it is for the NHS to cope – meaning more people are likely to die from the Coronavirus, as well as other serious illnesses. Therefore, if we can slow the spread of Coronavirus so fewer people are sick at any one time, we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope.

That’s why, in addition to improving the capacity of the NHS, the Government is asking everyone to stay at home and stay safe. It is simply the best weapon we have to slow the spread of the virus. That way we can protect the NHS and save lives.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Campaign reply - Garden Centres after lockdown


I have been contacted by constituents as part of a campaign asking that the re-opening garden centres must be included in any first phase ease of lockdown.

I appreciate people getting in contact with their concerns.

At present the most important thing is for people to follow the Government guidance and stay at home where ever possible.

This is primarily a health crisis and the Government will look at the exit strategy from lockdown once it is safe to do so.

Most people are currently following the guidelines but it is important that we do not ease them too soon or else we risk a second peak which would set us back both socially and economically.

However, I agree that it would seem appropriate for Garden Centres to be among the first tranche of businesses able to re-open once the lockdown begins to be lifted. I have made representations to government ministers asking for this to be considered.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Campaign reply - Early Years funding


In response to the queries raised with me by nursery workers recently, I have now had the below response from the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families.

I will continue to keep this situation under review and feedback concerns that are raised with me to Ministerial colleagues:

‘EARLY YEARS AND CHILDCARE SECTOR SUPPORT DURING COVID19

I am writing to provide you with an update on all the work the Department for Education is doing to support the early years and childcare sector’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. I want to assure all of you, as well as the childcare providers and families within your constituencies that the Department continues to work tirelessly to support the sector. I want to ensure there is sufficient childcare so that critical workers can continue working, and all vulnerable children can access childcare throughout the pandemic. It is also important that there will remain in place a functioning childcare market to enable parents to return to work after the outbreak, and so that all children are able to get the best start in life with access to high quality early education.

Support for early years and childcare businesses

Since the onset of COVID-19, the government has worked to put in place a significant package of financial schemes that the childcare sector can access. This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), the Coronavirus Self-employment Income Support Scheme, a business rates holiday for childcare providers large enough to pay them, and a £10,000 Small Business Grant for those too small to pay business rates. Further information is included in the annex to this letter.

The CJRS guidance has always been clear that “where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs” It also states that “where organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the coronavirus response, the scheme may be appropriate for some staff.”

Last week the Department issued guidance which confirms that early years providers remain eligible for the CJRS while continuing to receive early entitlement funding via local authorities. This new guidance sets out that early years providers can access the CJRS to cover up to the proportion of their pay bill which could be considered to have been paid for from their private income.

We have worked hard to get this much needed clarity for the sector. This is a complex situation involving schemes which must be fair and work for all sectors. It is important to note that we have taken this approach in order to support providers while also protecting the taxpayer from double funding (paying for staff to be furloughed whose salary is already being paid for by other public sector funding).

I want to thank you, as well as our colleagues in local government and all those working within the childcare and early years sector, for your patience and cooperation during these extraordinary times, recognising that everyone is working hard to make the right decisions at the best possible time under extremely difficult circumstances.

Use of free early education entitlements funding

On 17 March the Government committed to continue the free early education entitlement funding to local authorities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We will shortly be publishing guidance to support local authorities to use their free entitlement funding differently, redistributing it – in exceptional cases and in a clearly focused and targeted way – in order to secure childcare for the children of critical workers and for vulnerable children, where their usual arrangements are no longer possible.

Local authorities will need to ensure there are sufficient childcare places at this time, and to redistribute funding across settings accordingly. This ability to redistribute will enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it. Any setting which sees their early entitlement funding reduced in order to fund childcare places elsewhere will be able to increase the proportion of their salary bill eligible for the CJRS in line with the Department’s guidance on access to the scheme.

Legislative changes and keeping people safe

We have listened to the sector on the challenges faced in providing safe and quality childcare and early education during the pandemic. We have worked quickly to amend regulations, where appropriate, so that we are able to provide the right support for early years providers remaining open to care for vulnerable children and children of critical workers so they can continue to ensure high quality and safe provision at all times.

I know colleagues are as concerned as I am to ensure people working at the frontline of childcare provision are equipped to do their job in a way which ensures their own personal safety and that of the children in their care. We have worked closely with public health colleagues to follow the most accurate scientific advice available. This advice indicates that childcare practitioners do not require personal protective equipment. They should care for children as normal, although increase the frequency of handwashing and cleaning of surfaces and toys.

We will be temporarily disapplying and modifying certain elements of the EYFS statutory framework, which is the framework which sets the standards that all early
years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. These changes will allow providers greater flexibility to respond to changes in workforce availability and potential fluctuations in demand, while still providing care that is high quality and safe. Changes include; providers not being required to meet existing learning and development requirements, providers not being required to undertake the EYFSP assessment in 2019/20 or the 2 year progress check during the coronavirus (COVID-19) period, exceptions allowed to the qualifications that staff hold in order to be counted in ratio requirements as well as changes to requirements around paediatric first aid (regarding children aged 2-5 years old).

All changes to the statutory framework are subject to parliamentary process and guidance will be issued once these changes come into force.

The Department will continue to monitor the situation in early years carefully, and work closely with colleagues across central and local government to provide the necessary support, issuing guidance and updating it regularly to respond to the fast-moving nature of this crisis. The latest version of this guidance is available at


Campaign response - Covid-19 in immigration detention centres



Recently some constituents have written to me about the risks facing those held in immigration removal centres (IRCs) in view of the ongoing situation with COVID-19.

I am grateful to them for getting in touch and I would like to first assure them that having worked with Detention Action - the organiser of this particular campaign - I am regularly being updated by them about the current issues facing people who are subject to immigration control in custody.

As a responsible Member of Parliament I can never be in favour of allow all who are in IRCs to be removed at once - that would make a mockery of our legal and criminal justice systems. It is clear to me and many that the people of this country want to see effective controls on our immigration system.

At the same time people want to see fairness in the system. As such I have been an advocate for a rethink on indefinite detention at IRCs - an unfair and unpopular policy introduced by the previous Labour Government. 

My preferred outcome is that those in IRCs should have their cases expedited by the Home Office so that they are not contracting of COVID-19 unnecessarily. Some will have their decisions overturned while others, subject to immigration removal, may well need to be in more suitable accommodation arrangements so that are shielded from those who have COVID-19, before the travel restrictions are lifted and they can be returned to their country of origin. 

With Parliament now returning from recess I look forward to asking ministers the questions that my constituents have set out.

Newspaper column 22 April 2020 - COVI-19 update 6


Last week it was confirmed that lockdown will be continued for another three weeks. Although this was generally expected, it does bring home to us that this crisis is not going to end quickly. Though there are a number of signs that the measures taken to fight the spread of this virus are having a positive effect, particularly here in Cornwall, we do all need to mentally prepare ourselves for several more weeks of restrictions.

The situation will be reviewed again at the beginning of May and we may then be in a position to consider some easing of restrictions, however, we should not expect a full return to normal life for some time yet.

I am very aware of the impact this is having – both socially and economically. I know many people will be finding this extension difficult. We are all missing being able to see our family and friends and do the things we take for granted as part of our everyday lives.

I am also very much aware of the impact this is all having on our local and national economy. With no clear date to yet be able to aim for, businesses are having to struggle with the challenges of keeping their business afloat whilst ensuring they are ready to quickly switch back into operation as we emerge from this lockdown.

I continue to do all I can to support local businesses and employees to access the government support available. I know there are still those who fall between the gaps and I continue to make the case to the government to make adjustments to the various schemes to ensure they are getting help to the people that need it.

The government has shown it is flexible and willing to make adjustments where there is a clear case for amendments. This has been shown by a number of announcements this week.

First, the Treasury announced that it was extending the cut off date for employees to qualify for the furlough scheme from 28th February to the 19th March. This scheme, that allows employers to claim 80% of wages for staff that are not required to work during the lockdown, is a central part of the support available. It is essential there is a cut off in order to ensure that those claiming it were legitimately in employment before the lockdown was announced. By moving the date, it will enable around 200,000 more workers across the country to be placed on this scheme. Many of those new claimants will be seasonal workers who only started their new jobs at the start of March. While it will not capture everyone, and I know there will be some locally who will still not qualify, it is a significant shift that will help lots of local people.

Also announced last week was a £10 million fund to support the fishing industry. This is something that I had been pushing for. Having spoken to a number of local fishermen and industry representatives it was clear that a bespoke package would be required in order to support our fishermen, particularly the smaller under 10 meter fleet we typically have here in Cornwall, as they did not meet the criteria to access many of the other government schemes. This fund will make cash grants available, similar to those in retail and hospitality businesses, to help cover the cost of maintaining their vessels during this crisis. As a part of the fund £1 million will specifically be available to help fishermen sell their catch locally while their usual markets, like restaurants and pubs, have been shut down.

One thing we can all do to support our local fishermen is to buy locally. In know several local businesses are now offering deliveries of fresh fish and it is a great opportunity to eat some quality local produce and support one of our great local industries.

Finally, I was pleased that at the weekend the government announced a further £1.6 billion to support local councils. All local authorities, including ours here in Cornwall, are facing a double whammy of huge pressures on services particularly to support the most vulnerable in our communities, whilst seeing a massive reduction in their income from car parking and other fees. It is important the government continues to ensure local councils have the resources they need to get us all through this challenging time.

I trust you all continue to stay safe and well during the coming weeks. Remember to keep to the restrictions – stay home to stop the virus spreading and protect the NHS. As always, my team and I are here to help with support and advice if there is any way we can be of assistance – get in touch. Email – office@stevedouble.org.uk Tel. 01726 829379

Campaign reply - PPE



The Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced in decades – and this country is not alone. All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer. Which is why the Government is working to a scientifically-led, step-by-step action plan – taking the right measures at the right time.

NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Let me assure you that ministers are doing everything they can to ensure the NHS and care workers has the equipment and resources they need to get our country through this crisis.

The Government has now brought together the NHS, industry and the Armed Forces to create a nationwide PPE distribution network, almost from scratch. This is working to deliver critical PPE supplies to every single hospital trust every 72 hours and soon daily.

Priority drops of tens of millions of items of PPE to Local Resilience Forums have also been arranged. The LRFs are prioritising delivery to key frontline workers according to local need.

In the coming weeks, the Government will be scaling up our PPE delivery system even further, including a new website allowing the system to order PPE from a central inventory. This will mean we can track demand in real time so we deliver according to need.

This is in addition to a 24-hour helpline that already allows providers to request emergency drops of PPE to meet immediate need.

All of this will help us deliver the Government's plan to ensure PPE gets to where it is needed most: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-plan-for-national-effort-on-ppe 

The Government is not underestimating the size of this challenge, but the Prime Minister has said he will do everything in his power to keep healthcare workers safe as they care for the rest of society. We know there is more to do in this area, and the full weight of the Government is working to deliver that as quickly as possible.

In dealing with this unprecedented challenge, what everyone must recognise is that our NHS – like any health service around the world – only has a limited number of doctors, nurses, and specialist equipment. This means it can only deal with so many sick people at once.

The more people that get sick with Coronavirus at any one time the harder it is for the NHS to cope – meaning more people are likely to die from the Coronavirus, as well as other serious illnesses. Therefore, if we can slow the spread of Coronavirus so fewer people are sick at any one time, we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope.

That’s why, in addition to improving the capacity of the NHS, the Government is asking everyone to stay at home and stay safe. It is simply the best weapon we have to slow the spread of the virus. That way we can protect the NHS and save lives.

Campaign reply - Support for the Dairy Industry

Farmers across the constituency have been in touch with a campaign email asking for support for farmers and in particular the dairy industry.

Farming is a vital part of our local communities and economy and have been so for generations. For these reasons alone it is imperative that the farming community is assisted through the current medical crisis.

The aim of government is that any business that was viable before the lockdown should receive sufficient help so that it can continue trading once we are through it. Whilst I am fully supportive of the measures that the government has already taken to help business and employees, I also recognise the near unique circumstances farmers are facing where animals still need to be fed and cared for regardless of market demand.

I made representations with ministers on various farming issues and was pleased to see the latest developments announced on Friday 17 April.

There is a link to the statement here:


Environment Secretary George Eustice has said:
Our dairy industry plays a crucial role in feeding the nation and it is essential that they are able to work together at this time.

We’ve heard loud and clear our dairy farmers’ concerns which is why we are further suspending competition rules law to allow dairy farmers to work together on some of the most pressing challenges they are facing. I am also urging farm businesses to access the loans that are available from their bank to support them in this period.

We welcome our farmers’ heroic efforts in ensuring food supplies remain resilient and will continue to support them through this difficult time.

Dairy UK and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) will now lead work to bring the industry together to identify spare processing capacity, how to stimulate demand and how production could be temporarily reduced.
and will continue to urge them to ensure farmers are supported appropriately.
ENDS.

I am often in touch with the NFU and will look out for their briefings to further increase my understanding of the challenges faced by farmers.

Farms and the farming community deserve and need help just as we need you to continue to provide the nation with food and I welcome further communication from the farming community if you feel I can assist you in any way.


Monday, 20 April 2020

Campaign reply: Private and Mixed Practice Dentistry and COVID-19


I have been contacted by a number of dentists locally regarding Dentistry and COVID-19, highlighting concerns for private and mixed (delivering both NHS and private care) practices. NHS England have offered a wide range of support measures for NHS dentists, which includes the NHS-funded work of mixed practices. NHS dentists are also able to be redeployed to other roles within the NHS using their clinical experience and expertise, such as working within the new urgent dental treatment centres, also known as dental hubs, the 111 service and in hospital sites across the county. All NHS dentists are expected to continue to provide telephone assistance for any dental concerns and are able to prescribe painkillers and antibiotics as appropriate, or refer patients for urgent treatment at a local dental hub if it is required to ensure anyone in urgent need of dental care is able to access it.

For those working in private practices on PAYE arrangements, they should be able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and furlough staff, ensuring staff can received 80% of their salary, up to a maximum of £2500 per month. For mixed practices, those on PAYE arrangements and unable to work for example due to the nature of their role not being possible to continue from home, they can be furloughed via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in proportion to their practice’s private activity, without endangering any NHS funding. For those self-employed, the Self Employed Income Support Scheme is available. One major advantage for the self-employed in the support offered to them is that they can continue to work and earn, where possible, whilst those on the employed scheme are not able to work if they are furloughed.

One of the issues highlighted in the campaign emails I have received is that many dentists are self-employed earning an average of £69,000 annually, which is above the £50,000 threshold for eligibility of the scheme. The concern highlighted is regarding their ability to pay bills such as mortgages through this crisis. I would highlight that there is a range of support from the banks for all individuals experiencing financial difficulty. For example, anyone concerned about paying their bills would be able to take advantage of the offer of mortgage holidays, a variety of different payment holidays on credit cards and loan repayments, transfers of credit card balances to 0% interest credit cards. Banks must also offer £500 fee-free overdrafts for anyone requesting them through this pandemic and many utility companies have payment options for anyone struggling to pay their bills through this challenging time. I would encourage them to discuss concerns with their bank as more support is being made available every day. There are also opportunities to move payment-free months of Council Tax, normally at the end of the financial year, to the beginning to ease cashflow for anyone struggling.

Additionally, many who are earning this amount are likely to have significant savings they can access. Where this is not the case, and they are experiencing severe financial hardship, they are able to claim Universal Credit (UC). For those whose who do have savings but these savings are set aside for their tax bill, this can be taken into account when determining eligibility for UC. It is also important to note that self-assessment tax payments have also been deferred until January 21.

In terms of the support available for practices, some practices will be eligible under insurance policies for interruption of business, although this will depend on the type of cover in place. There is also £10,000 extra cash grants which have been made available to some of the smallest businesses and I believe some dental practices with rate exemptions have already received these grants.

With regard to concerns about the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, I am aware there were some initial difficulties for businesses seeking to secure these loans however this has been considerably enhanced by the chancellor following feedback from myself and other MPs. If you have applied with your lender before without receiving a helpful response or acceptable terms, I would urge you to reapply following his recent intervention. Additionally, a rejection from one lender does not prohibit you from applying with a different lender, who may take a different view on your application.  

I have discussed these issues directly with the Minister, who has assured me the government are working closely with the Chief Dental Officer, patient groups and the British Dental Association to ensure appropriate services are in place for all who need them. The government are also discussing with corporate and private providers how they may be able to support the NHS effort in areas of the country where current emergency dental provision is more limited so patients do not have to travel far for treatment.

There are additional avenues of financial support for anyone experiencing severe financial hardship, such as the hardship fund via Cornwall Council, and specifically for dentists and dental professionals is the British Dental Association (BDA) benevolent fund (https://www.bdabenevolentfund.org.uk/). I have also produced blog posts with further details on the support available for:

The government is continuing to review the situation and if necessary, extend measures or implement further measures as underscored by the recent changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

I think it is also important to keep in mind that many of the schemes announced would normally take years to be drawn up are instead being produced in a matter of days and rolled out in just a few weeks in response to this crisis. They may of course be less than what we would perfectly want to see as a result and are the best compromise that can be found in the circumstances. The focus has of course been on the most vulnerable and those at high risk, and the government and civil servants have been working around the clock to design and implement all of these measures, whilst facing up to 30% reduction in staffing levels themselves.

I have fed back the experiences and concerns raised by dentists and dental professionals with me, both of mixed and private practices, when in discussions with colleagues in Westminster and would recommend following any further developments from the BDA, NHS England and the chancellor as well exhausting all available avenues currently available regarding financial assistance.



Thursday, 16 April 2020

Campaign reply - “Extension of Transition Period.”


A number of constituents have sent me a copy on a campaign email entitled “Extension of Transition Period.”

I fear this latest attempt to reopen a debate that was resoundingly settled both at the referendum and at the last general election is deeply flawed and wrong.

As widely reported across the media today the government will not be asking for an extension to the deadline. I fully support this statement.

It is imperative that businesses and families have continued clarity on the timetable following the transition period and I welcome this confirmation.


Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Newspaper column 15 April 2020 - COVID-19 update 5


I hope everyone had a happy, peaceful and safe Easter weekend at home. Despite the incredibly nice weather, it was great to hear that our parks, beaches and roads were quiet – not something I never thought I’d catch myself saying.

I was pleased to see our local Police force taking decisive measures to stop people from out-of-county travelling down to Cornwall for the holidays. A roadblock was placed on the A30 with officers stopping vehicles and asking the purpose of people’s journeys – those who were not travelling for essential reasons were respectfully, but rightly, asked to turn around. Myself and my West Country MP colleagues had been calling for this kind of action after many concerned constituents got in touch with their accounts of holiday makers, second homeowners, and so-called celebrities, continuing to ignore explicit Government advice and come to Cornwall.

I want to thank Devon and Cornwall Police for taking these steps to protect Cornish lives. I also want to pay a tribute to those officers on the frontline, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe. The best way we can all show our appreciation to them – and the incredible frontline health and Social Care workers across Cornwall – is by continuing to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

One of the biggest stories of last week was on course the news that the Prime Minster was taking into intensive care on Monday evening – after I had written my column for last week’s paper. Like many of you, I was pleased and relieved to see reports that his health was improving during the week. Now more than ever as a country we need his strong leadership at the heart of Government to see us through this crisis. Whilst it is important he now takes the time he needs to fully recover and follow the medical advice of his doctors, I am looking forward to seeing him back where he belongs, in No10 leading our fight against this virus, once he has fully recovered. He and his partner Carrie continue to receive my best wishes and prayers.

At the time of writing it is unclear when the lockdown will end. My hunch is that it will be extended for some time yet. We have always been taking a scientific, data-led approach to this crisis and it is only right that the lockdown ends when we know it is safe to do so. Ending it too early will only increase the risk of overloading our NHS services and place more people in danger. I know that many of you will be growing weary of being inside, away from friends and loved ones, and the routine of normal life, but if we do not stick to what the experts are telling us this crisis will only go on for longer, with more lives lost.

So as we enter our fourth week of staying at home please continue to think of our NHS and Social Care workers, Police Officers, council staff, teachers, supermarket staff and everyone working around the clock to keep all those in our community most vulnerable to this deadly virus safe. Show them your respect again this week, not just by clapping on Thursday, but by staying at home every day.

One of things I have been doing to continue to be available to constituents is hosting a Facebook Live Q&A – this is an opportunity for anyone to ask any questions they have about the situation we are in. The past two have attracted thousands of viewers and I have had lots of positive feedback. I will be hosting another session this Wednesday 15th April at 7pm. Please just come to my Facebook page around that time if you want to join in.

Although working from home, all my office staff and I continue to be available to help in any way we can – whether that is providing advice, answering any questions or helping you access the help and support that is available. You can contact us on office@stevedouble.org.uk or 01726 829379. I have also been posting regular updates on my Facebook page: facebook.com/SteveDouble2015 or my website www.stevedouble.org.uk/covid19

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Campaign reply - Road Haulage Association "Urgent Financial Support Needed for Road Hauliers"


Thank you to those constituents who have sent me a copy of  The Road Transport Association campaign email seeking further support for hauliers during the corona virus.

Road transport forms a vital part of the infrastructure of the UK and as never before we are relying on the key part played by this industry.

Haulage has always been a highly competitive business with a mix of results from different companies in terms of profitability. I know many have ceased trading over the years whilst others have run successful and profitable businesses. I understand that with the additional pressures caused by the medical crisis this adds considerably to the complexity and difficulties of running any business let alone a logistics company.

Some have been in touch to say part of the problem is there is now many occasions  where vehicles are not fully laden which is an obvious further burden on costings, efficiency and viability.

The government has in record time introduced a range of measures to assist businesses. The aim of the government  is that those that were viable before the medical crisis will be in a position to continue trading once it passes. The haulage industry presents unique circumstances and challenges and I will do all I can in making further representations to ministers to see what further help can be made.

Many will already be aware of the help the government is offering businesses in a multibillion £ effort with deferring taxes and VAT payments, rates relief, furlough wage provision and also the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. This has been considerably enhanced by the chancellor following feedback from myself and other MPs and even if you have applied with your lender before without receiving a helpful response or acceptable terms, I would urge you to reapply following his recent intervention.

Having been in business myself for many years I am acutely aware of the pressures that virtually all businesses are facing right now and whilst I will continue to petition for more help on your behalf. I also firmly support the provision made by the chancellor to date.



Newspaper column 8 April 2020 - COVID-19 update 4


As we enter the third week of the lockdown we are approach a crucial point in this national crisis. When the Prime Minister announced we would need to take these drastic measure to try to halt the spread of this virus and ultimately defeat it, he stated it would be for an initial period of three weeks and would then be reviewed.

In addition, it is predicted that we will reach the summit of this outbreak in the coming days. This will be a critical point in the evaluation of whether or not the measures taken, and the degree to which they have been adhered to, is working or if further steps need to be taken.

As there is a time lag of 2-3 weeks before the impact of any measures put in place shows in the number of infections and people presenting to hospitals with serious symptoms, it does make these decisions challenging. But as the Health Secretary stated at the weekend, if too many people do not follow the rules then the government will have to take further steps to fight this virus. The onus remains on each one of us to stick to the very clear and simple instructions we have been give – to stay at home as much as possible and only go out for the few exceptions allowed and make sure we are not physically interacting with people outside of our household in any way.

The more people stick to the rules the quicker we can get through this and start to see life return to some sort of normal. Those who break the rules or push the boundaries are not doing any of us any favours. I posted on my Social Media accounts at the weekend that there is no point in clapping for our carers on a Thursday evening if we then spend the weekend flouting the rules and hanging out with our friends. The best thing all of us can do right now to support the NHS and all those who are working on the frontline in health and social care is to stay home as much as we can.

The fact that we learned on Sunday evening that the Prime Minister had been taken to hospital, we are told as a precautionary measure, was I am sure a cause for concern for us all. It goes go to show just how unpredictable this virus can be. Many are simply getting mind symptoms and recover fully in just a few days. For others, as we are seeing, it becomes something very serious which requires major treatment in hospital and for some it is fatal. There is a wide spectrum between these and no one can be sure how it affects us if we contract it. We are told that the reason for Boris Johnson’s hospital visit was due to his symptoms not clearing up in the expected time frame. I am sure we all wish him well and a speedy recovery.

I also just want to say a few words about all those businesses, employers and self-employed people who have had to make some really tough choices in the past weeks. I do not under-estimate how difficult this time has been for many. I have spent a great deal of my time in the last two weeks seeking to provide advice and support for our local businesses and employees. The government has put in place a comprehensive package to provide support for the economy. But I do appreciate there remain a number of gaps for those who are not covered by the schemes in place. I am pleased that the government continue to keep all these measures under review and have already made a number of changes in recent days that will enable more people to access the support available. I will continue to be available to any in our constituency who need advice and help so please do get in touch if you think any team and I can be of assistance in any way.

Finally, sadly we continue to see far too many people coming to Cornwall either to stay in holiday accommodation or to come to their second homes. The Government has been clear that everyone should remain at the primary residence and not travel to places such as Cornwall for a holiday, sort break, or come to their 2nd homes. Unfortunately some holiday accommodation providers are not helping with preventing this by continuing to make their properties available. I know this is something that greatly concerns many local people and I have continued to work with government ministers to push these companies to stop people from coming as well as get the message out loud and clear through the media. I am pleased that Cornwall Council are now also taking action to prevent firms letting their properties out to tourists and have set up an email address to report those breaking the rules - businessadvice@cornwall.gov.uk If anyone is aware of holiday accommodation providers who are still taking booking please report them to this email address.
Stay safe, stay home and stay well.

Monday, 6 April 2020

COVID-19 support - Update on CBILS scheme


Following feedback from constituents I have made representations to the Treasury regarding financial support for local businesses. Some have reported a helpful response from their bank with fair terms and low interest rates but that has not always been the case. Many of you have been in touch citing refusals to help or unfavourable terms and conditions. Countless businesses (who are the backbone of our Cornish economy) and running successfully up until a few weeks ago, now have little or no work and no income causing an immediate cash flow crisis. They face all manner of other problems too, so they clearly need urgent help and a fair response from their bank or other lender. I have made this known at ministerial level.
The Chancellor has acted swiftly so that any previously viable business that has seen trade affected by the coronavirus fallout can now directly go to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) rather than having to apply for a standard commercial lending product from their bank.
The revised CBILS scheme can provide loans and credit up to £5m for smaller businesses affected by coronavirus. Business can access different types of finance products such as overdrafts, invoice finance, term loans, and asset finance facilities. There are other types of help for business and there is more information in the link below. The changes to CBILS will mean many smaller businesses can access funding. These changes are made with immediate effect. The changes can be in certain cases retrospectively applied to existing CBILS loans.
The requirement for personal guarantees for these loans that are below £250,000 have also been removed. This has been a major worry for many businesspeople who faced having to offer their home or other assets as security to get a loan in what are extraordinarily difficult and unknown times.
Lenders are now banned from requesting personal guarantees on loans under £250,000.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP has made it very clear where he stands on the help business needs and has said “We are making great progress on getting much-needed support out to businesses to help manage their cashflows during this difficult time – with millions of pounds of loans and finance being provided to hundreds of firms across the country. And now I am taking further action by extending our generous loan scheme so even more businesses can benefit. We have also listened to the concerns of some larger businesses affected by COVID-19 and are announcing new support so they can benefit too.
This is a national effort and we’ll continue to work with the financial services sector to ensure that the £330 billion of government support, through loans and guarantees, reaches as many businesses in need as possible.”
The Key points on changes to CBILS are:
·         All viable small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 can now benefit (rather than just those that couldn’t access commercial finance)

·         No personal guarantees for loans below £250,000


·         Personal guarantees for loans above £250,000 limited to the 20% of the loan which isn’t guaranteed by Government

·         Operational changes to speed up the processing of applications, particularly those for smaller loans

There is much more information on the significant changes made here:
More help and information can be found here:
For other business support, please go to: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/

I am grateful to all of you who have contacted me regarding your business. The feedback has been invaluable in making representations on your behalf. Apologies to those still waiting for a reply due to the huge number of emails, letters and calls received. I, along with my team will respond to you all in due course and I thank you in anticipation of your forbearance.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Column 1 April 2020 - COVID-19 Update 3


It is now over a week since the Prime Minister instructed the country into lockdown in our fight against Coronavirus.

For every single one of us this is a new experience – none of us have been through this situation before. It is affecting every single person in our country – every individual, household, community, business and public service. Life is very different from the open and free lifestyle we have all grown up with and have probably taken for granted.

It has been good to see the vast majority of people across mid-Cornwall following the instructions of the government and staying at home, apart from the exceptions allowed. As I have been out for my daily exercise walk it has been a slightly eerie experience to see the roads almost empty of traffic, shops, pubs and offices closed and only a few people out walking.

The fact that we have had to take such drastic measures in order to save lives - and ensure our NHS does not become overwhelmed by those falling seriously ill from this virus - should put into sharp focus for us all just how serious this is. I know there a few cynics around who still seem to think this is an over-reaction to something that most of us will only experience mild symptoms from. But we only have to look at the scenes from Italy to understand this is a fight for the lives of the elderly and vulnerable – our own parents and grandparents, and those who we know and love with underlying conditions, are the ones we are primarily doing this for.

How long we have to endure this phase is very much dependent one each one of us. If we all keep to the restrictions and play our part by minimising our trips from home and avoid all contact with those outside our household, then we stand a good chance of getting through this fairly quickly and seeing life begin to return to normal. But if too many people flout the rules, it will simply mean we all have to endure this for longer and quite likely see greater restrictions placed on us in the coming weeks.
So, I simply want to appeal to anyone who for some reason thinks these restrictions do not apply to them – stop being selfish! You are not only risking the lives of the people in your community; you are risking every one of us having to live under these conditions for longer than we need to.    

A great example of the spirit we all need was experienced last Thursday when at 8pm millions of people across the country went to their windows, doorways or gardens to clap for our carers. This was a simple act to show respect and appreciation to all those working on the frontline in the battle against Coronavirus – the doctors, nurses, ambulance crews and support staff in the NHS; those who care of the elderly and most vulnerable, the local pharmacists providing essential advice and medicines and all those going to work under vastly increased pressure and putting the wellbeing and safety of others above their own.

I will admit I found it all quite emotional. Not only as I thought about all those people I know who are serving in these ways, but also because there was such a sense of unity – both locally and nationally. Our communities coming together in a very simple act that contained so much meaning.
Who knows what the coming weeks and months will bring. Both individually and collectively I am sure many of us will experience great challenges, heartache and even hardship. I know it is an overused clich̩ but it is true Рwe will only get through this together. It is by playing our part and behaving responsibly towards our neighbours by following the restrictions. By looking out for the elderly and vulnerable among us. By volunteering and making ourselves available to others and a thousand different acts of kindness, great and small, that we will pull through the coming weeks.

More than at any time in almost all of our lifetimes, this is the time each of us needs to put the wellbeing of our neighbours, our county and our country first. It is a challenge our grandparents rose to previously. Now it is out turn. Let’s do this together. Let us all play our part in beating this horrible virus. Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.