On 12 April, we took another step forward along the Government’s roadmap to a greater sense of normality. As we continue to meet the four tests, the Government – by proceeding to Step 2 – has allowed shops, gyms, personal care services and outdoor hospitality to re-open. The number of visitors to care homes has also increased from one to two.
This will, of course, be welcome news to everyone as we will begin to see life returning to our high streets, pubs, restaurants and attractions. Our life here in North Yorkshire will begin to feel increasingly normal and I am looking forward to visiting more local businesses as they reopen. I would also encourage people to safely take up the new freedoms given from 12 April to support local businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry which has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic.
The vaccine rollout continues to progress and has seen much success locally and nationally. Indeed, over 31.6 million people across the country have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Also important has been news that more than fifty per cent of people aged over eighty have now received their second jab.
Yet it continues to be very important to enjoy the new freedoms with care and to follow the rules set out by the Government. Even though the vaccine rollout is helping to inhibit the link between rising cases and hospitalisations, the extent of the impact on transmission remains unclear. Moreover, as outlined in the Government’s roadmap, the success of the vaccine rollout does not provide universal or invincible protection. The Government also continues to pay close attention to the risks of new variants which could undermine the protection offered by the vaccine.
It is for these reasons that the Government is absolutely right to stick with its cautious approach and to continue to follow its roadmap – guided by data and not dates – in gradually lifting the restrictions. Indeed, I continue to support the Government’s roadmap because, in short, the last thing I want to see is another round of lockdowns and restrictions. Protecting public health and our local NHS hospitals is the priority.
The Government has made clear that some measures may be required for some time, even after all adults have been offered a vaccine. Looking to the summer and onwards, the Prime Minister commissioned reviews looking at COVID-status certification, international travel, large events and social distancing. These reviews published updates on 5 April, and I will keep monitoring their findings as things progress forwards.
Concurrently, I am acutely aware that many local businesses as well as cultural and heritage organisations have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus. It is good to hear from many local businesses receiving support, such as from the furlough scheme or from the range of grants available. Eight local organisations – including the Plaza Cinema in Skipton and the Ripon Museum Trust – have recently been awarded grants from the Culture Recovery Fund. Totalling nearly three-quarters of a million pounds worth of funding, the money will help ensure our area retains its culturally-rich heritage and generate positive spill-over impacts across the hospitality industry. The Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, for instance, has received £169,400 from the Fund so securing its future for more families to walk back in time and see how steam engines work in action, in such stunning scenery.
As restrictions are lifted, the support available will decrease so to allow businesses to stand on their own two feet again. For example, the furlough scheme is due to end in September. The Government, however, will proceed gradually and will continue to do everything possible to support jobs and businesses over the recovery from the pandemic. This week, the Government’s Recovery Loan Scheme opened for applications, which will help businesses recover and grow by supporting borrowing of up to ten million pounds.
Indeed, the Government's overriding goal is not only to defend our NHS and protect lives but also to safeguard livelihoods across every part of the United Kingdom.
Building back better and greener is key to safeguarding livelihoods – both in the short-term recovery from the pandemic and through the longer-term economic security arising from climate security. The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a green industrial revolution will pave the way for us to meet Net-Zero by 2050 along with creating and supporting as many as 250,000 highly-skilled jobs. The UK Government will further be driving accelerated climate change action at the UN COP26 Summit in Glasgow in November.
The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of community and togetherness in facing the most significant crisis since the second world war. It is not only the togetherness in our communities here in North Yorkshire but also across the United Kingdom. Whether it is the vaccine rollout, the inspiring work of the NHS or the heft of the UK Treasury supporting people and businesses throughout this crisis, it is clear that unity remains a strength and can yield benefits for everyone. When looking ahead to future challenges – including climate change, cyber security and the international stage increasingly defined by multi-power cooperation and competition – this togetherness will be ever more inextricably linked to meeting these challenges.