Saturday, 17 October 2020

Protecting culture across the Tyne Valley

Our cultural institutions have been hit hard throughout this coronavirus pandemic, and protecting culture for the future is vitally important.

Earlier this week, the government confirmed over half a million pounds of funding for local cultural organisations across the Tyne Valley as part of the Cultural Recovery Fund - including for the Queen's Hall, and the amazing Hexham Book Festival. 

I am delighted that today, the government has confirmed a second round of funding, with £250,000 for the historic Vindolanda Trust, taking the total investment in culture across the Tyne Valley to almost £1 million. This will help to support local jobs, and will hopefully put some of our iconic cultural organisations on a sustainable footing for the future.

Culture is so important to our local Tyne Valley community, and making sure it is there for us after this pandemic is a top priority. This funding aims to ensure these crucial organisations can stay afloat whilst their doors are closed, so they can bounce back from the pandemic. 

Monday, 12 October 2020

New 'Tier' system to control local rates of coronavirus

The Prime Minister has announced a new tier system to control the rate of coronavirus. We are in a perilous position where rates of infections across the country and particularly the North East are rising. This has translated to a rise in Covid hospitalisations. Therefore, I welcome this announcement which simplifies restrictions to control the virus. 

The Tier system will range from 1 to 3:

Tier 1 (medium risk): The current national measures of the rule of 6 and 10pm curfew on pubs apply.

Tier 2 (high risk): All social mixing between households indoors is banned but mixing outdoors (including private gardens) will be allowed with the rule of 6 and maintaining social distancing.

Tier 3 (very high risk): Social mixing is prohibited in all settings, along with the full closure of pubs and bars. 

The whole Hexham constituency is placed at Tier 2, which is very similar to the restrictions that are already in place. 

This means you will not be able to mix with other households outside your support bubble indoors, including at hospitality venues. However, you will be able to meet others outdoors, including in private gardens with the rule of 6 and maintaining 2 metre distancing.

Expanded support for businesses required to close

The Chancellor has also announced targeted support for businesses who have to legally close because of coronavirus restrictions:

If businesses are required to legally close and employees cannot work at all for a week or more, the employer will pay two thirds of the salary, up to £2,100 a month. The Government will cover the cost.

Businesses who are only able to operate a collection and delivery service will be included.  

Additional grant support has also been announced for businesses legally required to close. The smallest businesses will be able to claim £1,300 per month, medium sized businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000 - can claim £2,000 per month and large businesses can claim £3,000 per month. 

All these grants will be paid in fortnightly instalments 

These measures go alongside the existing Job Support Scheme – which is designed to support businesses that are facing low demand over the winter months – and the £1,000 Job Retention Bonus which encourages employees to keep staff on the payroll.  

The Job Support Scheme will open on 1st November and the scheme will be reviewed in January.  

Please remember to only get tested if you have symptoms, but if you have a new, continuous cough, a temperature, a loss or change of taste or smell, you should go to and book a test.

We should continue to remember the basics of hands, face and space.

Continue to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, and keep 2 meters apart from people you do not live with.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

A plan to support our economy this winter

Today, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the next stage of the government's economic response to Coronavirus in the House of Commons. 

When we went into lockdown in March this year, the government announced a number of schemes to help support people's jobs and incomes as we worked to slow the spread of coronavirus. Most businesses had to close as we all stayed at home. 

As the economy has re-opened in recent months, the challenges we face have changed. The virus is still with us, and new restrictions will often mean reduced demand, particularly in the hospitality sector. 

Today, the government has set out a new package of measures to support our economy this winter. This includes: 

Coronavirus Job Support Scheme
The Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) Scheme helped to protect people's jobs and incomes during the lockdown, so that workers who couldn't work during the crisis continued to be paid. 

The new Job Support Scheme will support the wages of people who are in work, giving businesses who face reduced demand over the winter the option of keeping employees in a job on shorter hours, rather than making them redundant. 

The scheme aims to support viable jobs for the future, so employees must continue to work at least a third of their normal hours and be paid for that work by their employer. The government will then top-up people's wages, with a third of the pay they have lost from reduced hours being paid for by the government, and the other third being paid for by employees. In total, employees will receive at least 77% of their normal salary. 

The scheme will run from November to April. and all small and medium-sized businesses are eligible. Larger businesses can also apply, but only when their turnover has fallen. Workers employed as of yesterday are eligible, and any business can take part, even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme. 

Support for the self-employed
To support the self-employed throughout the winter, the existing Self-Employed Income Support Grant will be extended on similar terms and conditions to the new Job Support Scheme. 

Pay As You Grow
Earlier this year, the government introduced Bounce Back Loans to provide quick, first-year interest-free loans to businesses. Today, the government is providing greater flexibility on the repayment of these loans by introducing Pay As You Grow. 

This means that loans can be extended from six to ten years, nearly halving the average monthly repayments. Businesses which are struggling can also choose to make interest-only payments, and any businesses in trouble can suspend repayments completely for six months. 

Government-Backed Loan Deadline
The deadline to apply for any of the government-backed loans has been extended until the end of the year, and a new successor loan programme will begin in January. 

VAT deferral scheme
Businesses were given the option to defer their VAT payments earlier this year. These payments are due in one lump sum in March, but businesses will now be given the option to spread their VAT bill over 11 repayments, with no interest to pay. 

Self-assessment tax deferral
Self-assessed income taxpayers can also extend their outstanding tax bill over 12 months from January.

VAT cut extended
Earlier this year the government cut VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors from 20% to 5%. To help protect jobs throughout the winter, the cut will be extended until 31st March next year. 

These are very welcome measures and will go a long way to help support jobs, incomes and businesses in Northumberland over the coming weeks and months. If you are a constituent and need support, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office, or visit my Coronavirus website to find out more -