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 - 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

New rules to control Coronavirus this winter

In recent weeks, we have seen the levels of coronavirus infection in Northumberland and across the UK rise significantly. Now is the time to take action, and prevent more significant restrictions that would impact us all. 

Last week, the government implemented new restrictions for our region, meaning you cannot socialise with others you do not live with, and public venues must close by 10pm, and are limited to table service only. 

Today, the Prime Minister has announced new additional restrictions for the whole country. These will apply to Northumberland. This means:

  • Where possible, office workers who can work from home should do so.
  • Hospitality and leisure businesses must close by 10pm. 
  • COVID-Secure guidelines will become legal obligations, and businesses could be fined or closed if they breach these rules. Employers must also not knowingly  require or encourage somebody who is self-isolating to come to work. 
  • From Monday, a maximum of 15 people can attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, but up to 30 can attend funerals, as is currently the case. 
  • The 'Rule of 6' will be extended to cover adult indoor team sports. 
There are also new rules regarding the use of face coverings, and the requirement to wear a face covering has been extended to: 
  • All staff working in retail. 
  • All users of taxis and private hire vehicles. 
  • Staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table. 
  • Guidance that states face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services will become law. 
  • Businesses must also remind people to wear face coverings where mandated. 
We all need to continue to remember the basics: wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, cover your face in enclosed spaces where social distancing may be difficult, and stay 2 meters apart from others, or 1 metre with extra precautions. 

These are difficult times. But if we all stick to the rules, we can stay in control of this virus and save lives. 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

New local restrictions to control Coronavirus

In recent weeks, we have seen the Coronavirus infection rates across the North East increase significantly. 

Last week, local councils asked the government to implement new restrictions now, so that we can get on top of this recent spike and avoid going back to the days of the full lockdown we saw in March and April. 

From midnight tonight, new restrictions on social gatherings, hospitality and more will be introduced. That means:
  • You cannot socialise with others you do not live with, including close friends and family. Exemptions to this rule do apply if you are providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person. If you live alone and are in a support bubble, you can continue to visit your support bubble by staying overnight in each other's houses and visiting public places together. 
  • Pubs and restaurants will be limited to table service only, and leisure and hospitality must close between 10pm and 5am. 
  • Restrictions are being introduced on non-essential visits to care homes.
  • In schools, pupils in Year 7 and above, and staff, must wear face coverings when in corridors and moving around communal areas. 
I understand how difficult these restrictions will be, especially for people living in areas which currently have low levels of coronavirus cases, but it is my hope that by addressing this spike now, we can ensure these restrictions can be in place for as short a period as possible.

In order to assist with the local coronavirus response, new testing facilities are being set up across Northumberland. 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.

Whilst these restrictions are in place, we should continue to remember the basics too – continue to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover your face in enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult, and keep 2 meters apart from people you do not live with.

I know this will be a difficult time, but if we all stick to the rules, we will get through this together.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Introducing the Rule of 6: New measures to control Coronavirus

Since the start of this year, our country has faced many tough challenges as we have fought the coronavirus pandemic. 

The lockdown was a very difficult time for our country, but through our great national effort, virus infections have reduced significantly from the peak, and we have been able to return to a more normal way of life as lockdown as eased. 

However, we have seen that as lockdowns have eased across Europe, case numbers have increased significantly. With cases on the rise in the UK, I wholeheartedly support the government in taking action to suppress the virus. 

We all need to remember the basics: hands, face, space, and if you have symptoms - get a test. 

You should continue to wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds, wear a face-covering indoors, when social distancing may be difficult, and stay 2 meters apart from others, or 1 meter plus with extra precautions. 

However, with cases on the rise, new rules are required in order to keep the virus under control. 

That's why the government is introducing the Rule of 6. 

From Monday 14th September, you cannot meet with other households socially in groups of more than 6. This applies both indoors and outdoors, including in private homes and gardens. This clarifies and simplifies the rules on social gatherings to make them easier to understand, and for the police to enforce. 

There are a limited number of exemptions to this rule. COVID-Secure venues, such as places of worship, restaurants, and hospitality venues, where the total number of people inside the venue can be more than 6, but people cannot mix in individual groups of more than 6. The rules also do not apply to individual households or support bubbles of more than 6 who will still be able to gather together. Education and work settings are also unaffected, as is organised team sport, and weddings and funerals of up to 30 people. 

From September 18th, it will also become mandatory for hospitality businesses to have a system in place to collect NHS Test and Trace data, which much be kept for 21 days. 

The government is working with local authorities and police forces to respond to breaches of the COVID-19 Secure guidelines, and a register of newly qualified and recently retired Environmental Health Officers will also be established so that local councils can recruit more quickly and fill any gaps. COVID-19 Secure Marshals will also be introduced to help local authorities support social distancing in town and city centres. 

In addition, the government is also taking steps to improve border requirements. The Passenger Locator Form, which is required for traveling into the UK, will be simplified, and measures will be introduced to ensure that passengers have completed their form before departure. Border Force will also step up and target enforcement efforts at the border to ensure arrivals into the UK are complying with the rules. 

In July, the government set out plans to pilot larger audiences in venues this month. These plans will now be reviewed, and pilots will be limited to smaller, safer numbers with strict conditions to ensure social distancing. These plans will be reviewed on October 1st. 

These are difficult measures, but nothing like the national lockdown imposed earlier this year. In order to control the virus, we all need to play our part by washing our hands, covering our faces indoor spaces, and keeping two meters apart from others. We will get through this, but we all need to work together.