Yesterday I voted to move the country from lockdown to a local tier system.
Let me start by saying this was not an easy decision and I understand every bit of reservation and frustration people will have with these restrictions. I understand how difficult recent months have been personally for people and for businesses in our area.
In his letter (see below) the Prime Minister outlined the 5 criteria tiering decisions are based on. The main one which is concerning is the pressure on the NHS, which is based on hospitalisations and hospital capacity. I have been in daily contact with our hospital team and I know how tough this has been for our local health care staff.
Prior to the vote the Chair of our Local Trust wrote to me highlighting concerns about the huge impact that Covid has had on the operations and capacity of our hospitals. He also included a brief from NHS Providers noting the challenges faced by hospitals which reflects the experience in Scunthorpe Hospital. The briefing also noted that restrictions on social contact are the only way of reducing the spread of the virus until more comprehensive solutions, such as vaccines, are deployed.
Throughout this pandemic the Government could have done better at presenting data - this is something I have consistently raised. However, the communication from our local hospital (including those from the past weeks) does suggest that our local hospital and health staff are under huge pressure. This is not a theoretical or statistical argument - I think it is quite difficult for any MP to vote in good conscience against measures that may prevent their local health facilities from being overloaded.
There was also the question of what would have happened should the vote against government plans have succeeded, there were no concrete alternative plans in place. There were two likely outcomes:
- The vast majority of restrictions in England would end, potentially causing a sharp rise in cases or more likely,
- The government may have sought to extend the current lockdown until Parliament had approved measures.
Both scenarios would cause huge damage and uncertainty. Having worked closely with our hairdressers, gyms, retailers and local businesses I am not prepared to inflict an extended lockdown on them after they have done so much to prepare for their reopening.
As I said, I know how difficult these restrictions will be not only on us personally but also on businesses in our area. This is why I have been working with colleagues and local businesses to push the government hard for further support. Through the multiple meetings and discussions, we have had with the PM and ministers we were able to push for the £3.4 business support fund for North Lincs Council, and allow for the reopening of retail, personal care (hairdressers etc), churches, and gyms across all tiers. We also managed to secure the additional £1,000 for wet pubs, who have been worst-hit by these restrictions.
I am well aware that some larger pubs and restaurants have not had their rent met by the grants we have had so far. There are still areas of policy that need improving and I will continue to work with local businesses, North Lincs Council, and the government to secure more support.
Underlying the imposition of Tier 3 in our area is the stinging issue of our local hospital pressures. This is not only about the hospital facility but also a hospital staffing issue. Whilst we have secured significant funding for Scunthorpe Hospital to meet short and medium-term demands, it remains clear that there needs to be a long-term plan in place for upgraded health facilities in our area.
Until then I will continue to do my best to work with our local health team, to support constituents and to lobby the government on behalf of our local businesses and residents. If you know of any individual or business that needs help please do ask them to contact me directly and my team and I will do our very best to assist them.