As you will know, with the Coronavirus infection rate rising across the UK, the Government has announced further changes to restrictions. Face coverings will now be mandatory in private hire vehicles and taxis, as well as on public transport, and in hospitality venues, except when seated at a table to eat or drink. Office workers who can work effectively from home are once again encouraged to do so and businesses must ensure that they follow the stricter rules to make their premises Covid-secure. And businesses selling food or drink, social clubs, casinos, bowling alleys, and amusements parks and facilities must be closed between 10pm and 5am. In licensed premises, food and drink must be ordered from, and served at, a table. Businesses will need to display the official NHS QR code posters so that customers can ‘check-in’ at different premises. The rule of 6 will apply to all meetings, except for support groups, weddings, and funerals which will be limited to 15 (down from 30).
In Birmingham, due to the tightened restrictions, mixing in households regardless of number, cannot happen indoors, but up to 6 are still allowed to meet outside, provided social distancing guidelines are followed. I know these restrictions will be frustrating, but we will only be able to beat this virus if we all take responsibility for playing our part. With that in mind, if you have a smartphone, please download the NHS Covid-19 app which launched this week from either the App Store or Google Play to know your local risk level, to book a test if necessary, and to help keep our communities safe.
Together with Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, I have once again written to the Housing Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, to call on him to take action to address the outstanding issues which continue to plague the lives of people living in properties with flammable materials. We were pleased that after much lobbying, the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government brought forward the £1 billion Building Safety Fund, but we are concerned that the scope of the fund is inadequate to meet the extensive remediation costs and associated problems that leaseholders are facing. We are also concerned about the data which is underpinning decision-making in the Department and the exponential rises in insurance premiums that many of the affected leaseholders are now facing. We just want the Government to deliver on its commitment to do right by those who have been impacted by the issues so devastatingly exposed by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and support those who are living in a hell not of their making.
I met with members of the Public Accounts Committee this week when we were able to question the Permanent Secretary Jeremy Pocklington, Director General of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Emran Mian, and Co-Director of the Cities and Local Growth Unit Stephen Jones about the Towns Fund selection. There have been concerns that the allocation of funds has been politically motivated, with some of the towns receiving funds seen as battleground areas for last year’s general election. Mr Pocklington had made an official suggestion that in metropolitan areas with directly elected mayors, ministers might want to consult with them before selecting towns, but during this session, Mr Pocklington says that he was not aware of such meetings. I find it concerning that he was not aware of any meetings, rather than stating that there were no meetings, because this calls in question the transparency and political neutrality of the decisions being made. I am also keen to know whether the jobs that are created in these towns as a result of funding are good, well-paid jobs that are created for the locals within those towns. We don’t want to see the sort of jobs where there is a one-month placement “for good experience” and CV help. We want to see sustainable, skilled, well-paid jobs that will benefit those town’s communities. Our small towns outside big city centres do need funding, but that funding should not be dependent on how they vote and it should lead to real, sustainable regeneration that allows these towns to thrive.
I was very pleased to be asked to sign some limited edition prints from the Art4Charity’s ‘Forward in Unity’. Gent28, Birmingham’s born and bred, world-renowned graffiti artist has painted an epic depiction of our city’s wonderful NHS and frontline workers fighting Covid-19 on Meriden Street in Digbeth. These have truly been unprecedented times, but the way that Birmingham’s people and communities have pulled together to support one another has been nothing short of inspirational. The pandemic is not yet over, and there are still many challenges to overcome, however this artwork shows the resilience and strength that are within our community.
As ever, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!