In the last two days the government has laid out both its COVID-19 Winter Plan (or dealing with the health crisis), the Spending Review, which covers our economic situation and spending decisions (or dealing with the economic and employment crisis) and the Tiers of restrictions (or what happens in Gloucester and Gloucestershire).

In the last two days the government has laid out both its COVID-19 Winter Plan (or dealing with the health crisis), the Spending Review, which covers our economic situation and spending decisions (or dealing with the economic and employment crisis) and the Tiers of restrictions (or what happens in Gloucester and Gloucestershire).
 
What have we learnt?
That we come out of the lockdown at midnight on December 1 and go into Tier 2 restrictions from Dec 2 to March 31: that this is our worst ever peacetime budget deficit  (ie spending more than we earn from tax) and that unemployment is forecast to peak in the early Summer of 2021
 
Was any of this a surprise?
The changes in restrictions show a fine tuning of what’s likely to have the most impact on suppressing the virus, and all Tiers allow more freedoms except on indoor socialising (see below).  It would have been wonderful if Gloucestershire had stayed in Tier 1, but the increase in infections and the pressures on the GRH/CGH Hospitals were against us
The economic contraction (-11.3%) is huge, but down from what was predicted in July (-12.4%): and while peak unemployment (7.5%) is high it’s a lot lower than many countries and down from the forecast 10% a few months ago. Growth is expected to be +5.5% next year, and 6.6% in 2022: a pretty sharp bounce back.
In economic language the recovery is more of a V than a U: so very bad, but with a quick bounce back and not quite as bad as thought earlier. We’ll see how accurate that proves to be.
 
Any good news?
Yes. Firstly the roll out of the Lateral Flow Tests, which produce very quick results and so radically change the cumbersome business of self isolation (currently mostly 14 days) for many who haven’t actually (it turns out) been infected.
Secondly real progress on the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. 140 million doses of these were procured ahead by the UK (through our Vaccine Taskforce), with 100m of the UK (Oxford Uni/Astra Zeneca) vaccine, produced on a not for profit basis and easy to distribute. The Pfizer vaccine is first off the blocks and should be approved for roll out imminently: GPs are geared up to administer it to the very old and most vulnerable as soon as possible. It is just possible this may start before Christmas.
Immunisation is also of course the best way of increasing confidence for everyone to go about life with confidence again, and getting the economy back to normal, especially   the beleaguered hospitality and travel sectors. The fast tests will make travel much easier.
 
What are the main changes on Dec 2?
Freedom of worship, weddings, all outdoor sports, shops, gyms, leisure centres and personal care (ie hairdressers) will all be completely open for business – with safety measures – under all Tiers. Spectator sports and business events can also go ahead with 2,000 spectators at Gloucester Rugby and 1,500-2,000 at Gloucester City AFC under Tier 2. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can open with half the venue capacity or up to 1,000 people, depending on which is smaller.
 
Why is Gloucester in Tier 2 and what does it mean?
The whole of Gloucestershire is in Tier 2 (Bristol and South Glos in Tier 3). The government uses five measures: The spread of cases by age group; the number of cases in the over 60s; the number of positive cases per 100,000; the R rate and NHS capacity.

How do we score on these?
(CAVEAT: these stats fluctuate considerably from week to week) Gloucester has the highest number of infections in the county per 100,000, almost double that of some of the rural districts, as you can see here. Broadly our county and city’s number of cases has been rising, the R rate is just over 1, and our spread of age group is more evenly distributed (ie fewer over 60s). Our NHS capacity is pretty stretched, not because of COVID19 cases (which are still quite a bit lower than the Spring) but because so many non COVID19 patients need GRH hospital beds. A significant challenge is finding space to move patients to Community Hospitals or Care Homes when clinically it’s time to move.

Hospital capacity

Hospital capacity across the UK (Source: UK Government)

 

What’s different from Tier 1 and Tier 3?
In Tier 2 pubs and restaurants can open (last orders at 10pm, closed at 11pm) as long as they serve a ‘substantial’ meal (but no mixing indoors with those from other households): up to six people can meet outdoors, and up to six play sport indoors. In Tier 3 pubs and restaurants are closed: in Tier 1 you can eat indoors with friends (max 6). The support system and bubbles is a bit more complicated, but everything has expanded eg couples with children aged under one and couples where one person is a carer can form a support bubble with another household. Trips abroad are allowed and we’re encouraged to work from home. A summary of the rules is:

 

Tier 2 Restrictions

 

Tier 2 rules for Gloucestershire wef Dec 2

 

Can we see elderly parents in Care Homes at all and what about Christmas arrangements?
Yes. Basically Care Homes decide who can have access their residents and what their safety rules are. The bubbles should enable most people to see loved ones in Homes over Christmas. Do look at the COVID19 Winter Plan on page 22 for further details: COVID-19 WINTER PLAN (publishing.service.gov.uk) 
 
Isn’t the whole thing a big lie – lots of people get ill every Winter: why are you taking away citizens’ freedoms?
No: this is a pandemic (our first for 100 years) and it’s for real. The number of ‘excess deaths’ has increased again in the second wave. 686 people died in the UK on Nov 25 – the highest daily number since 5 May, with a further 18,000 cases of infection around the country. It is serious, and doesn’t just affect very old or weak people. We need to protect lives until we can get immunisation from vaccines – which is coming soon
 
Some people say the vaccine will either not work or have nasty side effects and we shouldn’t take it
It will probably be a bit sore for 24 hours, as vaccinations usually are. But that isn’t a good reason not to be immunised, and remember the story of Dr Andrew Wakefield. Over 20 years ago this now discredited doctor published fake research in a medical journal pretending to show that the MMR vaccine was bad for children. Dr Wakefield was imprisoned, but his propaganda caused many children not to get a crucial vaccine and we suffered as a result. There is always plenty of fake news and ‘anti vaxxers’ will almost certainly fall into that category. Our enemies will also stir things up: they don’t want to see a country vaccinated with nowhere for the virus to spread. So we can expect bogus social media accounts circulating anti vaccine messages. I urge you to focus on what your GP, our NHS and the Department of Health says once a vaccine is approved, and to have confidence in them and the vaccine.
I suspect vaccination may also help anyone wanting to travel, just like in the old days you used to show certificates against eg smallpox for certain countries
 
But what about the cost of the restrictions? The Lockdown was catastrophic for business and jobs: what did it achieve?
The national Lockdown 2 did help bring down the rate of the spread of infections, as the graph shows:

 

Rate of Infection

Rate of infection Aug 13 -Nov 21 (Source: UK Government)

 

But there has been a considerable cost, especially for businesses in the hospitality, weddings and events sectors (quite a big part of Gloucestershire’s economy). That’s one reason why these new restrictions do allow most business activity to re-open, but it will be tough for eg pubs in Tier 2.
 
What are you going to do about the ‘3 million excluded’ who’ve never had a penny of support?
Of the various (about 20) constituents who are self-employed businesses and have contacted me, I can only think of one (a recently started business from home) which has genuinely not had a penny of help (and didn’t want a BBL loan). All of the others have had some help - either loans, grants, tax deferrals, furloughed staff or self support scheme help. But it is true that many are not able to earn their normal living and that those who have paid themselves by dividends not income (in order to reduce tax) have had very little direct support. The problem is that if the Chancellor gave cash to replace directors’ dividends, what about others who live off dividends eg pensioners, whose non state pension income has also dried up? I’ve been able to help some individual cases get council grants and others BBLs and anyone who has a real problem should e mail me (richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk)
 
What about pubs: aren’t they all going to close permanently?
No. But it will depend on their cash flow and whether some lessees were quite highly ‘geared’ (ie indebted) before Lockdown. In an economic downturn cash is king, and some (through no fault of their own) were at the wrong point of the cycle, asset rich but cash poor.  I’m very sympathetic to this as I’m a shareholder in a small family business that my 92 year old father has run for 40 years. We have a lease on a pub and ownership of a small hotel. It is very tough, but there are things that can be done to help survival – no more – until the Spring, vaccines and some sun. Some of our pubs in Gloucester will struggle and the risks of Tier changes is very difficult. I highlighted this on Thursday: (3) Richard Graham – Posts | Facebook

What are you doing to help those who’ve lost their jobs or leaving school/College and looking for a job?
In August, seeing a sharp rise in unemployment coming, I organised a giant Gloucestershire LiftOff event at Kingsholm, with an online presence (www.glosliftoff.co.uk): encouraging local people to get prime access to local jobs. At that time there were about 1,200 jobs going in Gloucestershire: now there are over 20,000. I know Royal Mail (nationally) are signing up 30,000 staff for Christmas too. So there are opportunities, but sometimes there is a skills gap and that’s where our Universities and Colleges come in. There are also lots of new (free and paid) 6 month placements #Kickstarters, available through the JCP

And if not?
Our modern welfare system is accessed through a single site and system (Universal Credit or UC) and administered by the Job Centre Plus. They’ve taken on another 3 million people this year, without any glitch, which is a huge achievement. An additional £20 per week (or £1,000 pa annualised) has also been given during the pandemic until the end of March. My office work closely with the JCP and will always help any constituent who needs it.

What extra help is the government giving to get young people into work? 
There are several new schemes - I would highlight the Kickstart Scheme and Traineeships designed to get skills and experience through placements with local businesses. Organisations supporting employers to offer Kickstarters include the Growth Hub, the FSB, Rich Leigh PR and Glos Jobs. For those on UC, do discuss with your work coach coach at the Job Centre Plus

Do you think it's right to freeze pay for public services?
The Chancellor has a difficult balancing. While many of my constituents in the private sector are seeing earnings fall, taking pay cuts or losing their jobs losing jobs it’s difficult to justify public sector pay rises for all. The ‘pay gap’ ie difference between salaries for the same job in public and private sectors has swung to favour the public sector by about 5% and that’s before pension differences. But it is important to recognise the amazing work done by the NHS this year, and so over a million nurses, doctors and other NHS staff will get rises and around 2.1 million public sector workers who earn below the average of £24,000 will be guaranteed to a pay rise of at least £250.

But aren’t you giving yourselves a pay rise?
No. MPs pay is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) who have a statutory duty to review this without any MPs involvement in their decision. I made clear in my response to a consultation a month ago that I don’t think it’s right for MPs to get any increase this year. The PM has said the same thing. But we don’t and can’t decide – the ball is in IPSA’s court. But since their decisions are based on other public pay announcements, I would be disappointed if they didn’t get the message.

Will we stay in Tier 2 long term?
Restrictions will be reviewed every two weeks (the first review is on the 16th December) using the latest  data. We must all follow the rules now so that we don't move up tiers. Moving to Tier 3 would not be good news at all

So when do the restrictions end?
March 31 2021. It would be fantastic if  we can move back to Tier 1 before the end of the Restrictions  and if the end of March sees the end of restrictions full stop
 
Meanwhile who do we contact for help?
Useful contacts:
 
My office: 01452 501 167 
Age UK: 0800 055 6112
Eastgate St Access St NHS Centre: 01452 336290
JCP:  0845 604 3719
Mental Health (NHS): 0300 421 8100
Your Councillors (if not sure who, do look at the City Council website to find out there).

I hope this is helpful.

Best regards,

Richard

PS do send me your reactions to richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk 

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