West Berkshire and Wokingham moved to Tier 3

Berkshire MPs met earlier this week to discuss the possible move of Berkshire into the highest Tier of CV 19 controls. Several of us agreed on a joint approach to the Secretary of State urging him to look at the data in smaller areas than the whole County and to keep in Tier 2 those parts and places where the numbers of cases could justify that. We were also swayed by figures saying the NHS was coping well with spare capacity still available.

These representations did not succeed, so the government has decided to place the whole of Berkshire in Tier3, where Slough has been since the system was first introduced. I will continue to urge the government to improve the scope and generosity of its assistance to small business, as many of them will suffer again from the tougher lock down.

Small Business Saturday

On Saturday 5th December I visited local businesses to see how they were bearing up under the controls and to thank them for the service they have supplied to our local community over the last difficult year. As always small business have shown resolve and flexibility, to tackle the changing rules and provide ways of operating that reduce the risk of people catching the virus.

Christmas Travel Window

I have received this update from the Secretary of State for Transport:

Dear John

I am writing to provide you with an update on the Government’s preparations for the Christmas period.

The Government recently published guidance to help families and friends see each other over the Christmas period – and to do so as safely as possible. Between 23rd and 27th of December or between 22nd and 28th of December for those travelling to and from Northern Ireland, travel restrictions across the UK and between tiers will be lifted to allow three households to come together. Once at their destination, people should follow the rules in that tier.

We are working with transport operators to help people see their loved ones, safely. We ask everyone to closely consider their journey, plan and book ahead, be patient, and be considerate of fellow passengers – and particularly staff who have worked so hard all year – by following the guidance carefully, including keeping space and wearing a face covering on public transport.

To help people travel safely and minimise disruption as far as possible over the Christmas period, we are deploying a series of measures.

  • On our strategic road network of motorways and trunk roads, Highways England have cleared a total of 778 miles of roadworks, meaning that 96% of the network will be unaffected. Where essential work must continue, speed limits will be set at 60mph (rather than 50mph) where possible to keep disruption to a minimum.
  • Ministers have written to all Local Authorities in England with the request that they lift as many roadworks as possible and ensure bus services are running reliably over the period, to ease traffic on local roads.
  • Network Rail will ensure that over 95% of the network will be unaffected by engineering works over the Christmas period. Where essential works must continue, replacement buses will be available.
  • We are also working with train operators, a number of whom have already confirmed they will run longer trains and increase service levels. For example, longer trains will run on Anglo-Scotland and Liverpool routes to boost the number of seats at anticipated busy times on the West Coast Main Line. Chiltern Railway will also run additional services on the 27 December, and East Midlands Railway will run a full intercity timetable over the Christmas period.
  • The Government is also waiving change of journey admin fees for Advance rail tickets sold before the announcement of new Covid tiers on 26th November, ensuring passengers are not left out of pocket for changing their tickets to comply with the guidance.

To provide further support to passengers, Network Rail and train operators have been asked to ensure extra staff are in place at key stations to provide assistance. British Transport Police will also be deploying extra officers to help keep passengers safe.

All transport operators have been asked to increase the clarity and regularity of communications with passengers, to help them plan their journeys, warn of any disruption and offer support.

Finally, to protect and support the resilience of transport workers on the frontline, we are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and transport operators on rapid testing at selected sites, the first of which is going live next week.

Further details on these measures can be found in the annex.

To help provide rigorous scrutiny of these plans, the Government has appointed Sir Peter Hendy – Chair of Network Rail – who will work alongside operators and the Department for Transport. He will ensure there is a collective focus across the transport industry on minimising disruption and supporting passengers.

We are also continuing to work with the Devolved Administrations on our plans to ensure we take an aligned approach as far as possible.

I am confident that the measures set out above will ensure that people can travel as safely and reliably as possible if they choose to, and we are doing everything we can to help people see their loved ones safely this Christmas.

Yours ever,

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRANSPORT

2020 Christmas Arrangements

Dear John,

Further to yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister and the COVID-19 Winter Plan, we have reached agreement between the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on arrangements for the Christmas period. Christmas is an important time of year for many people in the UK, regardless of their faith.

COVID-19 continues, however, to pose a very real and ongoing threat. It will not be possible to take full advantage of the winter holiday season and to celebrate Christmas in the normal way.

We recognise that there will be some hard choices for families and friends, and that there will be situations where it is not possible to gather in the way many usually would. In this context, we have reached agreement on a single set of UK-wide measures to help people come together with their loved ones in a way that is as safe as possible.

  • Between 23 and 27 December, up to three households will be able to join together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble.
  • Everyone can be in one bubble only, and cannot change bubble during this time period (an exemption to this is children, aged under 18, of separated parents).
  • People (e.g. nannies, cleaners, tradespeople) can continue to work in someone’s home where necessary during this period. To reduce risk, they should observe social distancing wherever possible, and where it can be avoided should not go into homes that are hosting Christmas bubbles.
  • A Christmas bubble will be able to spend time together in private homes, to attend places of worship, or meet in a public outdoor place.
  • Travel restrictions across the UK will be lifted to allow people to travel to and from their bubble. But beyond this, people should follow local restrictions in the area in which they are staying.

Even where it is within the rules, meeting with friends and family over Christmas will be a matter of personal judgement for individuals, mindful of the risks to themselves and others.

People should as much as possible reduce unnecessary social contact with those with whom they do not live in the two weeks before forming their Christmas bubble. We need everyone to think carefully about what they do during this period, balancing some increased social contact with the need to keep risk of increased virus transmission as low as possible. This is particularly important when considering those who are vulnerable and elderly.

The clinically extremely vulnerable can form part of a Christmas bubble, but this would be a personal choice and should be balanced against the increased risk of infection for those people.

Given the additional risks, visits out of care homes should only be considered for care home residents of working age, where the home is in agreement, and has completed an individual risk assessment.

Parents should continue to send their children to school and students should continue to attend college, in line with local guidance. The UK’s four Chief Medical Officers continue to advise that the best place for children and young people is in education. There is no need for children to be taken out of school early.

It is essential that everyone follows the rules applicable to where they are in the UK. In England, that means continuing to follow the local tiers that will apply from 2 December. It will be particularly important for everyone to follow the social distancing guidelines early in the new year. Historically, this period is when the NHS sees the greatest pressure on services such as Accident & Emergency, and the highest rates of bed occupancy, and this year the NHS is dealing with COVID-19 as well.

Further information and guidance can be found on gov.uk:

While this will not be a normal Christmas, we hope that this UK-wide agreement will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.

With every good wish,

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and

Minister for the Cabinet Office

Remembrance Sunday

Today we remember all those who gave their lives so we could live in freedom in a democratic country.

I delivered my wreath to Wokingham Town Hall last week to be placed on the War Memorial in the Town Hall. I was told we could not present them today in a ceremony as it is inside.

I recorded a reading for the Wokingham Service at 2.45pm this afternoon, and will watch the service on the link supplied by the All Saints Church website. I am grateful to those who have organised this memorial Service.

The best way we can show our appreciation for the suffering and loss of those who were killed or injured in conflict is to uphold and use the freedoms they fought to defend.

New National Restrictions – Economic Support

I have received this update from the Chancellor:

I wrote to you in September highlighting the positive impact of the comprehensive and generous £200 billion package of support we have brought in since March to protect jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

In response to the new national restrictions announced by the Prime Minister to help tackle the spread of coronavirus, we are today confirming what support the Government will offer to help support businesses and individuals during this period.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

I am confirming today that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will be extended until 2 December 2020.

The scheme will operate on the same terms as the previous scheme and mirror the levels of support available under the scheme in August – this means that the government will pay 80 per cent of wages up to a cap of £2,500 for hours not worked.

Employers will not have to make any contribution to their employees’ wages for the hours not worked – they will only be asked to cover National Insurance and Employer pension contributions, which for the average claim accounts for just 5 per cent of total employment costs (or £70 per employee per month). Claims can be made from next week and as previously, paid within 6 working days.

The extended scheme will be open to new entrants; specifically, employees must have been employed and on an employer’s PAYE payroll on or before 30 October 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 30 October 2020.

Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the CJRS to make a claim. Employees employed as of 23 September (day of the Job Support Scheme announcement) and notified to HMRC by RTI on or before that date, who have since been made redundant can be rehired and placed on the Scheme.

Support for the self-employed

Today, the Government is also announcing that we will provide more generous support to the self-employed and will pay that support more quickly. We are increasing the support to the self-employed from 40 per cent of trading profits to 80 per cent for November. As SEISS grants are calculated over 3 months, this increases the total level of the grant from 40 per cent to 55 per cent of trading profits for November to January and the maximum grant will increase to £5,160.

This provides broadly equivalent support to the self-employed as we are providing to employees through the government contribution in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in November and then the Job Support Scheme in the two subsequent months. HMRC will pay this more generous grant sooner than planned and in good time for Christmas – the window for claiming a grant will open on 30 November, two weeks earlier than previously announced.

Loan extensions

We have announced that we plan to extend our loan schemes – the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Future Fund – to the end of January.

We will also adjust the Bounce Back Loan Scheme rules to allow those businesses who have taken out less than their maximum (i.e. less than 25 per cent of their turnover) to top-up their existing loan giving businesses greater flexibility and support. Businesses will be able to take up this option from next week; they can make use of this option once.

Mortgage payment holidays

Mortgage payment holidays will continue to be available for homeowners. Borrowers who have been impacted by coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six-month holiday and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to a maximum of six months without this being recorded on their credit file. The FCA will announce further details on the scheme, including how customers can continue to apply for this support.

Support for local businesses in England

Throughout the crisis, we have provided support for businesses. We are today confirming that businesses which are forced to close due to the new restrictions will receive up to £3,000 per month – this is worth over £1 billion a month under the new national restrictions and will benefit over 600,000 businesses.

Businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors that have been suffering from reduced demand for a while due to local restrictions will receive back dated grants at 70 per cent of the value of closed grants (up to £2,100 per month) for this period.

We are also providing one off funding of £1.1 billion to local authorities to support businesses more broadly over the coming months, who are a key part of our local economies.

More funding for English Local Authorities to support their local healthcare response

Up to £500 million will be provided to local councils for local public health initiatives, such as additional contact tracing, testing for hard-to-reach groups and communications.

The Contain Outbreak Management Fund has already supported several English Upper Tier Local Authorities to fund local public health initiatives. Where necessary, they will have this funding topped up to a maximum of £8 per head of population. If they have not received any to date, they will be entitled to the full £8 per head.

We are also providing additional funding to local authorities to support the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable now that revised guidance is in place nationally. Funding will be provided of up to £14.60 per Clinically Extremely Vulnerable person for the 28-day period that the restrictions are in force. We will review this funding after the 28-day period should the strictest guidance remain in place in any one area once the initial 28-day period is over.

Alongside our £200 billion package of support committed since March, these announcements will give businesses the support and flexibility to adjust and plan over the coming months.

RT HON RISHI SUNAK MP

Remembrance

Last year Remembrance Day fell during the General Election. As a result there were no serving MPs and I was not able to lay a wreath.

This year there will be no official wreath laying owing to CV19 precautions. I have therefore delivered a wreath to Wokingham Town Hall so the staff can add the wreath from me as MP to the wreaths laid last year by others. I also agreed to attend a much slimmed down Church service next Sunday which I assume will be cancelled given the likely new lockdown rules.

Guidance to commercial property owners

I recently received this answer to a Parliamentary Question from the Government:

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (106880):

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what steps he is taking to issue guidance to commercial property owners who wish to (a) improve or (b) modify their air flow, heating and air extraction systems to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. (106880)

Tabled on: 21 October 2020

Answer:
Paul Scully:

Evidence shows that proper ventilation can be used to mitigate the transmission risk of COVID-19, alongside other measures. Ventilation into the building should be optimised to ensure the maximum fresh air supply is provided to all areas of the facility wherever possible.

Our workplace guidance includes a number of steps that will usually be needed to ensure that ventilation systems provide a good supply of fresh air. It is important that businesses check whether ventilation systems need to be services or adjusted. If businesses and employers are unsure we advise they seek advice from their heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers or advisers.

The workplace guidance broken down by business type/environment can be found here: www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

The answer was submitted on 29 Oct 2020 at 12:43.

Exams next year

The Secretary of State for Education has set out the position for 2021:


Arrangements for exams and assessments in 2021
I am writing following the announcement setting out arrangements for exams and assessments in summer 2021. I believe every student must have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning, gain the qualifications they deserve, and progress to the next stage of their lives.
We acknowledge that students due to sit exams next summer have experienced considerable disruption to their education, and it is right that we give them, and their teachers, more time to prepare.
We have worked with the sector, Ofqual and exam boards to agree that most summer exams and assessments will start three weeks later than planned, without delaying students from progressing to their next stage of education or training. In addition to changes to the content of assessments for certain subjects set by Ofqual, this will give pupils extra time to prepare. These changes primarily relate to England, as well as students elsewhere who undertake exams offered by boards operating in England with qualifications regulated by Ofqual.
We recognise that a shorter exam window, when combined with the risk of selfisolation, may mean that some students miss exams. To mitigate this I have announced that one maths and one English GCSE paper will take place before the May half term. This will ensure there is sufficient time between papers, allowing Year 11 pupils who need to self-isolate to sit at least one paper in these core subjects.
To ensure students can begin the following academic year as normal, results days for GCSE, AS, and A levels will take place across two days in the same week of August; AS and A levels on 24 August and GCSEs on 27 August. Students studying level 2 and 3 vocational and technical qualifications for progression will receive their results no later than these dates. We also expect that, for the majority of vocational and technical qualifications taken alongside or instead of GCSE, AS and A level exams, awarding organisations will look to align timetables with 2021 exams.
Additional support for lost teaching time
These arrangements are backed up by significant support to help students make up for lost teaching time. We have previously announced a catch-up package worth £1bn, including a ‘Catch-Up Premium’ worth £650m. Our expectation is that this funding will be spent on additional support to help children and young people catch up after a period of disruption

We also announced a new £350m National Tutoring Programme which will increase access to high-quality tuition for disadvantaged and vulnerable students, helping to accelerate their academic progress and tackling the attainment gap between them and their peers. In addition, the 16-19 Tuition Fund provides up to £96m for small group tutoring for disadvantaged students in sixth forms, colleges and all other 16-19 providers.
Our continued commitment to exams in uncertain times
We are working closely with Ofqual over the coming weeks to engage with teaching unions, exam boards and other stakeholders to develop contingencies for all scenarios that may impede students from sitting their exams fairly.
The Contain Framework includes expectations for how local lockdowns will affect education, including a statement that schools and colleges are to remain open. This government continues to make the education of children a priority, building on the remarkable efforts of teachers, students and parents across the country in keeping children in school – and in learning – through these challenging times.