The covid restrictions that have applied across the country came to an end this week, but following a vote in parliament this Tuesday, we now have a new system of tiers which mean stringent rules still apply to us in Greater Manchester.
I understand the need for continued restrictions, although I know how frustrating they are for businesses and families in my constituency. The rate of infection in Greater Manchester is reducing quite rapidly, and I hope we may see measures relaxed before too long, especially as the financial support that’s available to businesses that are forced to close, or individuals who’ve lost their jobs or are furloughed, simply isn’t good enough. But some Conservative MPs are opposed to restrictions because they think they infringe individual freedom, and a number voted against their own government. For myself, I’d rather give up some freedom for a bit longer to help relieve pressure on hospitals and keep people safe, especially as we are now beginning to see the arrival of the first stocks of vaccines that may finally get us out of this appalling pandemic. Labour didn’t oppose the proposed restrictions when it came to the vote, but we will certainly continue to press for a stronger financial support package for Greater Manchester and other areas that have been under stricter rules going right back to the summer.
The harsher impact of the virus on our region also has implications for school and college students, and on Thursday, I was up at the horribly early time of 5 am to head off to the TV and radio studios to talk about the government’s attempt to make next summer’s exams fairer to those students. By 1030 am, I had half a dozen interviews under my belt, and headed into the chamber to question secretary of state Gavin Williamson. In recent weeks, I’ve met headteachers and year 11-13 students in my constituency to hear their concerns about exams and lost learning time during the pandemic. The package of measures the government’s announced includes advance information about what to expect in the exam papers and reserve papers for students who can’t sit the exam on the day allocated. I doubt the plans go far enough to reassure students in Stretford and Urmston that they’ll be treated on a level playing field compared to students in parts of the country that have suffered less disruption.
This Saturday is Small Business Saturday, when I do my best to promote and support our local small businesses. I went to meet local business Stitched Up in Stretford Mall to hear about some of the challenges they’re facing as a result of the pandemic. This great workers’ cooperative is all about promoting sustainable clothing and is offering some great programmes to help local people learn new skills and enjoy reusing textiles. Bryony at Stitched Up told me how uncertain things have been since they opened just before the national restrictions in November, and promptly had to close again, but they have now reopened. Financial support with business rates has been really important to help their costs, however, and there is also considerable uncertainty about whether that will continue in the new year. Please do think about shopping in our great local small businesses this weekend – in such a tough year, they need our support more than ever.
Next Friday 11 December at 2 pm, I’m teaming up with the Federation of Small Businesses to host a zoom roundtable with local business owners to discuss what more support they need and how I can help to represent them in parliament. If you run a small business in my constituency and would like to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make sure to send you an invitation.