Firstly, apologies for my delayed October newsletter. As you will know the last few days have seen developments unfold quickly, and I wanted to wait before sending to you all my thoughts on the latest COVID-19 guidance.
It is with a heavy heart that I last night voted in support of the second lockdown provisions. I had hoped we could manage coronavirus through a system of regional alert levels, while allowing as much of our economy as possible to continue, and friends and family to be able to see each other. However, the virus is now spreading faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers. The latest modelling suggests that unless we take further action now, we will see deaths peak above what we saw in April.
This is a national issue. While the virus is more widespread in the North West, it is doubling faster across the South East. The "R" rate (the rate that the virus reproduces at) is above one in every part of the country, meaning exponential growth everywhere. The latest data for the Sevenoaks district shows a rapid increase in the number of new positive COVID-19 cases; for the seven days to 28th October, 111 new cases were diagnosed, which represents a rate of 91.9 per 100,000 population. While these numbers are small in comparison to the national average (225.8 cases per 100,000 for the same date range) the cases in Sevenoaks have increased by 50% in two weeks – which is 17.5% higher than the national average. We must take action now to protect our NHS capacity, both for COVID and for non-COVID patients.
Having spoken regularly to local businesses, I am under no illusions how difficult a second lockdown will be for those who have already had to endure unimaginable hardship. I welcomed the Chancellors decision to offer vital business support throughout November, as well as the accommodations made to help with the mental health burden lockdown inevitably places on individuals and families. However, I do think further exemptions are necessary. I am pushing for the Government to include tennis, golf and children's sports in their list. I also have grave concerns about residents of care homes who have been months without visitors. I want the Government to explore the possibility of testing one visitor for each resident so that no one is without their friends and family for a further sustained period. I have raised this in the Health and Social Care Committee (of which I am a member) and I will continue to do so with ministers.
I thank you, as always, for your patience and cooperation. I remain thoroughly proud of how our community has come together in this national crisis.
I will continue to post the latest Sevenoaks district data on my Facebook page and if you need help, or have any questions, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
MP for Sevenoaks and Swanley
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October also saw my Private Members Bill receive its Second Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill creates a duty for businesses who administer Botox or cosmetic fillers to ensure that they do not treat any person under 18. Private Members Bills are the only way backbench MPs can introduce legislation and I am delighted the Bill has secured Government support. I have written in Grazia on the importance of the Bill, and the need to protect our children in what is currently an unregulated industry. I pledged during my election to help protect our families and children and this is just one step towards achieving that.
Many of you have been in touch over the last few weeks voicing your concerns about the Government’s proposed house building targets – particularly given the local impact it will have here in Sevenoaks. These are concerns I share. Last month I spoke in the Backbench Business debate on the Planning Reforms in the House of Commons to argue for more greenbelt protection and for our numbers to be reduced. We must protect our Green Belt and any housing expectations must not be blind to the local geographical circumstances when looking to achieve this. Sevenoaks District Council have been brilliant in delivering sustainable housing, with the consent of the community. We must allow them to continue to do so.
I raised the issue of funding for the Stag Theatre in the House of Commons, and was absolutely delighted to hear it had been awarded £445,395 from Arts Council England and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – securing its future until April 2021. The grant is apt recognition of the enormous amount of work the town council, district council and leadership of The Stag have put in to keeping the theatre going in this difficult period. For nearly 90 years, the Stag has been at the beating heart of Sevenoaks. I am excited that we are now one step closer to it surviving another 90 years.
I was also thrilled to hear that Sevenoaks Town FC has been awarded £7,000 by the Premier League. I was lucky enough to visit the club over the summer, where I met with Chairman Paul Lansdale. We discussed both the great community work being carried out by the club and the challenges of COVID. I know this funding will make a huge difference and I congratulate all involved for securing it.
Following a conversation with our local NHS Trust, who confirmed their plan to continue with elective operations throughout the winter (as long as it is safe to do so), I urged the Prime Minister in the House of Commons to allow these decisions to be locally led.
Maternity safety is an issue I feel very strongly about. As part of the most recent Health and Social Care Committee enquiry into ‘Safety of maternity services in England’ I asked the witnesses what can be done to make sure women are offered the medical interventions they need during childbirth.
I had the pleasure of formally opening Knockholt Books. Local people, working together with the parish and district council, have created not only a valuable service during lockdown, but now a lasting asset to the community. Congratulations to all involved.