Richard Holden: On Wednesday, Sunak needs to display as much confidence in Britain as local publications are showing in North West Durham

6 Jul

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Dairy Barn Cafe, North Bitchburn

As Saturday approached, you could feel the febrile excitement and demand for “the story” across the media. Television news and radio bulletins boiled over with predictions of carnage on Saturday night. The broadcasters and papers were eagerly anticipating Freshers Week-esque scenes of drunken debauchery as the public decided to get wasted in a post-lockdown bacchanal.

In North West Durham, I spent Saturday evening visiting the: Duke of Wellington, Consett Rugby Club, the Wheatsheaf in Leadgate and finally the Black Lion, my local in Wolsingham. I’m afraid that I must report that calm and friendly were the orders of the evenings – as it appears were the scenes across the rest of the country too.

Tog, the landlord of the Duke, four doors down from my office on Medomsley Road, took me to his beer garden to show me a mural he’d commissioned during lockdown from a local artist. Sarah-Jane, at the Black Lion, had me take a peak at how she’d transformed her beer garden from a flagged smoking area to a lively and welcoming garden of tables, tasteful lighting and colourful plants and flowers.

It was superb to see responsible local businesses at the heart of their communities investing in their businesses, and ensuring a safe and socially distanced experience for their customers. This hope of better things to come from local firms, with small but significant investments in themselves, is really welcome at a time when I know so many people are not only worried by the virus, but also about their jobs and their incomes.

However, in many sectors of the economy the broad economic impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic is coming through hard, and is reflecting just how interconnected demand is across our economy.

To give one example: at first as the crisis broke, I had travel agents and their staff get in touch. Then came had pilots and crew from Easyjet and British Airways based at Newcastle airport, as the airlines cut back. More recently, I’ve been in touch with a local manufacturing firm which makes inner parts for the wings of Airbus planes, and which is having to lay off half its staff (some of their factories across the UK have closed completely and will not re-open).

Very quickly, the lack of ability to – and demand for – travel has led to manufacturing job losses well down the chain. It’s clear that some sectors have been far more badly affected than others, and that base consumer demand is having a rapid knock-on effect.

Looking out of the panoramic window of the just re-opened Dairy Barn Café, I can see right up Weardale, and am reminded of a conversation I had early in the last election campaign. “Remember, we’re the working dale, Richard” a man in late middle-age in local authority housing in Stanhope had said to me.

At the time it made me think of where I grew up on the other side of the Pennines – walking up Pendle Hill in Lancashire 20 years ago, and looking south to the mill towns of East Lancashire nestled in the valleys below. Working towns like Burnley, Colne and Accrington which have since switched to electing Conservative MPs.

As the furlough scheme, which protected so many jobs at the height of the lockdown is wound down, we’ve got to do everything we can to help return demand to the economy – the demand that comes from confidence in the future. Demand that means work for decent working people up and down the seats of the ‘Blue Wall’.

This confidence and positive view to the future is not something anyone’s hearing from the Labour leadership under Keir Starmer. The best thing he could muster last week was to suggest that the Government was giving “mixed messages” by saying, “get out and about, have a drink, but do so safely”.  Which shows that he’s struggling to get cut-through – especially when the man in the village pub in County Durham is by and large is doing exactly what the Government has suggested.

Labour’s shambolic response to getting children back to school, by saying one thing nationally and another in Labour-run local authorities, certainly inspires no-one with confidence – except a growing confidence that Sir Keir is a political opportunist. He was, after all, remarkably quiet on anti-semitism under Jeremy Corbyn, in order to keep hold of Momentum votes for the leadership. And he tried to play both sides with Labour’s disastrous “we’ll accept the result, but negotiate a new deal, and then have a second referendum” policy on Brexit.

Perhaps most interestingly, this weekend marked the first time that any constituent has mentioned the Labour leader to me unprompted. She was a former Labour voter who switched to the Conservatives in 2017 (and had managed to convince her husband to do so in 2019), and it was clear that, after being initially open-minded, the new Labour leader was leaving them increasingly cool.

The Government has done well in giving support to business and jobs – Rishi Sunak has certainly won fans across the country for that. But without wanting to pile too much pressure on the Chancellor ahead of his statement on Wednesday, we’re all only as good as our most recent decisions in politics.

As we move out of the initial stages of lockdown, Rishi’s decision must be to put confidence as much confidence and therefore demand back into the economy – especially in hard hit sectors – as he can. Everyone knows that it’s going to a difficult time and no-one expects the Government to get everything a hundred per cent right, but voters do expect us to really try.

And in doing so over the next few weeks and months, the Government has got to show the confidence in Britain that my local publicans in North West Durham are showing. And, as they press ahead with “levelling up” their pubs, we must also keep that long-term goal in mind too for the North.

Confidence is the thing that underlies every relationship with the state that we have – from policing with consent to the value of the fiat currency in our pocket. Confidence that governments have the people in mind and the ability to deliver is what keeps them in office.

The electorate here in County Durham and in the mill Towns of East Lancashire took us into their confidence and bestowed their votes upon us. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the Government has supported people. Now our task is to give our businesses the confidence to look to the future positively, which will in turn give the people who work for them the confidence to invest and spend in a virtuous circle, bouncing forward out of the fear of recent months and towards the hope of a brighter future.

Richard Holden: On Wednesday, Sunak needs to display as much confidence in Britain as local publications are showing in North West Durham

6 Jul

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Dairy Barn Cafe, North Bitchburn

As Saturday approached, you could feel the febrile excitement and demand for “the story” across the media. Television news and radio bulletins boiled over with predictions of carnage on Saturday night. The broadcasters and papers were eagerly anticipating Freshers Week-esque scenes of drunken debauchery as the public decided to get wasted in a post-lockdown bacchanal.

In North West Durham, I spent Saturday evening visiting the: Duke of Wellington, Consett Rugby Club, the Wheatsheaf in Leadgate and finally the Black Lion, my local in Wolsingham. I’m afraid that I must report that calm and friendly were the orders of the evenings – as it appears were the scenes across the rest of the country too.

Tog, the landlord of the Duke, four doors down from my office on Medomsley Road, took me to his beer garden to show me a mural he’d commissioned during lockdown from a local artist. Sarah-Jane, at the Black Lion, had me take a peak at how she’d transformed her beer garden from a flagged smoking area to a lively and welcoming garden of tables, tasteful lighting and colourful plants and flowers.

It was superb to see responsible local businesses at the heart of their communities investing in their businesses, and ensuring a safe and socially distanced experience for their customers. This hope of better things to come from local firms, with small but significant investments in themselves, is really welcome at a time when I know so many people are not only worried by the virus, but also about their jobs and their incomes.

However, in many sectors of the economy the broad economic impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic is coming through hard, and is reflecting just how interconnected demand is across our economy.

To give one example: at first as the crisis broke, I had travel agents and their staff get in touch. Then came had pilots and crew from Easyjet and British Airways based at Newcastle airport, as the airlines cut back. More recently, I’ve been in touch with a local manufacturing firm which makes inner parts for the wings of Airbus planes, and which is having to lay off half its staff (some of their factories across the UK have closed completely and will not re-open).

Very quickly, the lack of ability to – and demand for – travel has led to manufacturing job losses well down the chain. It’s clear that some sectors have been far more badly affected than others, and that base consumer demand is having a rapid knock-on effect.

Looking out of the panoramic window of the just re-opened Dairy Barn Café, I can see right up Weardale, and am reminded of a conversation I had early in the last election campaign. “Remember, we’re the working dale, Richard” a man in late middle-age in local authority housing in Stanhope had said to me.

At the time it made me think of where I grew up on the other side of the Pennines – walking up Pendle Hill in Lancashire 20 years ago, and looking south to the mill towns of East Lancashire nestled in the valleys below. Working towns like Burnley, Colne and Accrington which have since switched to electing Conservative MPs.

As the furlough scheme, which protected so many jobs at the height of the lockdown is wound down, we’ve got to do everything we can to help return demand to the economy – the demand that comes from confidence in the future. Demand that means work for decent working people up and down the seats of the ‘Blue Wall’.

This confidence and positive view to the future is not something anyone’s hearing from the Labour leadership under Keir Starmer. The best thing he could muster last week was to suggest that the Government was giving “mixed messages” by saying, “get out and about, have a drink, but do so safely”.  Which shows that he’s struggling to get cut-through – especially when the man in the village pub in County Durham is by and large is doing exactly what the Government has suggested.

Labour’s shambolic response to getting children back to school, by saying one thing nationally and another in Labour-run local authorities, certainly inspires no-one with confidence – except a growing confidence that Sir Keir is a political opportunist. He was, after all, remarkably quiet on anti-semitism under Jeremy Corbyn, in order to keep hold of Momentum votes for the leadership. And he tried to play both sides with Labour’s disastrous “we’ll accept the result, but negotiate a new deal, and then have a second referendum” policy on Brexit.

Perhaps most interestingly, this weekend marked the first time that any constituent has mentioned the Labour leader to me unprompted. She was a former Labour voter who switched to the Conservatives in 2017 (and had managed to convince her husband to do so in 2019), and it was clear that, after being initially open-minded, the new Labour leader was leaving them increasingly cool.

The Government has done well in giving support to business and jobs – Rishi Sunak has certainly won fans across the country for that. But without wanting to pile too much pressure on the Chancellor ahead of his statement on Wednesday, we’re all only as good as our most recent decisions in politics.

As we move out of the initial stages of lockdown, Rishi’s decision must be to put confidence as much confidence and therefore demand back into the economy – especially in hard hit sectors – as he can. Everyone knows that it’s going to a difficult time and no-one expects the Government to get everything a hundred per cent right, but voters do expect us to really try.

And in doing so over the next few weeks and months, the Government has got to show the confidence in Britain that my local publicans in North West Durham are showing. And, as they press ahead with “levelling up” their pubs, we must also keep that long-term goal in mind too for the North.

Confidence is the thing that underlies every relationship with the state that we have – from policing with consent to the value of the fiat currency in our pocket. Confidence that governments have the people in mind and the ability to deliver is what keeps them in office.

The electorate here in County Durham and in the mill Towns of East Lancashire took us into their confidence and bestowed their votes upon us. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, the Government has supported people. Now our task is to give our businesses the confidence to look to the future positively, which will in turn give the people who work for them the confidence to invest and spend in a virtuous circle, bouncing forward out of the fear of recent months and towards the hope of a brighter future.

July 4: The businesses that are resuming, the rationale for reopening them and the rules that they face

24 Jun

Yesterday there was huge jubilation at the news that pubs, restaurants and staycation resorts, among other facilities, will be able to reopen on July 4.

ConservativeHome has listed which ones will be opening here, but we shall also elaborate on what the guidelines are for each business – as well as explaining why some have not made the cut.

First thing’s first:

What’s clear is that it will not be “business as usual” for employers around the UK, as many will face stringent guidelines around their operations – so as to prevent further outbreaks of Covid-19.

One of these measures will be social distancing.

How far apart?

While the dreaded two-metre (six foot) social distancing rule has been revised, the Prime Minister has recommended people stay a distance of “one metre plus”; in essence, staying at least one metre apart while taking precautionary measures to reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission.

What are these precautionary measures?

Generally businesses are advised to space out customers and staff as much as possible, improve ventilation and keep surfaces (and hands) clean.

The Government has also posted a huge amount of specific guidance for those working in different sectors, such as construction and other outdoor work, hotels and other guest accommodation and the visitor economy, as these each face their own unique challenges.

Pubs, bars and takeaway services

While most Brits cannot wait to rush back to the pub, publicans – and similar business owners – face lots of issues in reopening.

Perhaps the most controversial rule is that customers will have to give their contact details whenever they enter a pub or restaurant – in case they need to be contacted for the Government’s test and trace programme. They will also be limited to table service.

The Government’s guidance for pubs, bars and takeaway services spans a total of 43 pages. Other suggestions for these businesses (and there are many) include:

  • using screens or barriers to separate workers from each other and workers from customers at points of service;
  • calculating the number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing guidelines at a venue;
  • working with local authorities to take into account the impact of processes, such as queues, on high streets, and
  • encouraging customers to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities.
Hotels and other guest accommodation

Following the Government’s announcements, lots of Brits can’t wait to book a “staycation”. But these, too, will be mired in complicated measures. The guidance for hotels and other such businesses is fairly similar to that for pubs and restaurants, with suggestions such as:

  • encouraging guests to wear masks on communal corridors;
  • considering minimising lift usage from reception;
  • closing shared facilities, such as communal kitchens, and
  • cleaning keys between guests.
Businesses in “close contact services” (hair salons)

While the Government has refused to open tattoo parlours and nail salons, it is giving hairdressers the green light. But they will be required to wear face masks and visors in order to operate. Other measures for similar companies include:

  • adapting appointments to reduce the interaction and overlap between customers;
  • creating a “one-way flow” of clients through the premises;
  • minimising contact between different workers serving a client (photographers, models and makeup artists, for instance), and
  • encouraging clients to arrive at their scheduled time of appointment.

In addition, all businesses are being encouraged to conduct a risk assessment for Covid-19 in their workplace and then share the results with employees.

The Government has asked employers with over 50 workers to publish the results on their websites, and asked them to display a notification ” in a prominent place in your business and on [their] website” so as to show the public they have taken measures.

Why are some businesses not allowed to open?

During his speech to the House of Commons, Boris Johnson stated that “close proximity venues” would have to stay closed, such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms and swimming pools – although he added that “the business and culture secretaries will establish taskforces with the public health experts and these sectors to help them become Covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.”

As well as the proximity factor, the decision to reopen outdoors gyms, but not indoors ones, may reflect increasing research that summer sunlight helps to kill off Covid-19. A new study indicates that it can do this in thirty minutes.

Has there been backlash?

Those in the fitness industry have understandably been cross with the Government’s choice of businesses to reopen.

Jane Nickerson, the CEO of Swim England, called the decision “appalling” and told The Times “Many will fail to understand how pubs, restaurants, cinemas, museums and hair salons have been given the go-ahead to open on July 4 but not chlorine-filled swimming pools”.

PureGym has been equally vocal, in a statement saying: “We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms”.

The Government’s ban on cricket – Johnson called the ball “a natural vector of disease” – promoted concern from Greg Clark, the Tory MP, who urged the Prime Minister to “save the season“, as well as Michael Vaughan, former England cricket captain, who said it was “nonsense“.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has reassured that the Government was hoping to get sports facilities open by mid-July. But there will be increasingly calls for this to be accelerated – and the Government will, in all likelihood, face increasing demands to explain why these businesses have been singled out.

Any other issues?

As always in the Covid-19 wars, the approach across the United Kingdom has varied depending on region.

In Wales, for instance, tourism providers can only take bookings for stays beginning on July 13. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, nail bars can reopen on July 6.

Nicola Sturgeon has said that pubs and restaurants can re-open from July 15, and still has the two-metre rule in place – making her perhaps the most resistant to England’s move.

So it’s “business as usual” in some senses…