Gareth Bacon MP (Con) asked on 27th April what steps the Government is taking to promote rural broadband. Rebecca Pow MP (Con) answered on 5th May, that they are working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure rural businesses and communities get the connectivity they need. She said that the Government is investing ‘record amounts’ to level up digital infrastructure across the UK, connecting some of the hardest to reach places in the country, including through the Superfast Broadband Programme and the £200 million Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme.
During a debate on the 6th May on the census, Hywel Williams MP (PC) raised the issue of poor internet or no internet at all, as is the case in much of ‘rural Wales’. He asked the Minister to update on the arrangements with community organisations to support people to access the census.
On Tuesday 5th May, the Government published guidance for local authorities on how they can safely re-open their Household Waste and Recycling Centres. Also on Tuesday, during the Government’s daily press conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP (Con) responded to a question from the public on how we can ‘embed our reflective learning to address inequality’ and ‘continue to invest and empower local communities to thrive’. The Foreign Secretary said the crisis ‘has been a timely reminder’ about the need to ‘level up’ the country. Also on Tuesday, the Government updated its latest information for farmers, landowners and rural businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, to enable users to complete the RLE1 form electronically.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD) asked whether parish and town councils are eligible bodies for, and can therefore apply to, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Small Business Grant Fund, and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund. Lord Greenhalgh answered on 5th May, explaining that the grants have?been designed to support smaller?and rural businesses?and?some of the sectors which have been hit hardest by the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Saqib Bhatti MP (Con) asked what steps the Government is taking to support businesses in villages to recover from the economic effect of the COVID-19 outbreak. Paul Scully MP (Con) answered on 5th May that the Government has provided £13 billion of grant funding to help small and rural businesses and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors manage their cashflow through this period. Laurence Robertson MP (Con) asked what recent discussions there have been with national suppliers and wholesalers on encouraging them to provide small and more frequent deliveries to rural and isolated community shops. Paul Scully MP (Con) answered on 5th May that the Government recognises ‘the vital role played by community shops in our rural communities, acting as hubs for local people and having a positive impact on the communities they serve’. He added that decisions taken regarding contractual relationships are best taken by individual suppliers and wholesalers who know their operations and customer demand in far greater detail than Government can.
On Wednesday 6th May, the Government announced that more than one million food boxes had been delivered those ‘at highest risk’ across England. Elsewhere, it was announced that a revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the pandemic. Separately, in a debate in the House of Lords on income equality and sustainability, Baroness Randerson (LD) stated that rural incomes ‘tend to be lower’, and that tourism is very important, but the hotels are shut and the festivals cancelled, and farming faces an uncertain future because of Brexit. She called for long-term investment as a priority – in education and infrastructure. In a debate on lifting the lockdown also on the 6th May, Peter Aldous MP (Con) called for holiday parks, campsites and self-catering holiday accommodation which are ‘well suited to adhering to workplace safety arrangements’ to be considered for phased and gradual reopening, to boost coastal and rural economies and provide people with the opportunity of a holiday in the UK.Elsewhere, it was announced that a revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the pandemic.
Baroness Manzoor (Con) asked what plans there are to have to provide all secondary school students with laptops and broadband routers; and what criteria they use to determine which students should receive any such provision. Baroness Berridge (Con) answered on Thursday 7th May that for those in rural areas or without a connection, schools will be able to ‘draw on support from the BBC’ which is broadcasting lessons on television; and may choose to draw on the many resources offers which have been made by publishers across the country.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, delivered a speech on Sunday 10th May reiterating the majority of the current lockdown requirements but setting out ‘the first sketch of a road map for reopening society’. Of particular note, people will be permitted to drive to other destinations for their daily exercise. There are no mileage limits for the distance people can travel for ‘unlimited exercise’. The proposed measures only apply to England, with Scotland and Wales choosing largely to maintain existing restrictions and the ‘Stay Home’ slogan.
Johnson announced additional steps planned for the coming weeks to lift restrictions, including:
Individuals will also be allowed to meet with someone (but only one person at a time) who is not from their household, if they are outdoors and social distancing is observed.
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