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Rural Related Politics - An RSN weekly review

23 March 2020

Below is an RSN review of last week's rural related politics as well as a look forward to the week ahead:


Last week in politics 
(16 March -  2 March)
On Monday 16th March, in a debate on Covid-19, Ben Lake (PC) asked what consideration the Government have made of the possibility that some people, especially those living in London, may decide to move from more urban areas to rural areas, particularly with regards to additional resources being made available to local health authorities should there prove to be a significant shift in population.

On Monday 16th Selaine Saxby (Con) contributed to a debate on Budget Resolutions stating that Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust receives a rural premium of £3 million, but it believes that the deficit caused by remoteness is, in fact, £14 million. This then disadvantages other health systems in Devon, which have to supplement the difference.

On Tuesday 17th March, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden MP announced that the Government will legislate to ensure that new build homes come with gigabit-speed broadband ‘fit for the future’. Currently, one in five new build homes are being built without gigabit-speed connections, where the ‘cost can be higher or network operators have not had the time they need to build in connections before completion’. This new legislation will mean that developers will be ‘legally required’ to install high-quality digital infrastructure from the outset and ‘make it a priority as part of the build’. Broadband companies will be involved from the outset of these developments. The Government will also amend building regulations to guarantee that all new homes have the right infrastructure to support gigabit broadband, and housing developers will work with network operators to install internet speeds of over 1000 megabits per second, with a cost cap of £2,000 per new build. The Government has worked with operators to secure significant new commitments that they will ‘contribute to the costs of installing gigabit broadband in new build homes’. This new announcement fits into the Government’s wider plans to ‘level up the UK and accelerate the nationwide rollout of world-class broadband with the fastest speeds’.

On Tuesday 17th, in a debate on Income Tax, Kevin Hollinrake (Con) gave his maiden speech, arguing for super enterprise zones in devolved areas of the country, which he states could combine with enhanced capital allowances and no business rates.

On Tuesday 17th March, Richard Drax (Con) contributed to a debate on the Economic Update, arguing that we should bring back small bank branches that have closed over the years, particularly in rural communities that do not have access to them.

In the same debate, George Freeman (Con) argued that the policies of many of his local rural employers do not cover liability for epidemics, and asked whether it would be sensible to look at reinforcing the insurance industry, which has the wherewithal to deliver the support, so that those that have made money in the good years can help companies that really need it in tough times.

Written Questions

The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked, following the announcement about the delivery of 4G mobile signal to 95 per cent of the country on 25 October 2019, what assessment the Government has made of the proportion of the population that live in full 'not-spot' communities that will benefit from that delivery. Baroness Barran answered on 19 March that 97 per cent of UK premises outdoors are covered by 4G data services from all operators, while almost all UK premises have 4G data coverage from at least one operator. The Shared Rural Network will provide guaranteed additional coverage to 280,000 premises across the UK, both in areas that currently have no coverage from any operator, and those that have coverage from at least one operator but not all four. There will also be further indirect improvements over time, including better indoor coverage in around 1.2m business premises and homes.

On Friday, Paul Scully (Con) answered Tim Farron’s (LD) question on what plans the Government has for the provision of postal services in Oxenholme and Allithwaite in response to the closure of their post offices. Paul Scully answered that the overall number of post offices across the UK remains at its most stable in decades with over 11,500 branches thanks to Government investment of over £2 billion since 2010. While the Government sets the strategic direction for the Post Office, it allows the company the commercial freedom to deliver this strategy as an independent business. As such, provision of postal services in Oxenholme and Allithwaite is operational to Post Office Limited.

On Friday, Jesse Norman (Con) answered Nick Fletcher’s (Con) question about how small businesses will be able access the £3,000 cash grant. The Chancellor announced on 17 March that this grant will be increased to £10,000 for all businesses in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief, or Rural Rate Relief. In addition, retail businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000 will receive a cash grant of £25,000. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will write to Local Authorities this week to outline these schemes and will provide detailed guidance as soon as possible. Eligible businesses will be contacted by Local Authorities shortly afterwards to provide details on how to claim this money.

Covid-19 Update

On Wednesday 18th March, the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson MP issued a Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons, in which he announced that from Friday 20th March, schools in England will close to all but the ‘children of key workers’ such as healthcare staff, and the ‘most vulnerable children’ which includes those who have a social worker or educational health and social care plans. This will be ‘until further notice’.

On Thursday 19th March, the Government released a list of essential workers, whose children will continue to attend school following the recent school closures announcement. This included those working in health and social care, education and childcare, key public services food, transport and public safety.

On Saturday 21st March, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a range of new measures for those considered to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their medical conditions, so people know exactly how to care for themselves and others in the coming months. The measures include a helpline for those in need, support from community pharmacies to deliver medicines and a new Local Support System to ensure those who are self-isolating at home will receive basic groceries.

On Sunday 22nd March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson MP authored an article calling for people to stay away from their mothers on Mothering Sunday and reiterated this call for the public to social distance during a press conference.

Additionally, under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 emergency procedure, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP yesterday issued new regulations relating to which  businesses are now required not to sell food or drink for consuming on the premises.

The Government has also confirmed that businesses will be able to access support from the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility from today. A government information campaign has also launched to ensure businesses are aware of the support available to them and how to access it.

This morning, the Department of Transport has suspended all rail franchise agreements for six months. Instead, all the money from fares will be paid to the government, which will also take on the financial risk of running the network, to save firms from going under as a result of the slump in demand.


This week in politics 
(23 March -  29 March)
  • On Monday 23rd March, there will be oral questions on the Government policy on catchment management for rivers and how it relates to natural flood defences. There will also be oral questions on ensuring that residents in holiday or caravan parks who are self-isolating due to COVID-19 are not adversely impacted by the closure of such parks. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Teaching Profession will meet.
  • On Tuesday 24th March, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will have a formal meeting including an oral evidence session on the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with George Eustice. The Treasury Committee will also have a formal meeting including an oral evidence session on the economic impact of coronavirus with Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, HM Treasury.
  • On Wednesday 25th March, the Work and Pensions Committee will have a formal meeting with an oral evidence session on the Department for Work and Pension's response to the coronavirus outbreak. In the House of Lords on Wednesday, there will also be oral questions on Great Western railway services between Exeter and Okehampton and also on social policy implications of widening health inequalities with Baroness Lister of Burtersett. The Transport Committee will host a formal meeting including an oral evidence session on coronavirus and the implications for transport. The All-Party Parliamentary Groups on ageing and older people, coalfield communities and poverty will meet.

Several meetings and evidence sessions for this week have yet to finalise arrangements.

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