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On Monday 27th April, in an evening debate on the Finance Bill, David Mundell MP (Con) raised the issue of disproportionate charges on cash machines, arguing that cash is accessible across the whole of the United Kingdom, particularly in rural areas.
Also on Monday, in a debate on the economy, Dr Andrew Murrison MP (Con) asked what the Chancellor can do to assist agricultural land-based businesses across the country, as selling milk and meat into the non-domestic market has largely stopped, as have farm diversification schemes that were necessary to cross-subsidise land-based businesses.
On Tuesday 28th April, Fay Jones MP (Con) raised the challenges of policing and safeguarding in rural areas in a debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill.
On Wednesday 29th April, a call for evidence on the ‘Future of transport regulatory review’ was extended due to the pandemic. The consultation is seeking evidence on: micromobility vehicles; flexible bus services and mobility as a service. In particular, it is asking how effective existing rules are around flexible bus services, and which other areas of the bus, taxi and private hire vehicle framework should be considered in this review.
Also on Wednesday, a new grant scheme has been announced to support seafood businesses in England to sell catches. The £1 million grant scheme aims to increase supply of local seafood by allowing seafood businesses to bid for funds for assets and infrastructure to sell their products. It forms part of a £10 million fund for England’s fishing and aquaculture sectors.
On Monday 27th April, the Government announced the Bounce Back Loan scheme, which will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000. The Government will guarantee 100 per cent of the loan with no fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.
Also on Monday, the Government confirmed that the deadline for 2020 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) applications, Countryside Stewardship (CS) revenue claims, Environmental Stewardship (ES) claims, and woodland legacy revenue claims, without penalty, is being extended by one month to midnight on 15th June, in recognition of the disruption caused by COVID-19. They Government has also paused farm visits (including inspections) until further notice and are considering its approach to future visits in line with developing national public health guidance.
On Tuesday 28th April, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) confirmed that farmers and land managers will be offered bridging payments for unpaid claims on their stewardship agreements. The interest-free loans will cover Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship 2019 payments to ensure farmers and land managers are paid for the work they do to protect the environment. Eligible claimants will receive a payment in May for 75 per cent of the current estimated value of their claims to help with farm business cash flow while the remaining processing is completed on their claims.
Also on Tuesday, The British Educational Suppliers Association, with the support of the Department for Education, announced it has developed the LendED website to help schools get the most out of their existing resources, and provide teachers with easy-to-use home learning materials. This allows pupils to search resources from trusted suppliers, read teacher reviews and request free access during school closures. This coincides with the launch of a new online learning platform which aims to boost the nation’s skills while people are staying at home, by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson MP. Free courses are available through a new online platform hosted on the gov.uk website, called The Skills Toolkit. The new platform is described as ‘giving people access to free, high-quality digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects’.
On Thursday 30th April, in a debate on the Charitable and Voluntary Sector, Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD) raised the issue of ongoing economic and public service pressures resulting in small rural charities being ‘impacted disproportionately’. He said that rural areas are often a burden for vulnerable people and the charities that support them due to their isolation and distance from specialist centres; for example, for some it would be ‘more than a four-hour round trip to a COVID-19 ?testing centre’, with limited public transport. There are often connectivity problems, and many are low-income areas; fundraising for small rural charities is therefore more limited.
On Friday 1st May, High Streets Minister Simon Clarke MP announced £6.1m of funding for local business partnerships across England to help their local economies through the uncertainty of the pandemic. The money will be paid to local authorities and dispersed to Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Also on Friday, the Prime Minister, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick and Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government Simon Clarke spoke with the M9 group of Mayors and leader of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. The Prime Minister stated that the Mayors have a ‘vital leadership role to play in planning for the economic recovery in their own respective regions’ and made clear that the Government will continue to work closely with them as it seeks to restart the economy whilst also preventing a second wave of the virus.
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