On Tuesday 31st March, Lord Bethell (Con) answered Lord Crisp’s (crossbench) question asking why the West Midlands Ambulance Service are downgrading the role of Community First Responders in rural areas such as Staffordshire. Lord Bethell stated West Midland Ambulance Service recognise that Community First Responders (CFRs) play a key role in protecting local rural communities and they want to enhance that by increasing the number of CFRs, using a consistent model of response, so that even more lives can be saved.
Preet Kaur Gill (Con) asked on 23rd March what steps the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking to help ensure that people that are unable to leave their home and depend on online shopping for their groceries receive deliveries that are (a) timely and (b) complete. Victoria Prentis (Con) answered on 31st March that industry is adapting quickly to these changes in demands by hiring more staff and prioritising delivery slots for those that need them most.
On Wednesday 1st April, the Government issued guidance on the latest information for farmers, landowners and rural businesses during the coronavirus outbreak. In particular, the Rural Payments Agency have closed the majority of their offices and most of their staff are now working from home, requesting that the public do not visit, hand in or post any correspondence or supporting documents to their offices. To make sure documents get to them, follow the advice at what you need to do and only send something if it’s urgent and it cannot be emailed.
Thousands of high street firms are also beginning to receive £25,000 cash grants and will be exempt from business rates from 1st April as they begin to benefit from a £22 billion package. As part of a raft of unprecedented measures announced by the Chancellor to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The measure comes into force on 1st April and will save firms in England £11 billion.
On Thursday 2nd April, the Government announced community pharmacies will be receiving a £300 million cash boost to ensure they can continue to carry out essential services during the coronavirus outbreak. The advanced funding injection will support pharmacies to provide critical services to protect community health, including supplying medicines and providing medical advice to patients, during a period of unprecedented demand. £200 million was paid on 1st April to pharmacy contractors, alongside their normal monthly payments from the NHS Business Services Authority, and a further £100 million will be allocated on 1st May.
On Friday 3rd April, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £400 million bailout for bus companies in England to ensure that services needed by frontline workers such as NHS staff can keep running. The Government will be providing £167 million over three months, as well as guaranteeing to honour a further £200 million of planned investments that would otherwise have been at risk, and a further sum of up to £30 million will be reallocated to key services. The rescue package is considerably less than the £1 billion bus companies had been hoping for to maintain the industry which collectively employs about 100,000 drivers and 120,000 support staff. Services are expected to run at 50 per cent of normal levels, with operators required to balance the lower demand with the need to provide enough buses to ensure that passengers using them can follow social distancing guidelines while on board. The Department for Transport said councils had also been ‘encouraged’ to maintain subsidies for concessionary fares to ensure that older and disabled people can still travel when they need to, to reach shops, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.
Food redistribution organisations across England will also benefit from £3.25 million of government funding to help them cut food waste and redistribute up to 14,000 tonnes of surplus stock during the coronavirus outbreak. From overcoming operational barriers in obtaining, storing and transporting food safely from restaurants as they close in response to coronavirus, to supporting drops in volunteer numbers, grants will be available to redistributors working hard to ensure valuable food supplies do not go to waste.
On Saturday 4th April, local authorities in England were handed new powers to hold public meetings virtually by using video or telephone conferencing technology. The Government has removed the requirement for physical attendance at meetings. The change ensures effective local decision making and transparency during the national effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Parliament has now risen for Easter recess until 21st April.
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