From Helen Whately <[email protected]>
Subject A roadmap to recovery
Date June 10, 2020 9:00 AM
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An update on my work in Westminster and beyond

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** A roadmap to recovery

The past few months have been difficult for many people.

I see that in the hundreds of letters and emails I receive most days. The huge cost of coronavirus to families and businesses is devastating.

But, there are reasons to be hopeful. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of people across the country, and the dedication of our health and care workers, we are making progress in tackling the virus.

We're passed the peak of infections – with deaths from coronavirus continuing to fall. The number of new coronavirus cases in Kent has fallen by 60 per cent since April (figures in Swale and Maidstone are now amongst the lowest in the county).

The hard work and sacrifices made by people are paying off, allowing some lockdown restrictions to be eased.

Last month the Government published our coronavirus recovery plan ([link removed]) . It’s a roadmap for how we can continue to save lives, whilst safeguarding livelihoods and begin to rebuild our way of life.

It sets out how we’re measuring progress in tackling the virus and when we hope to lift different lockdown measures – from kids going back to school to getting a haircut.

There will be no quick return to ‘normality’ and no easy answers. Inevitably, parts of this plan will adapt as we learn more about the virus. But it’s a plan that should give us hope.

Some restrictions were eased at the beginning of the month, meaning more businesses can open and family and friends can meet up outside. FAQs on the current guidance can be found here ([link removed]) .

** Cleve Hill decision hugely disappointing

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Speaking on BBC South East after the Cleve Hill decision was announced

Like many people, I was gutted when I heard that the Cleve Hill solar plant ([link removed]) had been given the go ahead.

For the past two years I’ve been part of the most incredible campaign to stop this development from happening. We put forward a strong and positive message about how to make Graveney Marshes a better place for wildlife – but clearly it wasn’t enough to win the argument.

While consent has been granted, concerns about the solar plant have not gone away. I’ll continue to speak up for the people most affected by the development. This decision is not an excuse to ride roughshod over people's concerns.

** Tips reopen to tackle fly-tipping

Getting our tips open again has been a great help to many people.

Closing tips in March caused a lot of frustration and there have been more reports of fly-tipping in the past couple of months. I raised these concerns with Ministers and the Leader of Kent County Council.

Revised guidance from the Government ([link removed]) and new measures from Kent County Council ([link removed]) , mean that tips in Kent were able to open again last month with social distancing and other safety measures in place.

People need to book a slot before visiting, which can either be done online or by phone. More slots are being added so keep checking availability. More information can be found here ([link removed]) .
A socially-distanced visit to Happy Endings Rescue in Ospringe. Many charities have faced a tough time in this crisis

** £50 million to reopen high streets

Councils will be benefiting from a new £50 million fund ([link removed]) to help our town and village centres re-open safely.

Councils in Faversham and Mid Kent will be receiving almost £300,000 from this fund. Maidstone Borough Council has been allocated £153,551 while Swale Borough Council is due to receive £134,057.

You might notice some changes when you return to the shops – with new signs, street markings and temporary barriers. These are needed to make our public spaces safe.

Getting people back into shops is crucial for many traders, but we need to do this safely when the time is right.

** #VolunteersWeek2020
A virtual meeting with Reshmi from the covid-19 mutual aid group in Maidstone - one of many groups like this across Kent

The first week of June marks National Volunteers Week so a good time to say thank you to all our fantastic volunteers.

Volunteer and community groups have risen to the challenge of supporting people during coronavirus.

The sense of community spirit in some places has never been stronger – with neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, mutual aid groups, and residents’ associations springing up across Kent.

Last month the Government announced £750 million to support charities during this crisis. As part of this, a new £200 million fund has been launched to provide grants for community and voluntary groups who are supporting people during coronavirus. More information about how to apply for these grants can be found here ([link removed]) .

** Going greener more important than ever
With campaigners from 20's Plenty for Faversham (pre lockdown!)
Many people have experienced the benefits of cycling and walking during lockdown.

With coronavirus restrictions in place, there’s never been a better time to encourage active travel. The Government has announced a new £2 billion active travel fund ([link removed]) to make our roads and pavements safer for cyclists and walkers.

Active travel is crucial for reducing pressure on public transport and it’s also better for our health and the environment.

I’m continuing to back the campaign for a 20mph zone in Faversham ([link removed]) and a new ground-level crossing on the A2 in the town ([link removed]) , as well as supporting the lorry watch scheme ([link removed]) . We need safer roads if we want more people to walk and cycle.

** Relief for people on the shielding list
Lockdown has been particularly tough for people identified as most at risk from coronavirus and those caring for them.

As we continue to make progress in tackling the virus, it’s now possible for people on the shielding list to leave their home if they wish.

People who are shielding remain vulnerable and should continue to take precautions but can now venture outside, as long as social distancing can be maintained. Revised guidance is available here ([link removed]) .

Read further information on schools ([link removed]) and the workplace ([link removed]) for those living in households where people are shielding.

** More support for jobs and businesses
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The Government has launched the business support finder ([link removed]) to help get support for you and your business.

I’m pleased the Chancellor has extended the Job Retention Scheme and Self-employed Income Scheme. Over 10 million people have benefited from these schemes so far.

Maidstone and Swale borough councils have been allocated over £60 million to support almost 5,000 small businesses in our area. And over £14 billion in bounce back loans have been approved for businesses across the country.

But I know some businesses are falling through the cracks.

The Top Up Discretionary Grant ([link removed]) is aimed at small businesses that have missed out on other funds provided during this crisis. Maybe you’re a business in a shared space or a B&B that pays council tax rather than business rates – this funding could help you. More information can be found by contacting Maidstone ([link removed]) or Swale ([link removed]) borough councils.

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We've faced challenges in our care homes but things are getting better

** More money for social care in Kent

Kent County Council is getting an extra £67 million from the Government to support vital services at this difficult time.

The majority of this funding will be spent on social care services in Kent, which I know are under huge pressure.

People who work in social care do an amazing job. We’re committed to providing adults and children who need care, and the people who look after them, with all the support they need.

The funding is part of a £3.8 billion funding boost for councils in England ([link removed]) to support local public services. This includes £600 million to help tackle the spread of coronavirus in care homes.

** Pick for Britain campaign launched
One of many video conference meetings in recent weeks - this time with local farming representatives

A campaign to get more British people to help bring in the harvest has been launched.

Pick for Britain ([link removed]) is an initiative between the Government and the farming industry to help fill the gaps left by workers who would usually have come here from abroad.

Picking fruit and veg is hard work and farmers need people who can commit for the season. But it's hugely important work and there are plenty of jobs in Kent.

A lot of people have contacted me recently about the Agriculture Bill. I was pleased to vote for the Bill last month, as it took another step through Parliament. The Bill is crucial for securing an environmentally and economically sound future for farming in this country.

** Lenham Heath vote rides roughshod over concerns

It’s hugely disappointing that Maidstone Council has ignored people’s concerns and endorsed plans for 5,000 new homes at Lenham Heath ([link removed]) .

I wrote to members of Maidstone's Policy and Resources Committee to express my concerns about the development. I’m grateful to those councillors who decided to vote against the proposal at the meeting on 29 April.

The proposal for a council-led 'garden village' at Lenham Heath will now be considered for inclusion in Maidstone's revised Local Plan later this year.

I’ll continue to work with the parish council and the Save Our Heath Lands campaign to fight this development every step of the way.
Please remember to keep following the guidance - stay alert to help control the virus and save lives.

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