As the return of Parliament looms, we have plenty of legislative catching up to do because lockdown kept us out of Westminster. It will also be a welcome opportunity for many – and not just opposition MPs – to question Ministers over some of the challenges we have seen over the past month.
I am not sure there was ever a way to replace final exams for students without one group or another being disadvantaged. I wish some of the trade-offs had been presented earlier – yes, there was a consultation, but most will have known nothing about the ‘algorithm’ until it was too late. I worry most for the uncertainty it has caused students, first receiving offers from universities that they may or may not have met, thinking they might have lost a place, only to find they may still have it but have to take an unscheduled gap year, that they may or may not be able to afford, or are now obliged to move forward with a second choice that was very much a second choice. It has not been the most edifying of spectacles at all, and no decision maker emerges with much credit. Hindsight, once again, has proved to be a wonderful thing.
Immigration has been a recurring concern ever since I first started delivering political leaflets some 25 years ago as a callow teenager. My views on immigration haven’t really changed. Unless and until any government can demonstrate it has control of its borders, immigration rises in importance in voters’ minds. The surge of asylum seekers across the Channel – whilst dwarfing what is happening in the Mediterranean – is a problem which as a nation we cannot solve single-handedly. There is much more we can and should do around how we manage the system and treat claimants – accelerating the process to deal with the massive waiting list for Tribunals, for example, and improving how we return those found ineligible for asylum (who make the prospects of those genuinely fleeing persecution and seeking asylum that much harder). The Dublin Convention which contains the rule that asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first country they reach is shortly to lapse with the end of the
Implementation Period. Any new agreement will, I fear, be elusive – and that will make our task much harder.
We certainly have to negotiate actively with the French, but we cannot change the fact we are a relatively prosperous English-speaking country as that is a major pull factor. Ultimately, vast population flows are a global challenge, governed by a UN Convention from 1951 that was designed to deal with vast land-based flows within Europe in the aftermath of WWII. It desperately needs reform, but no-one even wants to open what they see as a can of worms.
Having got those two ‘biggies’ covered, back to covid-19 as we continue, as I said last time, to ‘zigzag’ our way out of lockdown. Neighbouring authorities have faced local lockdowns, but Blackpool has been fortunate to have infection levels under control, despite the challenges of a large visitor economy. It can be hard to keep up with increasingly rapid changes in rules, which seem to get ever reduced media coverage. Walking round the supermarket, or past a pub with a crowded outdoor seating section, you can wonder both whether the rules are being adhered to, but whether common sense would lead someone in such an environment to err on the side of caution anyway?
Rules are changing still. From August 15^th, for example, small music performances can occur – which hopefully means local choirs can at least start rehearsing again, even if large concerts are not yet possible.
This restart of performances is a great boon for a town like Blackpool. As someone who is a child of the theatre (my parents met whilst one was in the chorus line of a G&S Society and the other a stage manager!), I have always appreciated that the stars whose names litter Blackpool’s entertainment history are nothing without the people behind the scenes. These are the people who suffer most from the prohibition of performances. Many didn’t fit into the hastily-erected boxes that got support – lacking premises was often a problem – and where they did qualify, grants are starting to be exhausted. There was a special socially-distanced awareness-raising event on the Comedy Carpet a fortnight ago by the local branch of the #WeMakeEvents campaign – I made the point there that no town in Britain needs events more than Blackpool. So this tentative first step means a great deal.
In particular, it gives added hope for the future of the Grand, which I know very many are rightly concerned about. The Government announced back in early July some £1.6bn in support for arts venues, and it is institutions like the Grand they specifically had in mind. I know the Grand will be bidding. I will be supporting that bid and am optimistic. But I am also conscious that time is of the essence for all these regional institutions as money needs to flow quickly. It is coming - £135m for specific music venues was issued just yesterday by the Arts Council, for example. I’ve got a number of meetings with the Arts Council and the Grand this week which I hope will set out a clearer path.
I hope you have also benefitted from a ‘Rishi dishi’ before the month ends. Speaking to the cafes where I have eaten out in order to help out (on Thursdays and Fridays too!), the early week deal has improved footfall noticeably, and hopefully built confidence that these locations can be and are covid-secure Although the deal finishes at the end of the month, the VAT reduction will continue. The novelty of a £1.18 flat white in Costa may well be my one enduring memory of this summer!
Paul Maynard MP
Conservative - Blackpool North & Cleveleys
07885 651 705
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Paul Maynard MP
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