From Helen Whately <[email protected]>
Subject Stay safe this Christmas
Date December 21, 2020 4:19 PM
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An update on my work in Westminster and beyond

Welcome to my newsletter
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Thank you to Alice Jeffery from Roseacre Junior School for designing my Christmas card this year

** Stay safe this Christmas

This is not the Christmas any of us wanted.

The news that we cannot meet up with friends and family over the festive period is devastating. But when you see the number of cases rising and hear about the situation in our hospitals, there really was no other option.

This virus thrives on the social interactions that bring joy to life - which makes controlling it so difficult and painful, particularly at a time of year when people want to come together.

We face a really serious situation in Kent with this new strain of the virus. We’ve got some of the highest infection rates in the country with cases continuing to rise.

We all need to take huge care over the next few days and weeks to make sure our actions and decisions do not put others at risk and therefore reduce the number of people who could end up in hospital this Christmas.

The hard work and sacrifices of so many people have helped to level off cases in the worst affected areas – including Swale – but they are still worryingly high, and our hospitals are still under a huge amount of pressure.

We've come so far and scarified so much to throw everything away now. The vaccine rollout has started in Kent and we’re getting community testing to help pinpoint the virus in our communities. But we need to redouble our efforts to control the virus to give us the best possible start in 2021.

It's been a particularly tough year for people working in health and social care. But I'm glad we're ending 2020 with over 14,800 more nurses working in our NHS than last year and record numbers of students starting nursing and midwifery courses this autumn.

And it's fantastic to see the Kent Medical School has opened its doors to start training more home-grown doctors. Now more than ever our NHS needs talented doctors providing top quality care for patients. Even in these difficult times, there are reasons to hope.

I wish you all a very peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

** Vaccine rollout underway in Kent
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The vaccine rollout has started in Kent - beginning with those people who need it most

I’m delighted that GP practices are joining hospitals in helping to rollout the vaccine.

Those most at risk from the virus in Kent are amongst the first people anywhere in the world to be getting vaccinated. A huge thank you to our local NHS who are making the vaccine rollout possible.

The William Harvey hospital was the first place in Kent to vaccinate people and several primary care vaccination sites ([link removed]) have now opened, including Len Valley Surgery in Maidstone, with Faversham Health Centre due to get its first doses shortly.

Our local NHS is under huge pressure so please wait to be contacted by NHS England or your local GP about getting a vaccination.

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Responding to a debate on Covid, I stressed that now more than ever we need to work together to tackle this virus

** Cash injection for our local NHS

Our local NHS in Kent is getting its share of a new £600 million fund to upgrade hospitals.

With coronavirus putting huge pressure on local NHS services, we need investment in our hospitals more than ever.

I’m delighted Kent is getting a £10 million cash injection ([link removed]) to upgrade hospitals and other healthcare facilities this winter - including over £8 million for East Kent hospitals. This funding will help doctors and nurses in our NHS hospitals to provide world-class care and treatment.

The announcement follows the Spending Review last month which boosted health spending by £6.6 billion.

** Local charities get funding boost
On a visit to Fusion in Maidstone earlier this year

Several local charities have received support from the Government’s Coronavirus Community Support Fund.

I’m pleased to see 13 charities in Faversham and Mid Kent ([link removed]) have received almost £140,000 from the Fund, which was set up earlier in the year to support smaller charities during the pandemic.

Charities and volunteer groups are playing a crucial role in helping people during this pandemic. I’ve been inspired meeting many of the people involved in these groups over the past few months.

A new fund ([link removed]) to support charities and groups helping to reduce loneliness opens for applications early in the New Year.

Visiting some of our fantastic shops in Faversham as part of Small Business Saturday on 5 December

** New powers to tackle lorry fly-parking

Kent County Council has been given new powers to keep roads clear of illegally parked HGVs.

Lorry fly-parking has blighted communities across Kent for far too long. I previously secured a debate in Parliament to highlight the problem and am pleased to see action is now being taken.

From 1 January, KCC will be allowed to clamp and issue penalty notices to drivers who are parked dangerously – blocking lay-bys or slip roads.

With the end of the transition period approaching, it’s vital we do everything possible to keep our roads clear. I'm in regular contact with the Roads Minister about the situation we face in Kent.

** New homes must not decimate green spaces
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I spoke at a virtual public meeting last month organised by the campaign to save Lenham Heath

I’ve called on Maidstone Borough Council to avoid decimating green spaces in my submission ([link removed]) to the Council’s consultation on the new Local Plan.

We do need new homes, but these must in the right places and with a plan for infrastructure to support them.

I’ve used this opportunity to stress my opposition to the Lenham Heath “garden village” and raise grave concerns about a similar scheme at Lidsing. These developments both risk destroying valuable green spaces.

I’m pleased the Housing Secretary has said he wants to see a focus on brownfield development ([link removed]) and will not be going ahead with a proposed formula for deciding where new homes should go.
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I've organised several roundtable meetings recently, including one with some of our fantastic primary school teachers

** Historic Agriculture Bill becomes law

Last month our historic Agriculture Bill passed into law.

This is a hugely exciting moment, not just for farmers, but for everyone who cares about our environment and the food we eat.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me to share their views on the Bill. It was debated for well over 100 hours in Parliament – making it one of the most well scrutinised pieces of legislation in recent times.

The Agriculture Act 2020 – as it is now known – creates a new framework to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy with a new system that will be better for the environment and provide farmers with the support they need.

** Carers first in line for vaccine
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We're determined to rollout the vaccine as quickly as possible - starting with those people who need it the most

As Care Minister, I’ve been working hard to get the vaccine into care homes as quickly as possible.

This is an enormous task, but I’m pleased we’re on track to carry out the first vaccinations in care homes by Christmas. Care home staff are also on the list of phase one vaccinations, with many carers already getting their first jabs.

We’re also making progress on safe visiting to care homes. On top of providing care homes with extra testing capacity, we are also providing £149 million in extra funding to help homes with the extra costs involved in visitor testing. I know how important these visits are and I’m determined to make them happen.

** Fair's fare for flexi commuters

Southeastern have been told to put flexible season ticket arrangements in place by the end of next year.

I joined Kent MPs in calling on Southeastern to introduce flexible season tickets ([link removed]) earlier this year, and I'm delighted to see the Department for Transport has stepped in to make this happen.

Even before the pandemic, fewer commuters were travelling to work five days a week. The current season ticket works for some people, but it’s increasingly outdated as more people work flexibly.

We're a step closer to fairer fares for commuters in Kent.

** Getting the road investment we need
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Another virtual meeting... this time with Highways England for an update on local road improvements

I met Highways England earlier this month to make the case for road improvements in our part of Kent.

While the immediate priority is being fully prepared for any outcome in the EU negotiations, we also need to be working on transport improvements for the longer term.

Having successfully secured funding for Brenley Corner redesign work ([link removed]) , the next step is to make sure local people have their say in that - and then get plans turned into reality. Other local bottlenecks like Stockbury roundabout ([link removed]) also need improvement.

I'll continue to lobby at every opportunity for the investment we need in our transport infrastructure.
Creek bridge design by Spring 2021

I brought together local councillors and residents for the latest meeting on plans for a new creek bridge in Faversham.

The meeting on 27 November included Kent County Council, Faversham Town Council, the Faversham Society and the Faversham Creek Trust. A report from the meeting can be found here ([link removed]) .

We’ve faced numerous challenges in getting the new bridge Faversham deserves, but we are making progress.

Encouragingly, we should have a design for the new bridge in March/April next year, which means tendering and contractor selection can begin.

I’ll bring the group together early next year for an update on progress.

Please remember to keep following the guidance ([link removed]) over Christmas and New Year to keep you and others safe.

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