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Light at the end of the tunnel

I know for many people these past few weeks have been some of the hardest of the pandemic.
These dark winter days have been made so much harder by lockdown and not being able to see friends and family. And while the snow is keeping my children entertained, I know it's an extra challenge for many.
We also heard the sad news about Captain Sir Tom Moore. His service to our country and our NHS, and the inspiration he gave us all, will live on.
While these continue to be tough times, there are good reasons to be hopeful.
I’ve been chairing a Task Force to help bring down rates of infection in Kent. I’ve seen the hard work and dedication of people and groups across the county in bringing the virus under control – and we are seeing these efforts pay off with infection rates falling.
Our vaccine rollout has reached over 13 million people, and we are on track to have vaccinated the top four priority groups – which includes people most at risk from Covid along with health and social care workers – by the middle of this month.
Our testing capacity goes from strength to strength. Over 19 million rapid PCR tests have now gone out to care homes so they can regularly test staff and residents. And when a new variant of the virus was detected in parts of Maidstone, we were able to deliver 9,600 home testing kits within 72 hours to help contain the spread.
We’re continuing to support people and businesses through these difficult times, including a boost for local services with Kent County Council seeing its budget from central government increase by 5.5% to just over £1.1 billion for the next financial year.
As the lighter days of spring appear, we are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. But we mustn’t stop now. We can all do our part by following the guidance and keeping each other safe.

Local vaccine rollout gathers pace

We reached another milestone in our vaccine rollout earlier this month

A huge thank you to everyone involved in our local vaccination programme.
Thanks to the hard work of so many people, we have already vaccinated over 279,363 people in Kent (including 86% of people over 80). Regular updates can be found here.
In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to local GPs, Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, Kent County Council, and East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust about the vaccine rollout. This is a truly herculean task, but we are making good progress.
If you're over 70 and have not heard about getting your vaccination then please get in contact with the NHS online or call 119 to arrange an appointment.

Support during lockdown

I met CEOs from charities across Kent last month who've been doing so much to help people through the pandemic

Councillors and volunteers are playing a crucial role in our response to Covid.
I’ve been truly impressed at the scale and speed of the response here in Faversham and Mid Kent, from our County Council to parishes and community groups, charities, and local businesses.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where to look for help, which is why I’ve put together a list of local contacts on my website.
If you're self-isolating and need help getting food, if you're a business looking for grants, or you want more information on testing and the vaccine rollout in Kent, then take a look here.

Mass testing comes to Maidstone

Almost 10,000 testing kits were delivered to parts of Maidstone within 72 hours to help contain the spread of a new strain of the virus.
Operation Barton involved Kent Police, Kent Search and Rescue, Kent Fire and Rescue, and Kent County Council, with more than 300 staff on the ground.
Huge thanks to everyone involved, including people in parts of Shepway and Park Wood for their co-operation in the mass testing rollout. 
It’s vital we come down hard on the new South African variant to contain it and help prevent further outbreaks.

Kickstart Scheme expanded

Changes to Kickstart mean even more businesses and young people can benefit

Changes to the Kickstart Scheme mean more businesses can now take part.
Over 120,000 Kickstart jobs have been created since the Government launched the £2 billion scheme in September, but even more young people could now be offered a route into work.
The Kickstart Scheme allows employers to offer young people between 16 and 24 who are on Universal Credit a six-month work placement fully funded by the Government.
From February, businesses can apply to the scheme for any number of placements, with the 30 vacancies minimum threshold removed. More information about the changes can be found here.

Community testing more important than ever

Updating Parliament last month on community testing

Along with the vaccine rollout, increased testing capacity is also helping to offer us a way out of lockdown.
We now have 24 symptom-free Covid testing sites across Kent – including the Detling Showground and County Hall in Maidstone, as well as sites in Canterbury and Swale.
These tests are so important for helping to pinpoint where the virus is in our community, as we know around 1 in 3 people with Covid have no symptoms.
It’s particularly important you get tested if you need to leave home for work. More information, including how to book a test slot, can be found here.

I joined a support group meeting last month organised by the Mid Kent branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association

Swale Local Plan needs a rethink

Like many people, I was shocked by the scale of development proposed for Faversham and the surrounding villages in Swale Borough Council’s draft Local Plan.
The proposals would change the look and feel of our community for generations to come, and yet these enormous changes are being subject to bare minimum consultation. 
I’ve argued that a six week viewing period to comment on the soundness of the plan before it goes to the Planning Inspector is not good enough. We need better consultation and scrutiny of proposals that could see thousands more houses built around Faversham.
I urge all residents and parish councils to contact Swale Borough Council with their view on the plan. Email: [email protected] 

Extra support for home learning

I met local nurseries during #ChildcareandEarlyEducationWeek - one of a series of roundtable meetings I've held recently

I know lockdown is particularly tough for young people and parents with children at home.
Last month the Prime Minister wrote an open letter to parents, in which he recognised the huge pressure home schooling is putting on parents and others with childcare responsibilities.
Reopening schools remains a top priority for the Government. In the meantime, we’re increasing support for home learning – providing 1.3 million devices to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I know at least one local business – the Butcher of Brogdale – is offering to collect second-hand laptops and tablets as part of the BBC’s initiative to help even more children benefit from better home learning.

I contacted the President of Sony/ATV Music when this video from a family in Faversham was taken down from YouTube - pleased to see it back online again!

Boost to policing numbers in Kent

We’re getting an extra 145 police officers in Kent over the next year.
Kent Police is on track to get an extra £19.5 million next financial year, and Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott has said the money will be spent on extra officers for the force. This is good news for people across Kent.
We already have record numbers of police officers in the county. The latest announcement means Kent is on track to have 3,970 officers by March 2022. That’s 183 more officers than 2010.
Kent Police has launched its #MoreThanTheBadge campaign to help recruit new officers.

Care home vaccine target met

Vaccination teams have gone to 10,321 care homes for older people in England - giving 236,499 residents their first dose. A truly fantastic achievement

It’s fantastic we have met our ambitious target of visiting every eligible care home for older people in England by the end of January.
As Care Minister, I said we would move whatever mountains necessary to get vaccines into care homes as quickly as possible.
I’m so proud of everyone who has helped get vaccines into over 10,000 care homes for older people across England, including many here in Kent.
It’s a testament to the incredible efforts of our NHS, local authorities, care workers and providers as well as the tens of thousands of volunteers at the heart of the biggest vaccine rollout in our country's history.

And finally... Taste of Kent Awards are back

Voting is open for the Taste of Kent Awards 2021.
Now in their 17th year, the Awards showcase the best that the Garden of England has to offer.
If there's a Kent beer or cider you particularly enjoy, a brilliant butcher who deserves recognition, or a local supplier that has gone the extra mile during the pandemic, you can nominate them here.

Please remember to keep following the guidance to keep you and others safe.

Please pass this email onto anyone you think might be interested and encourage them to sign up to these newsletters on my website, here.

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Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid-Kent
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