As you will be aware from my previous update, I am currently using my newsletter mailing list to keep you updated on the latest government advice and policy on COVID-19.
This is a hugely fast-moving situation so PLEASE PLEASE do not respond to this unless you have an urgent inquiry. My office is overwhelmed at the moment and I want to keep constituents as up to date as possible.
In light of the ongoing and unprecedented global pandemic the Scottish and UK governments have made several announcements relating to businesses and individuals.
ALL INFORMATION IS CORRECT AT 17:00 on TUESDAY 24 MARCH 2020
Latest public health advice – A “lock down” in all but name
As you will be aware the Prime Minister and the First Minister made statements last night announcing more draconian measures to curb the spread of the disease. From now on, people must stay at home except for:
· Essential shopping – for food or medicines and only once a day
· Exercise – only once a day and alone, or with someone from your household
· Medical reasons or for the care of vulnerable people
· Travel to and from essential work – all employers should be making provision to work from home
These new rules will be enforced by the Police. To support the new measures and ensure compliance:
· all non-essential shops will be required to close
· libraries, communal places within parks and places of worship must close
· social events must not take place – including weddings and christenings.
· funerals are restricted to immediate family only
· gatherings of more than two people will be prohibited, unless part of a household or related to essential work.
Please see here for more information on what is classified an essential business. If you are not on this list you will have to close.
Generally, if you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19 the advice remains the same. If you’ve developed a new continuous cough and/or a fever/high temperature in the last 7 days, stay at home for 7 days from the start of your symptoms even if you think your symptoms are mild. Do not go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital.
This has been combined with an increased emphasis on social distancing in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease.
· Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) – these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough
· Avoid non-essential use of public transport – when possible, alter your travel times to avoid rush hour
· Work from home, where possible – your employer should support you to do this and if not you need to speak to your management team as quickly as possible
· Avoid large gatherings and small gatherings in public spaces – pubs, restaurants, leisure centres and similar venues are currently closed as infections spread easily in closed spaces where people gather together
· Stay at home – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
· Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services
Additional health advise and information can be found here.
ANY shops not providing vital foods and medicines should close now.
Measures for businesses
On 17 March, the Chancellor announced a package of government-backed and guaranteed loans and grants to support businesses, making available an initial £330bn.
There are two loan schemes:
· The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will provide government-backed loans of up to £5 million to small and medium businesses, interest free for the first 12 months
· The Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility will provide a quick and cost-effective way to raise working capital for those large firms who need it.
I understand this money will be made available from 23rd March. For more information on the schemes to assist business please see here.
Further measures taken by the Scottish Government on devolved policy areas replicate what has been put in place in England and include:
· a full year’s 100% non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and tourism
· £10,000 grants for small businesses in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Relief
· £25,000 grants for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000
· 1.6% relief for all properties, effectively freezing the poundage rate next year
· The convening of an emergency meeting of the Financial Services Advisory Board
· urging local authorities to relax planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate temporarily as takeaways
· extending the go live date for the deposit return scheme to July 2022
· halting the introduction of the Visitor Levy Bill
For more information of these measures please see here.
Find Business Support Scotland
Measures for individuals
These support schemes sit alongside the announcement by the Chancellor on Friday of a Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme under which will provide a grant to employers to keep their workers on rather than make them redundant. Salaries will be paid at 80% of their current level up to a maximum of £2,500. These grants will be available by the end of April and in the meantime £30bn of cash flow relief has been provided through the deferment of VAT bills.
There was also an announcement that mortgage lenders had agreed to support customers experiencing personal financial difficulties as a result of Coronavirus (Covid-19), including through payment holidays, among other options. You should contact your mortgage or other debt provider for further information on this.
Lack of measures for self employed, freelancers et al
Whilst I welcome all the above measures put in place to help individuals and businesses there is one glaring omission – the self-employed. There are 5 million self-employed workers in the UK who face financial ruin if the government does not step in.
Whilst we all socially isolate, we should remember that the films we watch, music we listen to and games we play were almost all produced by self-employed people. They deserve the help of our governments.
I am hopeful the Chancellor will announce a package for the self-employed in the coming days and will continue to pressure the government to this effect. There was an Urgent Question in the House of Commons today (Tuesday) you can see here.
I have been pressing the Government to go further as this does not allow for the self-employed and freelancers to have any income replacement like the scheme offered to workers.
To be fair, the Government do want to go further but are investigating a method that would work. If we can give them until the end of the week I think we may see some progress on this.
In the meantime you are able to claim Universal Credit , providing you meet the usual eligibility criteria.
To support you with the economic impact of the outbreak, and allow you to follow government guidance on self-isolation and social distancing, from 6 April the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change will apply to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak.
New claimants will not need to attend the Jobcentre to demonstrate gainful self-employment.
Further guidance for employees can be found here.
The Federation of Small Businesses has some good advice here.
Support for rent costs
You should check your eligibility for Universal Credit , which is available for people in and out of work. Support for rental costs will be paid through Universal Credit.
From April, there are increasing Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of market rents. This applies to all private renters who are new or existing Universal Credit housing element claimants and to existing Housing Benefit claimants.
The other advice is to try and reduce all your outgoings. Speak to any lenders you have and get repayment holidays, seek a rent pause or reduction from any business landlord etc. It is worth having a conversation with all your creditors both business and personal to see how you can reduce your outgoings while the Government are looking into more support for the self-employed and freelancers etc.
Supermarket opening hours
Supermarkets are recruiting huge numbers of employees to assist and are trying to increase delivery slot capacity. I know a large number of elderly and vulnerable residents are in touch with my office to seek help with this. We are trying to get the right people willing to help in touch with the people that need help. This is a huge task so please be patient.
The supermarkets are doing all they can and trying to manage a difficult situation made worse by the massive increase in customers. Stockpiling should now have been largely stopped as items are restricted for purchase.
The Coronavirus will of course put a great deal of strain on our already struggling local services. Please see the Council’s Coronavirus web page for a full list of services changes.
Last night the House of Commons debated emergency Covid-19 legislation. The legislation deals with a broad range of policy areas. The Government has stated that the bill enables action in 5 key areas:
1. increasing the available health and social care workforce – for example, by removing barriers to allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work (and in Scotland, in addition to retired people, allowing those who are on a career break or are social worker students to become temporary social workers)
2. easing the burden on frontline staff – by reducing the number of administrative tasks they have to perform, enabling local authorities to prioritise care for people with the most pressing needs, allowing key workers to perform more tasks remotely and with less paperwork, and taking the power to suspend individual port operations
3. containing and slowing the virus – by reducing unnecessary social contacts, for example through powers over events and gatherings, and strengthening the quarantine powers of police and immigration officers
4. managing the deceased with respect and dignity – by enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services
5. supporting people – by allowing them to claim Statutory Sick Pay from day one, and by supporting the food industry to maintain supplies
6. giving the Bill a 6 month sunset clause to stop the legislation in 6 months or an alternative 90 day sunset clause with a 30 day renewal period by parliamentary vote.
The Bill sped through all stages of House of Commons process yesterday before going to the Lords on today and Wednesday. There is broad support for the measures contained within the Bill however there were some opposition amendments which the government did eventually support.
For more information on the Bill please read this handy House of Commons briefing paper.
The correspondence into my office is unprecedented in volume. Alongside this all my team are working from home. For the first time since I was elected back in 2010 I will need to prioritise what is most important. I ask you to please refrain from corresponding on emails generated from lobbying companies. These number in the thousands and we don’t have the resources at this time to respond to them. I know they are important issues to you and we will come back to them later.
Also, I appreciate that there are a million opinions about this pandemic and unusual situation but I we are being asked by Government departments to reduce the amount of correspondence with them so getting responses is almost impossible as they prioritise their responses.
Lastly, due to this, if your inquiry is specifically related to devolved competences then it is most efficient to raise this with your MSP as they can question Scottish Government Ministers directly whereas I have to write through the formal channels that we are being asked to restrict correspondence on. Also, if it is Council related the same applies. You will get a far more efficient response by contacting your local Councillors as issues can be raised directly in the Council.
In normal times I would take on these issues for you but I simply have to prioritise resources to the Corona Virus issues affecting constituents.
Thanks for your understanding at this time.
Keep well and heed the official advice.