With a further easing of lockdown measures taking place over the weekend and today, here’s a quick update of what’s changing.
As always, it is important to remain careful and mindful that the virus is still with us, please continue to social distance and wash your hands thoroughly to help prevent spreading the virus.
As at 5pm on the 2nd July the number of confirmed cases within Leeds stood at 3,588.
Outbreaks and outbreak control
This week we are aware of four Covid-19 cases involving Leeds schools, including two within my constituency. Whilst these are individual cases not outbreaks, advice has been provided and the appropriate steps taken, and I have been reassured that the situation is under control in each school.
Schools have been provided with updated guidance about what to do when a pupil tests positive for coronavirus. Five care homes are currently affected, including one being supported with an outbreak.
The Budget- announcements
The Chancellor announced cuts to VAT on food, accommodation and attractions from 20% to 5% from next Wednesday. The VAT cut will apply to eat-in or hot takeaway food and non-alcoholic drinks from restaurants, cafes and pubs, as well as accommodation in hotels. The Treasury said it hoped firms would pass the VAT savings on to customers but many had been without income for months so it would be their decision. The cut will last until spring next year.
End of Furlough
Furlough will end in October. The government will pay firms a £1,000 bonus for every staff member kept on for three months when the furlough scheme ends.
Sunak rejected calls to extend the furlough scheme beyond October. He said it would give people “false hope” that they will have a job to return to and that “the longer people are on furlough, the more likely it is their skills could fade”. The “job retention bonus” could cost as much as £9.4bn if every furloughed worker is brought back.
The chancellor said: “If you’re an employer and you bring back someone who you furloughed we’ll pay you a £1,000 bonus per employee. For businesses to get the bonus, the employee must be paid at least £520 on average, in each month from November to the end of January.” This is the equal of the lower earnings limit in National Insurance.
The chancellor also announced the “kickstart scheme” to create more jobs for young people. The fund will subsidise six-month work placements for people on Universal Credit aged between 16 and 24.
Mr Sunak announced a scheme to give 50% off to people dining out in August. Mr Sunak also announced an “Eat Out to Help Out” discount. Meals eaten at any participating business, Monday to Wednesday, will be 50% off in August, up to a maximum discount of £10 per head.
A temporary stamp duty holiday, costing £3.8bn, to stimulate the property market was another measure unveiled by the chancellor. This will exempt the first £500,000 of all property sales from the tax.
Vouchers of up to £5,000 for energy-saving home improvements as part of a wider £3bn plan to cut emissions
A pledge to provide 30,000 new traineeships for young people in England
A £1.6bn package for the arts and heritage sector
The doubling of front line staff at job centres, as well as an extra £32m for recruiting extra careers advisers and £17m for work academies in England
Details of how the Government will pay for the package are likely to be unveiled in the chancellor’s Autumn Budget.
Britain should have had a Back to Work Budget today, but the announcements fail to face up to the scale of the challenge our country faces. The Eat out to Help out policy feels less like a strategic plan to rebuild hospitality than a calculated publicity stunt to distract from the hard truth that the Government have failed to get a grip of the health crisis and have failed to get a grip of the subsequent economic crisis.
We wait to see the detail on the plans the Chancellor laid out on furlough, but so far it doesn’t appear to be targeted enough.
The risk is that the Chancellor will waste billions by policy making on the hoof that doesn’t protect jobs. The hardest hit sectors will find the £1000 per employee make little difference to their outlay. The Government doesn’t seem to recognise the simple fact that some sectors of the economy need sustained support. They were too slow into lockdown, too slow on PPE and too slow on testing. Now it runs the real risk of being too slow on jobs and the economy.
Many sectors are in trouble not because people want money off meals – but because customers don’t have the confidence to return yet. The Government needs to get Test, Track and Isolate operational. They need to restore confidence in the health response so that the economy can grow. That confidence will only return when the Government takes meaningful action to join up its health and economic response. The failure to match soaring rhetoric with meaningful action has consequences for real people.
The loss of jobs and closure of companies also comes at a time when we need to tackle the Climate Crisis. Germany announced a 130 billion Euro Package with 30 Billion Euro for Energy and the Climate and 9 Billion Euros specifically for Hydrogen, which would mean it overtakes the UK as the leading European Nation on Hydrogen Technology.
The UK Government committed £3 billion to its entire energy and climate change stimulus package, mainly on grants for homeowners and landlords to improve insulation. Tackling just one part of our challenge, one which doesn’t create sustainable jobs as once the insulation is installed the job is done! The UK Government must match Germany and other nations level of ambition or we will be left further behind with a longer recession, higher emissions and more widespread poverty – sadly the same story as the last 10 years!
Despite all its talk, the Government has failed to produce a clear system for local lockdowns. The key to getting the economy moving and customers back on the high street is confidence in public health measures. Government must act not just to deal with unemployment as a symptom – but with its cause. This was a missed opportunity for the Chancellor to abandon his one-size-fits-all approach to the Job Retention schemes.
The accompanying documents are very thin. Government will need to provide much more detail in the coming days so that businesses get the confidence they need.
Local restrictions and reopenings
Playgrounds and outdoor gyms
Health protection regulations 2020 specified that playgrounds should be closed and they consequently have been since March. Following the recent Government announcement about the opening of playgrounds and outdoor gyms from the 4th July the Government has issued non statutory guidance in relation to reopening these facilities.
This guidance has significant implications relating to risk assessment, cleaning and social distancing that need to be considered and arrangements put in place. Leeds City Council has 200 playgrounds and outdoor gyms comprising of over 2000 items of individual equipment located within its parks and open spaces and this provides significant challenges in terms of scale and risk prevention. Subsequently this means that opening sites on the 4th July is not possible.
The council is currently assessing what cleaning arrangements could be implemented to allow some limited opening at those sites where staff oversight is possible. It is inevitable that the reopening of playgrounds will be delayed.
Museums & Galleries
Our Museums and Galleries service has announced provisional reopening dates for its 9 sites across the city These dates may still subject to change as the Council continue to develop procedures to ensure the safety of all our staff and visitors. Some areas may also remain closed if they cannot accommodate social distancing etc. The provisional reopening dates are as follows (The Visitor Centre and Art Gallery Shop have already reopened):
July 17th: Lotherton House and Kirkstall Abbey
July 21st: Leeds Art Gallery
July 23rd: Leeds Discovery Centre
July 28th: Leeds Industrial Museum
Aug 2nd: Temple Newsam House
Aug 4th: Abbey House
Aug 11th: Leeds City Museum and Thwaite Watermill
I was appalled to hear Boris Johnson’s comments on Care Homes this week saying that they “didn’t really follow the procedures” to protect residents and staff from coronavirus. We know that in Leeds North West, care homes were imploring the Government to protect them with adequate testing and PPE.
I spent weeks gathering up as much PPE as I could myself and delivering it. It is not ok for the Prime Minister, the leader of our country, to shirk his responsibility and blame care homes for this disaster. They deserve better.
Businesses reopening from Monday 13th July
Any facial treatments will not be allowed.
Join me every Saturday on Facebook Live at 2pm, where I will be discussing the latest information on Coronavirus. Including any easing of the lockdown and answering any related questions you may have.
Follow my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AlexSobelForLeedsNorthWest/ to participate and keep up to date with my activities both at home and in Parliament.