Last week the House of Commons returned to Westminster, and whilst there was considerable attention to the airport queuing style system that has been created to facilitate voting whilst observing social distancing, we also saw the end of the video conferencing used to allow members to participate in debates from home. Before the Whitsun recess I spoke remotely in the second reading debate for the Trade Bill. Whilst we have all got used to systems like Zoom and Skype for keeping in touch with colleagues, family and friends, it cannot replicate the experience of speaking in the House of Commons. The nature of the Chamber, with its benches facing across the central aisle allows the speaker to look their audience in the eye. However when using Zoom, you feel that you are just talking at a computer screen without any real connection to the MPs sitting the chamber.
On Wednesday last week I had the chance to speak in my first debate whilst physically in the Chamber of the Commons, since the coronavirus lockdown was put in place. Social distancing measures limit the number of MPs in the Chamber to 50 at any one time, so it is not possible to recreate the old atmosphere, but it is nevertheless good to be back. The subject of the debate was the special assistance being given to companies that may need to go into administration as a result of the coronavirus, in order to restructure their finances. I called for special consideration to be given to businesses that operate in the travel and hospitality sectors, as well as sports clubs and theatres. These organisations are totally reliant on people being able to move freely and mix in close proximity. The movement and social distancing restrictions currently make it very difficult for them to resume business and therefore they will need support for longer.
Folkestone and Hythe District Council is directly supporting many local businesses with grants from the COVID-19 business support scheme. These funds have come from the Government but are distributed by Councils. So far 2,127 businesses in our district have received grants, which is over 97% of those that are eligible.
The Government has also provided additional funds to each local council to support some of the small businesses that did not qualify for the original COVID-19 business support scheme. Locally, this means there is an additional £1.29m in grants available, and these will be focused on supporting the following types of businesses; businesses in shared workspaces, bed & breakfasts, regular market traders, the creative sector, and the retail, leisure and hospitality sector. Folkestone & Hythe District Council launched this scheme on 1 June and at the end of the first week approved 22 grants totalling £185,000. You can find out more about these schemes, and receive guidance on how to apply, on the Council’s website: https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/business-grant-scheme
Last week the Government also provided an additional £6 million in funding for frontline charities working to combat homelessness. I was pleased that from this the Folkestone Rainbow Centre will be receiving £20,000 to support their excellent work.