COVID-19 Latest Advice

Dear fellow Islander,

The ongoing COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak presents a major challenge to our society, including us on the Isle of Wight. We will come through it and we will do so whilst looking after everyone in our community. Like other MPs, I have been snowed under with emails and letters from 1,000-plus constituents who have thus far contacted me in the past week on this single issue. 

To make sure everyone gets a timely answer, I have prepared a long and reasonably detailed response which I hope addresses almost every issue raised by Islanders. Constituents who have a specific need or issue raised in relation to personal circumstance will get an individual response.

  • This page will be updated and additional topics added as required. 

I have divided this guidance under the following headings: 

  • Background. What is Covid-19? 

  • Adjustment of some lockdown measures

Issues raised by Islanders: 

  • Steps to keep the Isle of Wight safe 

  • Sailing and use of harbours 

  • Protective Equipment for NHS Staff 

  • Face coverings  

  • Covid-19 Testing on IOW 

  • Ferries 

  • The Coronavirus Bill   

  • Travel 

  • Exercise and Public spaces 

  • The Voluntary Sector

  • Advice for Islanders who are shielding

  • Jobs, Business and the Island Economy: The Job Retention Scheme, High street businesses, Supporting B&B providers, Loan Scheme for Small Businesses, The Self-Employed and Grants for businesses focusing on research and development

  • Going back to work 

  • Food Deliveries  

  • What about my MOT? 

  • Advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for Islanders unable to get home from being abroad 

  • The Isle of Wight NHS Trust 

  • Supporting charities 

  • Contributions in Parliament from your MP on Coronavirus 

  • Key numbers and website for more information and specific guidance 

Background. What is Covid-19 

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Most people infected will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without special treatment.  Older folks and those with underlying medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer may develop a more serious illness. 

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow). 

For more information, please go to the World Health Organisation at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1 

This virus will pass, but the more we work together, the quicker it will pass. That is why the Government has taken unprecedented action to limit the spread of the virus, to support peoples’ jobs and to make provision to look after the more vulnerable in our community. It needs to be said that this is a learning process for all of us. 

 

Adjustment of some lockdown measures

Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British people, and despite a tragic loss of life, the UK slowed the spread of coronavirus. Our health system was not overwhelmed – with spare beds, ventilators and hospitality capacity at all times.

But we must begin to recover and eventually restore our way of life. The Government’s objective is to return to our way of life as soon as possible – focusing on not just saving lives, but also livelihoods. However, it is absolutely vital that as we do so, we avoid the risk of a second peak that overwhelms the NHS. And importantly doesn’t waste the huge sacrifices the British people have made in lockdown to get the virus under control.

The Government guidance has now been adjusted to allow people more time outdoors in groups of up to 6, schools to re-open to some pupils and for some shops to re-open. Those people who have been shielding are now also able to leave their homes once a day for exercise, and meet one other person from outside of their household providing they observe social distancing. As we take these small steps forward, it is important to stress that this progress is conditional and it remains critical that those from different households stay two metres apart.

  • The Government will monitor how these changes are working, including by looking at the R-value and the number of new infections, before taking any further steps. This will ensure we do not risk a second peak that could overwhelm our NHS.
  • The new NHS Test and Trace programme will also help to ensure we keep the virus under control. There is no doubt that we are making progress and I am hopeful that in the coming weeks we may be able to do more, but of course, this will be conditional on the scientific and medical advice saying that it is safe to do so.

As we begin to recover and return to our way of life, it is vital that we all stay alert, so we can control the virus and save lives.

Full guidance on what is and is not allowed is available on gov.uk/coronavirus, along with a list of frequently asked questions which are regularly updated

 

 

Issues raised by Islanders: 

 

Steps to keep the Isle of Wight safe - Visitors coming to the Island 

Government advice is clear: Day trips to outdoor open space, in a private vehicle, are permitted. You should practise social distancing from other people outside your household. 

Leaving your home - the place you live - to stay at another home for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed. This includes visiting second homes. 

Premises such as hotels and bed and breakfasts will remain closed, except where providing accommodation for specific reasons set out in law, such as for critical workers where required for a reason relating to their work. 

Finally, there are powers in the new Coronavirus law which will enable the Government to take further steps to prevent non-essential travel, should it be deemed necessary. 

 

The guidelines on sailing and use of harbours 

Lifting restrictions on sailing is not specifically mentioned in the Government’s latest guidance, therefore, we must all continue to follow the guidance by staying at home as much as possible and exercising in other ways until we are told otherwise 

 

Protective Equipment for NHS staff

New measures announced on 30 March will give more support to frontline NHS staff battling COVID-19 and support businesses under pressure as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. To help get personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser to NHS staff as quickly as possible, Government have eased administrative requirements and barriers to imports of these essential tools, without compromising on their safety. By reducing the amount of red tape, new suppliers and businesses that produce ingredients for safe hand sanitiser and PPE will be able to bring their products to market in a matter of days.

 

Face Coverings  

The Government is advising the use of face coverings where you may be in close proximity to other people. Face coverings are not compulsory. However, if you can, people are advised to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible or where you are more likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet. For example, on public transport or in some shops. Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms. 

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers; these should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards. 

Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically. 

Face-coverings should not be used by children under the age of two, or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example, primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions. It is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. 

You can make face coverings at home; the key thing is it should cover your mouth and nose. You can find guidance on how to do this on GOV.UK. 

 

Covid-19 Testing on IOW 

With regard to Covid-19 testing facilities on the Isle of Wight, I have been in discussions with the IW Council about this as we want to avoid Islanders needing to travel to the mainland for testing. 

With testing capacity rapidly increasing towards the goal of 100,000 a day, the Government has expanded testing eligibility so that all essential workers and their households can now be tested if they are displaying symptoms. 

  • Background: To ensure that everyone can access these tests, the Government is deploying mobile testing units, operated by the Armed Forces.  

  • The Island facility has been arranged through close partnership working of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF), these units will allow for hundreds of essential workers and their households to be tested each day, with results within 48 hours, so they can get back where they are needed – on the front line. 

As an Island, we have unique circumstances when it comes to testing. This is a critical issue I have raised this with the Local Government Minister and Public Health Minister. 

 

 

 

 

Ferries 

The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly reduced demand for the day-to-day services provided by the three operators, Hovertravel, Wightlink and Red Funnel. Possible staff absences due to self-isolation and illness are also likely to pose a challenge to keeping these essential ferry services going. 

On the 23rd of March, I spoke of the need to ensure support for cross-Solent travel operators in the Coronavirus Bill. This has now been enacted. The government is temporarily suspending competition law to allow ferry operators in the Isle of Wight to work together and maintain a crucial lifeline between the island and the mainland during the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The relaxation of rules under the Competition Act 1998 will help ferry operators to continue to run essential services despite reduced usage during the virus, maintaining a vital route for those who cannot work from home and those needing medical treatment.  

It will also mean the operators can work together to allow for essential food, freight and medical supplies to be transported between the Isle of Wight and the mainland. 

The Coronavirus Bill 

The Bill takes some frankly draconian powers. The Bill has gone through Parliament this week. There were no votes on it because there was unanimous support from all political parties, although some MPs raised doubts about elements of it. Some amendments were made. We will have to review the Bill every six months, although the Bill itself will not be amendable in individual parts. The Government has made it very clear that it does not want to use the new powers in the Bill but has done so on contingency bases. For those interested in the Bill, debates on it are here: https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/coronavirus/stages.html  

Travel  

As the Prime Minister has set out, for those who cannot work from home and must travel to work you should avoid using public transport for as much as possible. That is because we need to ensure our public transport is there for those people who work in our NHS and other key roles, in order for them to continue helping people and keep our communities running.

If you absolutely do need to use public transport, the Government has published new guidance for both transport operators and passengers on how to keep as safe as possible. The advice for passengers can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-…. It recommends:

  • keeping 2 metres apart from others wherever possible
  • wearing a face covering if you can
  • using contactless payment where possible
  • avoiding rush hour travel where feasible
  • washing or sanitising your hands as soon as possible before and after travel
  • following advice from staff and being considerate to others

The Government is also working with transport operators to ensure they increase the number of available services over the coming weeks, to avoid overcrowding as much as possible.

I would also recommend talking to your employers about the possibility of moving your start and finish times, so that you can avoid travelling at the busiest times. Let me finish by reminding you that the use of public transport should only be for essential journeys – while Government guidance now allows you to travel further for outdoor exercise, you should only do this using a car, bike or by walking.

You should not use public transport to visit non-essential destinations.

As you can appreciate, this is a fast-moving situation and the Government’s advice is regularly updated. I would strongly encourage you to check gov.uk/coronavirus for the latest information.

 

Exercise and Public Spaces  

The risk of infection outside is significantly lower than inside, so the Government is updating the rules so that, as well as exercise, people can now also spend time outdoors subject to: not meeting up with any more than one person from outside your household; continued compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain two metres (6ft) away from people outside your household; good hand hygiene, particularly with respect to shared surfaces; and those responsible for public places being able to put appropriate measures in place to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidance.  

  • People may exercise outside as many times each day as they wish. For example, this would include angling, tennis, basketball and golf with people from your own household.  

  • You will still not be able to use areas like playgrounds, outdoor gyms or ticketed outdoor leisure venues, where there is a higher risk of close contact and touching surfaces. 

  • You can only exercise with up to one person from outside your household – this means you should not play team sports, except with members of your own household. 

  • When spending time outdoors you can now sit and enjoy the fresh air, picnic, or sunbathe.  

  • People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household. 

  • It is important that everyone continues to act responsibly, as the large majority have done to date.  

 

As with before, you cannot: 

  • visit friends and family in their homes 

  • exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool 

  • use an outdoor gym or playground 

  • visit a private or ticketed attraction 

  • gather in a group of more than two (excluding members of your own household), except for a few specific exceptions set out in law (for work, funerals, house moves, supporting the vulnerable, in emergencies and to fulfil legal obligations) 

 

The Voluntary Sector 

At times of crisis, people come together. We have a fantastic voluntary sector on the Island, and I know it will emerge stronger after this, as individuals and communities come together to help each other through this period. I take this opportunity to thank all those people who do voluntary work on the Island, and for those who will help support the NHS and all of us through the next few weeks.

Nationally, the government is working with a partnership of the food industry, local government, local resilience and emergency partners, and voluntary groups, to ensure that essential items can be delivered to those who need it. The first food boxes have been delivered to those vulnerable people being shielded from coronavirus as the Government moved to support those most in need. The first 2,000 food parcels have already been delivered this weekend to those who cannot leave their homes because severe health conditions leave them most vulnerable to the virus.

On the Island, I have linked initiatives below that may be of interest. Please bear in mind that if you’re from an at-risk group, e.g. 70 years of age or over and/or with a pre-existing medical condition, we ask that you temporarily stop volunteering until the government guidance changes:

 

  • NHS Volunteer Responders has been set up to support the NHS during the COVID-19 outbreak. It covers a variety of roles. A link to this is here 

  • A superb local volunteer database has been set up by Community Action Isle of Wight. This distributes volunteers to cover all of the Island’s communities. The link can be found here. This has an associated discussion group which can be found here 

  • To the wider public, ‘WightAID’ is an initiative providing an opportunity for those who wish to donate money directly into the community support being delivered across the Island - much of which is being undertaken by volunteers 

  • Volunteer groups are working with the Isle of Wight Council to set-up up delivery systems 

  • Please also consider donating to the Island’s food bank at this time- thank you 

Advice for Islanders who are shielding

The Government has advised individuals with very specific medical conditions to shield until the end of June and to do everything they can to stay at home. As of 1 June, those shielding may wish to consider spending some time outdoors once a day, This can be with members of their own household, or, for those shielding alone, with one person from another household. If individuals wish to spend time outdoors, they should take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping two metres apart at all times.

I do not underestimate how challenging recent months have been for those people who have been advised to shield. Rest assured that the Government has put support scheme in place to provide help with access to food and basic supplied, care, medicines and social support for those who need it. The Government is keeping the guidance to shielded people under review, so I would suggest you regularly check gov.uk/coronavirus for the very latest.

 

Economic support for those who are shielding

It is vitally important that we protect those who are deemed as clinically vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

The Government has therefore strongly advised that these people stay at home at all times until at least the end of June, although those shielding can now spend some time outdoors once a day. This can be with members of their own household or, for those shielding alone, with one person from another household if strict social distancing is adhered to.

If your job cannot be done from home, then shielding will mean you are no longer able to go to work. If this is the case, your employer is entitled to furlough you through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, provided you meet the conditions for eligibility. This means you will be paid at least 80 per cent of your regular wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

As with every furlough decision, this must be an agreement between yourself and your employer. The Chancellor has now extended this scheme until October, ensuring that the support will remain in place for those who need it.

If you are unable to be furloughed, be rest assured that the Government is taking further action to ensure you can pay your bills, stay in your home and put food on your table. This includes increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £1,000 a year, providing nearly £1 billion of support for renters and introducing a three-month mortgage holiday for those in difficulty due to coronavirus.

We will continue to do everything we can to ensure people can pay their bills and put food on the table.

 

 

 

Jobs, Small Business and the Island Economy 

I am very aware that businesses are worried about Coronavirus - the impact it will have on their incomes and their ability to provide for their families. This is especially true in the Island due to the potential loss of tourism business. I am in regular contact with organisations across the Island, this includes businesses large and small as well as groups such as the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce, the National Farmers Union (NFU) on the Island and the voluntary sector that also employ many Islanders. I have raised their concerns with ministers in public and in private.  

Here is some more detail for those interested: 

  • The Job Retention Scheme. Any employer in the country – large, small, charitable or for-profit – who promises to retain their staff, can apply for a grant to cover most of the cost of paying people’s wages. Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – above the median income. There is no limit on these grants. The cost of wages will be backdated to 1st March and will be open initially for at least three months – and we will extend the scheme for longer if necessary. 

  • Deferring the next three months of VAT. That means no business will pay any VAT from now until the end of June, and they will have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills. 

  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will now be interest-free for twelve months, an extension from the initial announcement of six months. We have already introduced and announced an extension to the Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which is for small and medium-sized businesses. On Tuesday, the Chancellor expanded the amount that can be borrowed from £1.2 million to £5 million, and we are now extending the time frame of no interest on these loans from six months to twelve months. 

  • Protecting commercial tenants by ensuring that, if they cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus, they will not be evicted. These measures, included in the emergency Coronavirus Bill, will mean no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next three months. 

 

Offering more generous support to those who are without employment:  

  • Increasing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £1,000 a year – a cash injection of nearly £7 billion in the welfare system. We are increasing the Universal Credit standard allowance, for the next 12 months, by £1,000 a year. We will also increase Working Tax Credit by the same amount for the next 12 months. Together these measures will benefit over four million of Britain’s most vulnerable households.  

  • Strengthening the safety net for people who work for themselves by suspending the minimum income floor for twelve months – meaning self-employed people can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate that is equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees. For the self-employed, we are also deferring income tax self-assessment payments for July until the end of January 2021. We will announce further measures to support self-employed people over the coming days.  

  • Helping people stay in their homes by providing nearly £1 billion of support for renters, by increasing the generosity of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit, so that the Local Housing Allowance will cover at least 30 per cent of market rents in local areas.  

 

The Government has also said it would support jobs potentially affected by Covid-19 by: 

  • Providing a £330 billion package of loans and guarantees.  Any viable good business in financial difficulty who needs access to cash to pay their rent, the salaries of their employees, pay suppliers, or purchase stock, will be able to access a government-backed loan, on attractive terms.  

  • For the Island’s retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, all businesses in this sector are exempt from business rates for 12 months – that’s every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors. 

  • I have made the Government very aware that the Island will be particularly badly affected by the loss of the tourism and visitor economy. 

  • In addition, government will provide small businesses in these sectors with an additional grant scheme of up to £25,000. Any business with a rateable value of less than £51,000 can now get access to a government grant.  

  • On this issue, I have asked the Government to increase the rateable value to include more medium-sized Island businesses.  

  • Government will also provide £10,000 grants to the 700,000 of our smallest businesses.  

  • Government is also supporting small and medium-sized businesses to cope with the extra costs of paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) by refunding eligible SSP costs. In addition, businesses and self-employed people may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time to Pay service. Arrangements are agreed case-by-case. Businesses can contact HMRC’s new dedicated COVID-19 helpline for advice.  

  • The Government has also relaxed planning rules so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the Coronavirus outbreak. Currently, planning permission is required for businesses to carry out a change of use to a hot food takeaway. The government has confirmed regulations will be temporarily relaxed to enable businesses to deliver this service without a planning application. This will support businesses and help people who need to self-isolate, as well as vulnerable groups and older people who have been strongly advised to avoid social contact outside their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

 

For individuals, the Government has announced: 

  • A three-month mortgage holiday for those in difficulty due to coronavirus. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is now available for people diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are self-isolating, helping people with their finances – and a doctor’s note can be obtained via NHS 111. SSP will be available from day one for people who have COVID-19. However, the Budget sets out that this will now cover those who are unable to work because they have been advised to self- isolate as well as for people within the same household who display symptoms. Those who are advised to self-isolate will able to obtain a doctor’s note via NHS 111 as medical evidence for SSP.  

  • Allowing people to obtain a new isolation note online. Isolation notes will provide employees with evidence for their employers that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, either because they have symptoms or because they live with someone who has symptoms. The notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online, and then emailed to the user (or a trusted friend or family member, or directly to an employer, if someone doesn’t have email). 

 

The benefits system is also being made more flexible: 

  • The Government will support people who are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, like the self-employed, through the welfare system so that nobody is penalised for doing the right thing. Government will make it quicker and easier to access benefits. Those on contributory Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will be able to claim from day 1, instead of day 8. To make sure that time spent off work due to sickness is reflected in people’s benefits, it is also temporarily removing the minimum income floor in Universal Credit. This means self-employed people who fall out of work will still get their full payment. 

  • Suspending face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits for the next 3 months. This temporary move (effective from 17 March) is being taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus. Those who are entitled to a benefit will continue to receive support, and new claimants will be able to access the safety net. 

 

The Government has also announced measures to help people with the cost of living during this unprecedented time – namely, they can: 

  • benefit from a three-month mortgage holiday 

  • Defer the next three months of VAT tax 

  • Defer income tax self-assessment payments due in July 2020 

  • alongside further measures to protect renters and to help people with their energy bills. For more information, follow this link 

 

If any business is struggling, and worrying they may need to lose staff, I would urge you to log on to businesssupport.gov.uk, and look very carefully at what support is available before deciding to lay people off. 

 

The Job Retention Scheme 

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has opened for applications and, the Chancellor has now extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of October,  giving workers and businesses the certainty they need that the Government will continue to support them. 

  • And, to ensure the scheme helps as many people as possible, the date by which somebody had to be employed, in order to be eligible for furlough, has been extended to 19 March 2020. 

 

Island businesses can now apply for Government cash via an online portal.  

I want to make sure that Island businesses are the first in the queue for this cash, which can take up to six working days to appear in company bank accounts.  

This money is absolutely vital in the fight to keep our businesses – and our Island – going. We need to keep Islanders in employment to avoid further problems and get our economy back on track as quickly as possible after lockdown lifts. 

HMRC’s portal has a step by step application process, and up to 5,000 staff will be manning phone lines and webchat services to ensure any questions can be answered. 

  • Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – above the median income. There is no limit on these grants. It will be open initially for at least three months – and we will extend the scheme for longer if necessary. 

 

More information about government support for businesses can be found here

The link to the online portal can be found here

 

 

 

High street businesses

These are, naturally, very concerning times for businesses.  

On the island, business rates can often be one of the main fixed costs for our small companies. I am, therefore, glad the government has announced the suspension of business rates for retailers and our hospitality and leisure industries. High street firms are also beginning to receive £25,000 cash grants further to being exempt from business rates from today (Wednesday, April 1) – as they begin to benefit from a package that is, nationally, worth £22 billion:  

  • This aims to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, where eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The measure comes into force on April 1.  
  • The smallest businesses in these sectors are also beginning to receive one off grants of either £10,000 or £25,000, with money landing in their bank accounts. An early payment of £3.4 billion was made to local authorities last week (Friday March 27) to ensure grants would get to businesses as soon as possible. Every local authority in England - including the Isle of Wight Council - has now received the full amount of grant funding they need to support their local businesses.
  • The Isle of Wight Council today confirmed (2 April) that it has received £62 million to help support small businesses on the Island. The money will start to be distributed on 6 April.

This intervention combined with the quick delivery of grants for those small businesses and the 700,000 small businesses in receipt of small business rates relief and rural rate relief, could be the difference between surviving this crisis or folding. 

For more information on this, follow this link

 

Payments made to island firms 

  • High street firms are already applying to receive these cash grants. Today (April 20), 2,800 firms have applied on the island. 
  • The Council expects all £62 million to be paid out in three weeks from today’s date (April 20), but they have aimed to complete these urgent payments within a fortnight to ease strain on local firms. To those who haven’t received their payment in this time, do contact me. 

 

 

Supporting B&B providers  

I am aware bed and breakfast providers on the Island are struggling to access financial support from the Government - and I intend to do all he can to help them. I have been contacted by B&B owners on the Island who say they have been hit very hard by the current situation with Spring bookings cancelled and no idea when they will be able to reopen.  

Despite a plethora of financial packages of support for businesses coming through from the Treasury, it seems bed and breakfast providers may have fallen through the cracks and we must address this. With so many Island businesses dependant on the visitor economy, it is vitally important that B&Bs are not forgotten about and I will do all I can to ensure the Government is made aware of their plight. 

I will be raising the issue with Tourism Minister, Nigel Huddleston, and Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to see what can be done.  

 

Loan Scheme for Small Businesses 

I welcome the new 100 per cent government-backed loan scheme for small businesses announced by Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, yesterday (27 April). I thank the Chancellor for this new scheme, which I’m sure will be welcomed by many Island businesses. Support schemes like this will enable businesses to get back on track much more quickly. The more businesses we can help to bounce back from the effects of Covid-19, the more livelihoods we can save. 

The scheme - which allows businesses to borrow up to £50,000 - has been designed to ensure that small firms who need vital cash injections to keep operating can access finance in a matter of days. 

The Government says not only will it provide lenders with a 100 per cent guarantee for the loan - and pay any fees and interest for the first 12 months - but no repayments will be due during the first 12 months. 

I encourage all small business owners on the Island to consider how this scheme could help them to keep their business going through this challenging time. 

  •  Businesses can apply through an online form available from Monday 4 May. 

 

The Self-Employed 

Providing support for self-employed people has been very challenging – everyone’s circumstances are different. That’s why it has taken the Government slightly longer to work through these challenges, but I am pleased that the Chancellor has announced support and help for self-employed people. Musicians and sound engineers; plumbers and electricians; taxi drivers and driving instructors; hairdressers and childminders and many others, through no fault of their own, risk losing their livelihoods. These people have not been forgotten.  

 

The Government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is now online. 

  • You can check if you are eligible, here 

  • You can also check the date you can submit your claim using HMRC’s online checker, here 

  • Further support is available by using HMRC’s webchat service or by calling the Covid-19 Helpline on 0800 024 1222 

 

Should you, or your family be experiencing financial difficulties, the Government has taken a number of steps to help right now: 

  

  1. The chancellor has announced further access to Universal Credit, making it more accessible for the self-employed and more generous overall. It is also already the case that people can get an advance payment almost immediately after they claim if they need one, so they do not have to wait five weeks if they have pressing bills to pay.  

  2. On top of this, the Government has also deployed extra resources into local authorities to help those who are most vulnerable with things like council tax bills, which can be a large bill for families every month.  

  3. Many self-employed people can also access business interruption loans, and self-assessment income tax payments due in July can be deferred to the end of January next year.  

  4. The Government has also announced measures to help people with the cost of living during this unprecedented time. Self-employed people can benefit from a three-month mortgage holiday and deferring the next three months of VAT, alongside further measures to protect renters and to help people with their energy bills.  

These measures are currently being rolled out. Please check the Government website here for the very latest guidance and support.  

I am talking with the Island’s Chamber of Commerce to get feedback for these proposals. 

 

 

 

Grants for small and medium-sized businesses focusing on research and development. 

I want to make sure businesses are aware of the support the Government is making available to help them through these difficult times so that we come out of this awful situation as strong as we went in. It will take time to do so, but the support packages we are seeing from the Government are very welcome.  

Nonetheless, it is vital that, today, we support the businesses that will drive the economy and provide jobs in the future.  

 

The latest multi-million-pound package of support from Government is designed to protect firms who are driving innovation and development in the UK.  

  • The Chancellor’s new £1.25 billion package, announced yesterday, includes a £500 million investment fund – called the Future Fund - for high-growth companies impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.  

  • The Chancellor has also allocated £750 million of grants and loans for small and medium sized businesses focusing on research and development.  

 

The Island had an abundance of companies at the cutting edge of innovation that may be eligible for assistance, and it is important that we try to keep every sector of our economy going.  As the Chancellor has said, start-ups and businesses driving research and development are one of our great economic strengths both nationally and on the Island and they will have a major part in helping the economy emerge from the coronavirus crisis.  

I have notified the IW Chamber of Commerce and the IW Federation of Small Businesses about the new package of support and urge all businesses who think they may be eligible to investigate this support.  

 

More details on the funding are available here

Going back to work

Government guidance says that if you can work from home, you should do so.

If, however, that is not possible, for example, if you work in construction or manufacturing, you should return to your place of work and the Government has recently issued guidance to businesses on how they can ensure that workplaces are as safe as possible for those who work there.

Workers also have the option to use face coverings, which are simple cloth coverings, but this is not required by law in the workplace and if workers do choose to wear one, they should follow the workplace guidance on how to use it.

If you are going to work, it is vital that you stay alert while you are out of the house. Avoid public transport wherever possible, and make sure that you are maintaining social distancing and washing your hands regularly throughout the day.

If you start to feel ill, with a continuous cough or high temperature, you must stay home for 7 days. If another member of your household has symptoms, you must stay home for 14 days. Statutory Sick Pay is available and you can now access an isolation note, as evidence to your employer, online on the NHS 111 website.

As you can appreciate, this is a fast-moving situation and the Government’s advice is regularly updated.

Food Deliveries 

Supermarkets have plenty of food and are gearing up to deliver more. However, due to the demand for home delivery, they are finding it difficult to meet demand. 

Rather than queue for prolonged periods outside the bigger stores, may I suggest that Islanders take this opportunity to support their own local shops which, especially in rural areas of the Island, deliver. These include: 

 

 

What about my MOT? 

Vehicle owners will be granted a six-month exemption from MOT testing, enabling them to continue to travel to work where this absolutely cannot be done from home, or shop for necessities. All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MOT test will be exempted from needing a test from 30 March 2020. Vehicles must be kept in a roadworthy condition, and garages will remain open for essential repair work. Drivers can be prosecuted if driving unsafe vehicles. 

Advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for Islanders abroad 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. Clearly, I am very concerned about Islanders - and any Britons - who are trapped overseas.  

I am making sure the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will do what it can to repatriate islanders who are stuck abroad, especially as British nationals may be facing a period of lockdown as countries overseas restrict travel without notice. The Foreign Secretary has already talked with leaders of many other nations to enable Brits to return from countries they are stranded in. Advice and options vary for each country, but British nationals and family/friends in the UK are advised to do the following; 

 

  1. Subscribe to alerts for the country you are in https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. Updates are occurring regularly 

  1. Follow Embassy/Consulate Social Media (search UK in [country name] on Twitter/Facebook) 

  1. Contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers 

  1. Get in touch with your insurance provider 

  1. Continue to follow the NHS coronavirus guidance to ensure your wellbeing 

 

For outbound travel, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. If British Nationals need to change or cancel your travel plans, follow these steps: 

 

  1. Contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers 

  1. Get in touch with your insurance provider 

 

 

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust 

What the Trust has done on the Island in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable. It has stopped all non-urgent operations and outpatient appointments and is restricting visiting St Mary’s. It has moved the Community Unit to Ryde Health and Wellbeing Centre, which has freed up 25 beds on the main hospital site.  

I would like to thank the Isle of Wight NHS Trust who I know are working extraordinarily hard to care for those who have already tested positive for the virus while ensuring the hospital is ready to care for any new admissions. 

Wards have been reconfigured to create Isolation Wards to treat patients confirmed as having COVID-19. The Intensive Care Unit has increased from 6 ventilated beds to 18 with plans to increase to 45. The Trust has also been working with military planners to deliver a further significant increase in additional beds at the St Mary’s site if needed and has also identified other potential sites if necessary.  

The Trust is well prepared to deal with more cases on the Island, should they arise in the coming weeks, as we reach the peak of cases on the Island. 

 

Why is the Army on the island?  

Members of the Scots Guards have now arrived on the Island in preparation for the reconfiguration of St Mary’s Hospital. With the help of these men and women in uniform, the hospital is increasing its capacity in anticipation of an increase in the number of Coronavirus cases. The areas being reconfigured are: 

  • The Education Centre 

  • Laidlaw Day Hospital 

  • The Outpatients Appointments and Records Unit 

In the past month, the staff at the hospital, community, ambulance and mental health services have worked exceptionally hard to adapt to these circumstances. For this, I thank them on behalf of all of us.  

Likewise, I am sincerely grateful that we have a military presence to support our NHS Trust through this difficult period. Their presence and hard work sends a message of reassurance - Islanders have not been forgotten during this time. 

 

Supporting local charities  

I am delighted that the Chancellor announced a £750 million package of support to ensure charities can continue their vital work during the coronavirus outbreak.15   Our brilliant charities are already playing a crucial role in our national effort to fight coronavirus – backed up by an army of volunteers to support those who are most in need. This will benefit tens of thousands of charities, ensuring they can meet increased demand as a result of the virus as well as continuing their day to day activities supporting those in need.  

 This package will make sure those on the front line are able to reach people who need help most, support communities and take the pressure off our NHS.   

Directly allocating £360 million to key charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis. This funding will be allocated by Government departments and will include:  

  • Up to £200 million for hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector  

o St Johns Ambulance to support the NHS 

o Victims charities, including domestic abuse, to help with the potential increase in demand for charities providing these services 

o Vulnerable children charities, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities  

o Citizens Advice to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time  

  • Providing £370 million for small and medium-sized charities to support those organisations at the heart of local communities which are making a big difference during the outbreak. The £370 million, including through a grant to the National Lottery Community Fund for those in England, will support organisations that are playing a crucial role in our fight against coronavirus, including those delivering food, essential medicines and providing financial advice.  

  • Pledging a minimum of £20 million to contribute to the National Emergencies Trust appeal. The Government will match donations made during the BBC’s upcoming Big Night In live fundraising special, with a minimum pledge of £20 million.   

 

What am I doing as your Member of Parliament? 

I have raised the Island in almost every debate, Urgent Question (UQs) or Government statement which has taken place on the floor of the House of Commons (in debates, one can talk to a number of issues, in UQs or Statements one is generally only allowed to ask a question). The reason I have raised the Island is because we are more vulnerable than most other parts of the UK due to our dependency on ferries. Key workers, mutual aid for the hospital, medicines and food supplies are also reliant on the three cross-Solent operators. 

After a week pressing the Government, we now have permission for the three ferry firms (Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel) to talk to each other without being in breach of Competition Law. We needed that to happen so that they discuss operational issues in case there were outbreaks of coronavirus amongst staff. 

I have also raised with Ministers twice on the floor of the House of Commons the issue of medicine supply after I was contacted by a senior doctor on the Island. 

On the Island, I am hosting - by phone due to the situation – meetings with a wide range of groups, individuals and organisations. In addition, I talk daily with members of the Isle of Wight Council or the NHS. Almost all the feedback I receive is passed directly to Government Ministers. In some instances, I have talked to doctors and then passed that information, request or concern to Government Ministers in Parliamentary debates minutes later. I have been doing everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of people on the Isle of Wight. 

 

Specifically

 

  • On the 16th of March, I spoke of the need for a national decision on behalf of insurance companies as to if they will, or will not, recognise coronavirus under business interruption insurance. The link for the words is here and the video, here 

 

  • On the 16th of March, I spoke of the need for unavoidably small hospitals that serve island communities to be supported by the Government in mutual aid, clear advice and the supply of medicine and equipment. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 17th of March, I spoke of the need to relax competition law to allow discussion between the cross-Solent ferry operators to build a resilience plan during the outbreak. I asked the Government to support the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in allowing passengers to sit in cars during ferry journeys, to protect at-risk groups and for social distancing purposes. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 17th of March, I spoke of the need for more to be done to support social enterprises who will now face significant income cuts. Specifically, I raised my concerns that rate relief will not be enough and asked the Chancellor to act quickly in supporting small businesses access grants. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 19th of March, I spoke of the need for a review of rateable value and clarity for my Chamber of Commerce in the application process. I asked for either a voluntary sector package or a universal employment retention programme during this health crisis. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 23rd of March, I spoke of the need to look after the self-employed during, and after, the coronavirus outbreak. Particularly in light on our reliance on tourism and the visitor economy. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 23rd of March, I spoke of the need for the Coronavirus Bill to enable nurses to give controlled drugs as part of patient group direction. This provision would allow flexibility in supplying life-saving medicine. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

  • On the 23rd of March, I spoke of the need to ensure support for cross-Solent travel operators in the Coronavirus Bill. The link for the words is here and the video here 

 

Parliament is now in recess. This would have taken place now anyway, but it is being extended by one week. We are due to sit again towards the end of April. Regardless of whether Parliament is sitting, I am here to argue for the Island’s case with Government. I will continue to do this. 

 

Key Contact Numbers 

The Government has set up the following hotlines, which I urge you to make use of. These will be able to provide you with a quick response to an urgent query: 

  • Business support & Ventilators:  0300 456 3565 
  • HMRC:  0800 015 9559 
  • Universal Credit: 0800 328 5644 
  • School closures and education:  0800 046 8687 

 

  • The Council’s helpline for vulnerable Islanders is:  01983 823 600 

 

The Government’s comprehensive page is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close- 

The Isle of Wight’s help page is at: https://www.iow.gov.uk/Residents/Care-Support-and-Housing/Community-Health-and-Wellbeing/Public-Health-Coronavirus-COVID-19/Advice1 

 

To Sum Up 

As I said, Coronavirus will pass but the more we work together, the quicker it will pass.

That is why the Government has taken unprecedented action to limit the spread of the virus, to support the economy and to make provision to look after the more vulnerable in our community. 

 

Kind regards, 

Bob 

 
Robert Seely MBE MP 
Member of Parliament, Isle of Wight