Blogs > John Glen Salisbury MP Diary

John Glen Salisbury MP Diary

Houses of Parliament

3rd June 2020

3rd June 2020

Although it has felt at times as though Covid-19 has subsumed every other issue, slowly but surely, other concerns are starting to surface in my inbox.

The past few days have brought an influx of emails on the perennially popular topics of animal welfare and the environment.

But it has been apparent that one international news story has resonated particularly strongly with a lot of Salisbury people – the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Geographically distant though it is and though the violence on our screens seem a far cry from the leafy villages of south Wiltshire, the themes of justice and racial equality that have been laid bare by what happened touch us all.

A lot of people have written to express their distress at the appearance of grossly disproportionate force being used against Mr Floyd, as well as the subsequent ugly scenes of clashes between protesters, police and counter protesters.

I think it is emblematic of what can occur when divisions in society are permitted to deepen and fester. As well as registering our shock, it should remind us all to nurture and treasure open and civil discourse on crucial issues of what kind of society we want to be.

Meanwhile, preparations continue for the next step in lifting the lockdown, which will hopefully go ahead on June 15th.

While I have settled into the rhythm of doing a weekly shop at Lidl, I am always mindful that this has been a very difficult time for non-essential retailers who have been closed.

I have noticed a lot of shopkeepers are hard at work this week in advance of opening, moving displays and installing one-way systems to make safe spaces for their customers and putting in screens and signage to protect employees.

I am grateful for all their hard work but I know that anxieties persist about how many customers will return once shops are able to open again.

Our independents and physical stores still offer a level of service and a social experience that cannot be equalled online and I look forward to lots of us enjoying them again in a safe and socially distanced way.

The arts in Salisbury are also keenly missed and I was delighted to take part in an online discussion forum for Wiltshire Creative at the weekend. I have no doubt at all that our treasured arts institutions will not only survive this crisis but will be at the forefront of our local recovery – both economically and psychologically.

Posted by John Glen at 3:34pm

27th May 2020

27th May 2020

Notwithstanding the political storm this week about the actions of the Prime Minister’s principal adviser, there continues to be positive news on coronavirus infection numbers and therefore work continues towards lifting the lockdown and restoring normality.

A lot of Salisbury people are on the brink of having their lockdown lives transformed next week by the return of the first few year groups to school.

I know that some of those eligible to return are fearful, while others who are not part of the first cohort of returnees are disappointed and impatient to get back.

This is a gradual process, informed by the scientific advice we are receiving but also contingent on the rate of infection – the R – remaining low.

The government has listened to the concerns raised about the impact on young people's education and mental health of being separated from their teachers and peers.

Because we also know how important schools are in allowing parents to get back to work, they have been one of the first areas of attention.

The risk to children from the virus is statistically very small. Obviously, we know that young children in particular will not reliably follow social distancing but they will learn and play in small 'pods' and not mix with children outside their own social bubble, something which has been done very successfully in Denmark.

I am sensitive to the challenge that podding, coupled with increased time spent cleaning and handwashing, will pose, particularly in small schools.

However, nowhere in the extensive guidance to schools are they asked to immediately deliver the full curriculum using exactly the same teaching methods they normally would. Schools are at liberty to split classes and deploy staff as they see fit and in a way that suits the numbers that wish to return and the facilities that are available.

Of course, we already owe a debt of gratitude to teachers. They are key workers and the majority of local schools have remained open to other key workers’ children throughout the crisis in a managed way that has not resulted in any trend of school-acquired infections.

All workers, key or not, who cannot work from home have already been asked to return to work. Broadening school access is part and parcel of extending the gradual return to more normal economic activity.

We are also in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the experience of and follow best practice in other countries who returned to school much earlier in their infection ‘curve’.

The effects of all the steps that have already been taken to reopen the economy are being monitored carefully by our finest scientists, epidemiologists and statisticians and this modest school return will be no different.

We will continue to be led by the data but, provided the R stays below one, normality must and will be allowed to return – gradually, cautiously and in line with the scientific consensus.

Posted by John Glen at 10:41am

20th May 2020

20th May 2020

A lot of constituents were very encouraged to hear Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announce £2 billion in government funding to bring about a revolution in walking and cycling.

My inbox has been populated all week with animated emails suggesting bold and thoughtful ways of weaning more of us off the internal combustion engine and getting Salisbury back on its bike.

It has not been lost on me that a lot of people have enjoyed the quieter roads and cleaner air during the lockdown and have rekindled their love of cycling and walking. After all, I am one of them!

Always starting out from my home in The Close, in recent weeks I have completed very enjoyable walks around Harnham, Laverstock, the Castle Road area and out as far as Coombe Bissett, the Woodford Valley and South Newton.

Taking advantage of the relaxation in the lockdown rules, I went to Bath at the weekend to have a walk with my mum – the first time I have seen her in a few months.

Before that, I was pleased to visit the revived charter market and was not surprised to see Salisbury people turning out to welcome the traders back while sensibly observing social distancing.

The enforced change from automatically using our cars to get out and about, coupled with a leap forward in a lot of people’s grasp of online meetings and video calling has put us in a powerful position to permanently reconsider our attitude to transport and the way we define necessary and unnecessary journeys.

Of course, it will fall to local authorities to determine need in their areas and to apply for funding to support both new capital projects and existing green transport initiatives.

I am encouraged that we have a local authority which already rates walking and cycling very highly. For example, the new Maltings project centres around a riverside park which will perform the essential function of protecting the city centre from flooding, but also provide brand new walking routes and cycle trails in an underutilised part of the city.

It also forms part of a plan to make it possible to walk or cycle from Old Sarum to the Cathedral without crossing a road.

As the economy reopens, some redistribution of space on city centre roads may be necessary to facilitate social distancing, but the clear aim behind the extra funding is not just to pay for partitioning and signage but to bring about a long-term step-change in walking and cycling uptake by actually expanding and enhancing the infrastructure that supports it.

I look forward to seeing what exciting ideas emerge in the fullness of time.

Posted by John Glen at 1:07pm

13th May 2020

13th May 2020

On Sunday night (10th May), the Prime Minister set out the next stage in our journey through this once in a century global health emergency.

His eagerly awaited announcement on the steps towards reopening the economy and restoring normality was followed on Monday by a significant 50-page document.

It provides a detailed roadmap for the future, as well as specific guidance for different sectors of society impacted by the changes.

Social distancing remains at the heart of the strategy. The priority continues to be to keep the R – the rate at which the infection spreads – below 1.

The document also reemphasises the important message that those for whom it is not possible to work from home are encouraged to return to work while taking sensible precautions.

Those who have written to me overwhelmingly understand the purpose of what we are trying to do – to move steadily out of lockdown without causing a spike in cases or jeopardising the progress made to date.

We will proceed step by step, keeping a close eye on the data but, provided people keep their distance and are vigilant on hygiene, we can stay on course to recovering large parts of the personal freedom and economic productivity that have been so much missed.

On Tuesday (12th May), I was in Westminster to support the Chancellor as he extended the furlough scheme to the end of October. By giving businesses security, he has allowed them breathing space to plan a way forward, responding to the needs of their staff and customers.

More locally, I am delighted to learn of the increasingly pivotal role that brilliant scientists at Porton Down (PHE) are playing in delivering virus testing and supporting the search for a vaccine.

I will return to Salisbury at the end of the week to resume my routine of emails and conference calls, interspersed with long walks.

Last weekend, it was very cheering to see people responsibly enjoying a socially distanced VE Day in the Woodford Valley.

I know that the vast majority of Salisbury people possess a high degree of common sense.

I trust us to keep up the good work by taking the new guidance and applying it appropriately to our own lives and work.

More detail on future steps will come in due course but continued progress remains conditional on the R rate staying down.

Posted by John Glen at 10:24am

6th May 2020

6th May 2020

We are now seeing the positive rewards of weeks of lockdown in reduced levels of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

It is extremely welcome news that the high levels of compliance with social distancing are paying off. I am grateful to everyone for the sacrifices they have made to save lives and ensure that worst case scenarios have not come to pass.

Nevertheless, I am aware that the frustrations of lockdown are increasingly being felt. More and more people are asking me when they can expect to be able to get back to work, visit family or enjoy more freedom to get out and about.

The government is now working urgently on phased proposals to ease the lockdown, with details due in the coming days.

The lockdown strategy thus far has been led by science - and so must the return to normality be.

This necessary ‘pause’ has been damaging for the economy and intensely challenging for many individuals and no-one wants it to go on a moment longer than necessary but lifting it too far too soon risks a second spike in infections, which must be avoided at all costs.

Starting as soon as possible, the steady and responsible restoration of a lasting and functional normality that we can all live with has to be the aim.

My ministerial focus in The Treasury has been on the economic effects of the lockdown, supporting businesses that are either shut down or seeing a loss of trade.

But I am also keenly aware that there are other costs apart from monetary ones and I know a lot of people are feeling very pulled down – anxious about their businesses, missing their families or feeling cut off from school friends.

I do sympathise with how hard it has been, but we are now on the way to a restoration of many of the freedoms that have been so hard to live without.

We must take courage from that and continue to be patient and selfless so that we can all return to normality together but in a controlled way that protects the NHS and keeps us and our loved ones safe.

Posted by John Glen at 9:15am

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