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An update from Damien - 24 April.

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An update on coronavirus: 

The last few weeks have been incredibly busy for my office as we deal with the significant number of letters, emails, and phone calls from constituents and businesses which have been coming in requesting support and assistance. 

Alongside this I have been receiving regular updates from Government departments, and I have been in regular contact with the heads of Sefton Council, Southport Hospital, and the local police force. Throughout this crisis I have been ensuring that any concerns and queries have been responded to directly by the Government, whilst offering any personal support I can. 

At this point, I want to express my sincere condolences to the nurse at Southport hospital who passed away this week after contracting coronavirus. Her commitment to our National Health Service is a testament to her character and our national spirit at this time of great uncertainty, and my thoughts and prayers, and I’m sure those of all Southport residents are with her family, friends, and work colleagues at this sad time. 

Of course, one of the specific issues I have been discussing with the Council’s Chief Executive is the situation regarding the delivery and distribution of PPE products within our town, particularly among care homes and other vital local services. I am happy that, like Southport Hospital, the Council has managed to keep a steady supply of PPE coming into Southport using Government funding, with £250,000 of grant money already having been spent and weekly deliveries scheduled for the foreseeable future. I have however received some concerns from constituents – and medical professionals – regarding the supply of PPE and I am continuing to raise those concerns as a matter of priority. 

I was also pleased that Southport was selected to host a pilot for a mobile testing site at the park and ride for three days this week. This was very convenient for those who were on the required list to be tested, and over the three days proved to be very successful. I visited the site with Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, to see for myself how the site operated, and I thank Ministry of Defence staff from the Duke of Lancaster Regiment (1st Battalion) for their assistance in helping us tackle Coronavirus. 

Since my last contribution there have also been updates to Government guidance on the lockdown itself. When the lockdown was first announced, the Prime Minister mentioned that the measures would be reviewed regularly, which happened last week. After cabinet and Cobra committee meetings, it was announced that the current restrictions would be kept in place for at least another three weeks. I know that it is incredibly difficult to go so long without visiting friends and family, but I am thankful that Southport has largely adhered to the lockdown measures which were put in place to protect the NHS and – ultimately – save lives. 

As mentioned previously, my office has been incredibly busy with hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters arriving each week. The recent surge in cases has mainly been due to the Coronavirus crisis, with constituents asking for my help in navigating the support packages the Government has put in place to help people through this difficult time. On top of this, we have our normal flow of casework on non-Coronavirus related issues, in areas such as welfare, housing, immigration, social care, education, and council matters. 

Progressing these cases as quickly as possible - and in doing so ensuring Southport residents have all the support they are entitled to as soon as possible - is my number one priority. 

As such, the non-casework functions of my office have been scaled back in order to allow us to focus on supporting these residents. As part of this, my weekly column in the Champion has been paused. I 

will still be in regular contact with teams at the Champion, Visiter, and other local news outlets to ensure that Government announcements are relayed to residents and everybody is properly informed. I will, of course, still update constituents both through my website and social media pages and will write these longer updates regularly. 

One of the biggest support schemes the Government has announced – the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – went live recently for businesses to apply to furlough workers. So far businesses have reported the scheme to be simple and straightforward, with few having issues with the application itself. 

Most of the confusion among businesses has been surrounding the eligibility of particular groups of workers to be furloughed, and around the cut-off dates. After writing to the Chancellor on these issues on behalf of local Southport businesses, I was happy to see the Government update and clarify their guidance on types of employees eligible for the scheme and shift the cut-off date from February 28 to March 19. 

I am happy also that Government food parcels are arriving with particularly vulnerable residents who may not have the same support networks as others. If you have received a letter advising you to shield as a result of your medical history and are struggling to get food and other essential supplies, please contact my office so we can look into arranging one of these for you. 

As some of you may have heard, for the first time in its history the Houses of Parliament are now sitting digitally. Some colleagues are still attending the chamber in person (albeit following strict social distancing rules), but the rest of us are using video links to ask our questions and follow proceedings. It will be clunky, and won’t always work as well as we’d like it to, but I do think that it is right that Parliament still perform its scrutiny role – which is as important as ever at times of crisis. 

As always, please do contact my office if there is anything I can do to support you through this difficult period. I can always be contacted by email and aim to respond as quickly as I possibly can. 

Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.