This week saw the one-year anniversary of our first Covid-19 lockdown.
This has been one of the most difficult years in our nation’s history, but I pay tribute to the British people for their endurance, discipline and patience. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has spoken of building a fitting and a permanent memorial to those who sadly lost their lives to this terrible virus.
This anniversary is also an opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in the fight against Covid-19. This includes those who have worked to ensure that our vaccine programme has now protected more than 28 million people across the whole of the UK, along with the heroes in our NHS and social care, pharmacists, teachers, armed service personnel, shop workers, transport workers, the police and so many more.
We are nearing the end of this difficult period; however, for the time being we must continue to do our bit and ensure that our fantastic vaccine programme can finish what it started.
As we move along our roadmap towards normality, the government is working to get our economy back up and running. As part of this work, the government announced last Saturday a significant package of measures to support the reopening of high streets ahead of the summer.
These measures will build on the support that has been provided to the retail and hospitality sector throughout the pandemic and will include a new £56 million Welcome Back Fund. This fund will give councils the funding they need to boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stalls. In Swindon, we will receive almost £200k from this fund.
In addition to these measures, businesses such as pubs and restaurants will have the flexibility to set up marquees and extra outdoor seating areas, and measures will be introduced to curb cowboy parking firms, thereby encouraging more shoppers to return to high streets and town centres without the fear of being unfairly penalised by rogue parking firms.
Moreover, the provision of public toilets is also being reviewed to ensure that there are appropriate facilities for visitors to town centres. Along with this, businesses will continue to be protected from the threat of eviction if unable to pay their rent. This will help businesses get back on their feet as Covid restrictions are gradually lifted in the coming weeks and months.
These measures, along with the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund, the £3.6 billion Towns Fund, and other significant investment, will give our high streets and town centres the best possible chance to recover as we emerge from the pandemic.
This week also saw the launch of our New Plan for Immigration. Although I have always been pro-immigration, especially where we have skills gaps in our economy, we must address the issue of illegal immigration and prevent further loss of life via dangerous border crossings and crack down on the vile criminals that facilitate it.
Our system will be firm but fair and is based on the following three objectives. 1. To better protect and support those in genuine need of refuge. 2. To deter illegal entry and break the business model of the people smugglers that enable it. 3. To remove more easily those with no right to be here.
We promised to introduce a fair, common-sense based immigration system, and this New Plan for Immigration will deliver on that promise.