Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 10 March 2021.
This week all students will return to school for the first time since Christmas. Many will have been looking forward to escaping from remote learning and having a chance to be with their friends again. This is an important step on our journey out of COVID lockdown.
Nationally, the spread of the virus is now at a four-month low, and in Folkestone and Hythe the seven-day average daily infection rate is at its lowest since 16th October, at just 6.4 cases per day.
To put that in context, at its peak at the end of December, the same rate was 135. Now that over 35% of people in England have received the coronavirus vaccine we’ve also seen hospitalisation rates fall to less than a fifth of what they were in January. If this progress continues we can look forward to further significant steps in lifting the social contact restrictions in the coming weeks.
Last Wednesday the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak presented his Budget statement to the House of Commons. Among the many measures announced I was pleased to see that he has extended the VAT cut to 5% for hospitality, accommodation and attractions across the UK until the end of September, followed by a 12.5% rate for a further six months until 31 March 2022. This measure is particularly important for the many tourism and hospitality businesses in our area that have been so badly affected by the lockdowns. The Chancellor was also right to extend the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit, and the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme, to September 2021.
This week the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, along with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, have published their report into Napier Barracks in Folkestone, which has been used since last September to accommodate young adult men seeking asylum in the UK. Following their inspection of Napier in February they are critical of the living conditions at the Barracks, and the fact that consideration was not given to managing COVID in accommodation units where up to 400 people are living in shared sleeping, washing and eating facilities. Concerns were also raised about the length of time people were placed there, and the lack of information about when they would receive the results of their asylum application.
These were all issues that I raised with Folkestone and Hythe District Council when we were first told about the plan to use Napier Barracks for this purpose. Napier was only supposed to be a temporary facility for the Home Office, and their lease on the site expires in September. I hope that they listen to the findings of this independent report and work through a managed closure of Napier Barracks over the coming weeks.
Triennial Art Festival
Finally, Creative Folkestone have given us something positive to look forward to with the announcement for the dates for this year’s Triennial art festival. Initially planned to open in September last year, it will now run from Thursday 22 July until Tuesday 2 November, featuring twenty newly commissioned artworks. Curated for a third time by Lewis Biggs, the Triennial is entitled The Plot, and invites visitors to consider urban myths and their relation to verifiable facts. This would seem to be an appropriate theme for our times, as well as an idea to explore stories from Folkestone’s past.