It has been great to get out and about across our vast constituency over the past fortnight since lockdown restrictions were lifted on 2nd December. I particularly enjoyed visiting the new Riverside Community Centre in Bovey Tracey, built on the site of the Old Thatched Inn. I remember the fire there in 2008 and although it’s been a long time coming, the town now has a fantastic new facility that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
While in town I met up with local councillors George Gribble and Avril Kerswell to encourage people to shop locally in the run up to Christmas. Before we put in another online order, let’s ask ourselves – could we have found what we wanted locally? For while there are businesses that have kept busy during the pandemic, many more have really struggled. There is no need to fear going out - shops in Bovey and our other market towns in Central Devon like Ashburton, Chudleigh, Moretonhampstead and Buckfastleigh have done an outstanding job in making their premises Covid-secure – and every pound spent supporting a local business over the next few weeks is a pound spent supporting local families and protecting local jobs.
To help, the Government is relaxing planning laws to allow businesses to stay open longer during December and January. These measures will help ease transport pressures, make socially distanced shopping even easier and should enable businesses to do more trade. There is help for self-employed workers too, with the third phase of the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) now open for the self-employed to claim. Those suffering from a loss of profits due to the pandemic can claim 80% of their average monthly trading profits for another three months, capped at £7,500 in total. The grant does not need to be repaid but will be subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance and must be reported on 2020/2021 Self-Assessment tax returns. To date, more than 10,000 self-employed workers right here in Central Devon have made successful claims to the scheme, benefiting from £27 million in grants.
Finally, we have had the very encouraging news that we have seen the first Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines administered in the UK – making us the first country in the world to begin a nationwide inoculation campaign using a fully tested vaccine. The past week has seen tens of thousands of the most vulnerable in our society receive the vaccine with 800,000 doses set to be administered by the end of December. I have previously written about the dangers of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories circulating on the internet, particularly social media, and strongly urge residents in Central Devon to get vaccinated when they are offered the opportunity. We have listened to our scientists and our doctors throughout the pandemic and we should not stop now.