Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has responded once again to callers' queries and taken action on their behalf following her virtual surgery in BBC Radio Oxford this morning [21 May 2020].
Layla's first virtual surgery was on 25 March closer to the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, and so much has happened since then. Layla and the callers spoke about schools, support for our tourism industry, homelessness, keeping our hospitality sector going and sustainable travel in the age of COVID-19.
Layla answered most of the callers' questions live on air, but took some away to give a more detailed response, and has also acted based on other conversations she had on the show.
Below are her further responses and summaries of the action she's taking.
My son is in year 6, and I'm worried he's being asked to go back to school prematurely.
This is something I've been hearing a lot from other parents — but also of course from teachers, head teachers and other school staff.
We all want schools to reopen to more pupils, but it has to be safe for them first. We need to see the full scientific advice that the Government has based its strategy on, and to have a grown-up conversation in this country about the risks and rewards. It must be safety first, and our primary goal has to be making sure the most disadvantaged kids are safe and able to learn. Every day that schools remain shut, the disadvantage gap widens and vulnerable children risk falling through the cracks. But that doesn’t mean we should open schools before it’s actually safe. The Government has failed to consult with school leaders, teachers and unions on the details of its guidance for reopening schools, and that’s just not good enough. We need reassurance that the decisions are being made based on public health advice only, and not economic fears.
The Government needs to work with school leaders to understand what they need, and put provisions for each school in place now. Only when school staff have the PPE they need, as per their own risk assessment, should reopening be happening.
And Oxfordshire County Council needs to give community and maintained schools the flexibility to do what's in their best interests.
I will continue to press the Government to put safety first, to be transparent and to work with parents, teachers and the public. It's time to have a grown-up conversation about this.
I run a guest house in Headington — I'm not able to receive the discretionary fund that's been set up by the Government to support many small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme.
This was a really worrying story — and as what should be peak tourism season is approaching too. It's disappointing to hear that you're ineligible when the scheme was supposed to help people like you.
Speaking to local councillors, I know that much of the problem is that they don't have much money to give in the first place, meaning they face the choice of either excluding some businesses or giving everyone too little funding.
As you know, it’s as simple as this: if the industry does not receive funding to see them through the next year, millions of jobs will be lost.
That’s why, as I said on the show earlier, the Lib Dems are leading cross-party calls for the government to introduce a twelve-month funding settlement for the tourism and hospitality industry. Councils must be provided with a specific funding stream to administer financial support to restaurants, cafes, pubs, hotels, guest houses and visitor attractions, along with other dependant industries.
I signed Tim Farron's cross-party letter calling for exactly that this week.
You're right to highlight the fantastic work that my colleague Tim Farron has been doing to champion the tourism industry, and I'll continue to work with him and my constituents to get our tourism sector the funding it needs to survive — we will desperately need you when this crisis is over.
I said I would write to the Government about this issue, and I did. The text of my letter is below:
The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET
The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Her Majesty’s Treasury
1 Horse Guards Rd
London SW1A 2HQ
21 May 2020
Dear Alok and Rishi,
I am writing to you to express my concerns for the hospitality and tourism industry following the announcement of the discretionary ‘top up’ grant.
Whilst I welcome the announcement of additional funds to businesses who were previously ineligible for the Retail, Hospitality & Leisure Grant and Small Business Grant Fund, I understand an estimate of between 5,000 and 10,000 guesthouses will be ineligible for this discretionary fund.
Oxfordshire is a popular tourist destination with many businesses, from guesthouses and bed and breakfasts, to restaurants and tour companies, who are dependent on the influx of visitors, specifically during the summer months. Many will have already struggled through winter, with most of their profit generated from spring onwards. Sadly, this industry which employs millions across the UK, faces further uncertainty due to the coronavirus crisis and without crucial funding, will struggle to reopen again.
The additional 5% uplift has given hope to many businesses in Oxfordshire. I have been contacted by a number of local residents seeking further clarity and information, including during my ‘virtual surgery’ on BBC Radio Oxford this morning, where I was advised that thousands of guesthouses are ineligible as they qualify for other schemes such as the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Though they may not have a choice, currently there are businesses in my constituency who are hesitant to accept loans, which they believe will cause further anxiety and uncertainty to them.
I am therefore urging you to provide further financial support to the industry, before it is too late.
I am also concerned the fund is being advertised as a quick fix to those businesses who were initially ineligible for a grant. However, district councils in my constituency believe the grant will fall short of helping these businesses. Councils are unsure how many applications they will receive, making it impossible to calculate the precise amount that can be given to business owners.
Please protect the millions of jobs across the country which rely on your support to protect their jobs and livelihoods.
I look forward to your response.
Layla Moran MP
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon
The Rev Mary Gurr, Oxford city's chaplain to the homeless, called in and asked what can be done to ensure Oxford's roughly 100 rough sleepers are supported when the Government's emergency Everyone In funding is wound down, whenever that is.
Thanks so much Mary for calling in about this — it's something I've been pushing the Government for clarity on this week. Despite reports in the media that the Government was planning to end funding for the successful 'Everyone In' scheme, which has seen roughly 5,400 rough sleepers given shelter nationwide during this pandemic, this has been strongly refuted by Whitehall.
That's why this week I tabled a motion in the Commons, with cross-party support, calling on the Government to continue the policy and its funding, and for a housing first approach to be used. I'm also working with MPs across the House to write to the Homelessness Minister shortly on the same topic.
Ministers must also make specialist support available to those who struggle with addiction or other mental health issues, as is the case for so many people sleeping rough right across the UK.
I'd like to see the Government bring in a Housing First Bill without delay — to make their commitment to eradicating rough sleeping clear. This crisis has shown us it's possible, and within the Government's ability to do it quickly.
I help run the TAP Social brewery in Botley — we're still waiting for the money from our Bounce Back loan to come through. The hospitality sector really needs help - can you support us?
Thanks so much Paul for ringing in about this - TAP is my local, and it would be very sad indeed if such a wonderful social enterprise was lost due to coronavirus.
I was sorry to hear that the Bounce Back loan scheme hasn't come through for you — I welcomed their introduction, but I'm still hearing from small businesses in my constituency that are falling through the cracks. I said that I would help you chase your lender to get the funding released — you can email or call my office and we'll be able to help ASAP on this.
It's worth noting that I’m calling on the Chancellor to review the Government’s support package, and to be flexible and accommodating at this time.
I’m also calling on the Government to only give financial support to companies who commit to leaving their tax havens, moving back to the UK for tax purposes, and contributing their fair share from now on.
Cllr Mary Clarkson from Oxford City Council called, asking for Layla's support on helping people feel safe coming into the city centre, by introducing new sustainable transport infrastructure (such as pop-up cycle lanes) and widening pavements.
Mary - this is something I fully support, and our councils need to be better at working together at all levels to get this done ASAP.
Not only is making use of the Government's £2bn funding package vital for encouraging people to travel in a green way during this pandemic, but our tourism and hospitality sectors need this too.
The truth is, as you said too on the call: £2bn spread across loads of councils won't actually get you very far.
I know that the county council is dragging its feet, and I'd like to see much better cooperation on this.
We need to think creatively, and that needs to include looking at proposals such as limiting the use of the Woodstock Road as a through route to just cyclists, and asking other traffic to use the Banbury Road. I would urge you, Mary, to work with my Lib Dem colleagues on the City Council on this — I know that they've submitted proposals to you, and all ideas should be welcomed and debated at this stage.
Elsewhere in my constituency, I've also called on the county council to use the Government's funding package to fund the B4044 cycle path project. Ian Hudspeth and the rest of the council have the opportunity to show how much they are prioritising safe and sustainable travel in Oxfordshire, and I’m urging them to take it.
I said I would write to the County Council about this, and I did. The text of my letter is below:
Councillor Yvonne Constance OBE Cabinet Member for Environment Oxfordshire County Council
County Hall, New Road, Oxford, OX1 1ND
22 May 2020
I am writing to you today to ask you to update me on what plans you have to access the emergency funding for active travel that has been made available by the Department for Transport.
As I understand it you have asked County Councillors to complete an Emergency Active Travel Survey to submit to the County Council. I understand that many have responded positively.
I am urging you to adopt these ideas as soon as possible.
Some of the locations of the proposed measures, including those in Abingdon and North Oxford, have been under discussion for years. This funding offer is a fantastic opportunity to put measures in place and see how well they work.
More people than ever are currently using sustainable transport, to exercise or to get to work. Getting measures to support active travel in place now would be a huge benefit to the local community at a time when they desperately need it, and before traffic levels rise back to usual levels as the lockdown eases.
I hope the County Council will take this opportunity to make Oxfordshire a national leader in sustainable travel.
I look forward to hearing your response.
Layla Moran MP
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon
CC: Councillor Suzanne Bartington (Cycling Champion)
CC: Councillor Ian Hudspeth (Leader)
Have a question you need answering? If you’re my constituent, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name and postcode.
I’m hoping to be back on BBC Radio Oxford in a few weeks, so you can also speak to me then.