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Events in Ukraine are devastating. This is a very volatile and rapidly changing situation. As a family, we have many friends who live in Kyiv and have been in touch with some of them over the past week. We are all thinking of Ukrainian people at this dreadful time.
It is at times like this when communities really pull together. It is brilliant to see that the Polish community in Banbury has set up a collection for food, bedding and other necessary supplies for Ukrainians who have sought refuge on the border. There will be many more opportunities to help I suspect and I will advertise those local ones where I can. The effects of this war will be felt for years.
After nearly two years of living under restrictions, there was always going to be a certain point when the government would set out how we would move to the next phase of living with Covid. As expected, our response is moving from legally binding rules and restrictions to taking back personal responsibility.
I know that some constituents, especially those in more vulnerable groups, are finding this difficult. Just as I have heard from some who are concerned about the easing of restrictions, others have been in touch with me for some time now calling for their entire removal. Going forward, the government’s objective will be to respond to the virus in a similar way to how we manage other existing respiratory illnesses. We will monitor and respond to future risks through contingency planning and more routine public health interventions.
I have been reassured that the government has accepted the JCVI’s advice to offer a Spring booster jab to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents, and those over 12 who are immunosuppressed. It is important that we continue to deploy targeted measures like this going forward to protect those most at risk.
Earlier in the month, I was pleased to be able to have honest conversations with shopkeepers, business owners, and staff on Banbury high street about how trade has been recently. The New Year can be a challenging time for many businesses as sales slow after the Christmas period. It is clear that footfall remains low in a number of areas. There have been significant changes in how we use our high streets in recent years, with the pandemic only accelerating this. I know from many businesses in my constituency, especially those in hospitality how restrictions have severely impacted their trade. I hope the coming months see greater trade, and increased footfall.
The government is committed to supporting our town centres as we move to a new phase of living with Covid. I want to work with local business owners, Cherwell District Council and the government to ensure that our high streets can thrive. We all have a role to play in their regeneration, but we need our communities to play their part, and actively shop and support our High Streets.
Last week, I was delighted to meet Canal & River Trust Chief Executive Richard Parry and Regional Director Ros Daniel. We walked from Castle Quay, along the Banbury Canal towpath down to Bankside Park and back. Towpaths provide great walking opportunities and we are very fortunate to have one running through the heart of Banbury. I think we were all able to appreciate the importance of walking during the pandemic for both our physical and mental health.
This was also a great chance to take a closer look at the Castle Quay Waterfront development. Work on the second phase is really coming along now, with the cinema and restaurant set to open this Spring. When completed, this should be a fantastic leisure venue in the heart of our town.
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We are all finding events in Ukraine extremely distressing. The situation remains deeply concerning and is changing by the day. As a family, we have many friends in Kyiv and have been in touch with them about the tragic events unfolding over the past few weeks.
I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people locally. It is a times like this when communities really pull together. It is brilliant to see the Polish community in Banbury set up a collection for food, bedding and other necessary supplies for Ukrainians who have sought refuge on the border. Likewise, the John Paul Centre attached to the Catholic Church and K2 Recruitment in Bicester have organised their own collections. There will be many more opportunities to help I suspect and I will advertise those local ones where I can.
This situation is undoubtedly developing rapidly. My team and I are working hard to support constituents with loved ones caught up in the conflict where we can. It’s clearly taking time to create these the new Visa schemes, however measures are being introduced to make the process quicker and simpler. I have been involved in discussions at all levels with the Home Office and have been relaying constituents’ concerns directly with the Home Secretary. I will continue to do this.
After nearly two years of living under restrictions, there was always going to be a certain point when the government would set out how we would move to the next phase of living with Covid. Last month, we heard just that. As expected, our response has moved from one of restrictions to taking back personal responsibility.
I know that some constituents who are most vulnerable are finding this difficult, so I am glad that the government has committed to continuing protecting those most at risk with targeted vaccines and treatments. The future path of the pandemic remains uncertain which is why it is so important that our resilience to manage and respond to any new waves or variants is maintained.
I continue to make my ministerial colleagues aware of constituents concerns with living costs during this challenging time. With reduced variety of supply globally and much higher than anticipated demand as the world returns to life after lockdown, high wholesale gas prices have subsequently driven an increase in wholesale power prices. Households will need to be accustomed to these higher costs. In the short- and medium-term, it is important that the government continues to listen and ensures that policies in place do help those who need it most. Looking to the future, we must work towards ending our reliance on fossil fuels, and investing further in green renewable energies and technologies.