Below is the text of the speech made by Neil Hudson, the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, in the House of Commons on 12 May 2020.
The covid-19 pandemic has affected all our lives in so many ways. First, I offer my condolences and prayers to all those who have lost loved ones during this crisis. I pay tribute to all those on the frontline in our NHS and the care sector who have been working tirelessly to look after people and to keep us safe. I also thank the key workers who have kept society going, be that in looking after children, supporting our food supply lines or working in our vital public services.
I thank all those who have come together in Cumbria to support our local communities: our local resilience forums, local volunteer groups, emergency groups, churches and the like. It has been so heartening how people have rolled up their sleeves and are looking out for their neighbour and providing much needed help and support, especially to the vulnerable at this time.
I very much welcome the unprecedented support measures that the Government have put in place during this crisis, which have provided the lifeline and bridge to allow jobs and businesses to be there on the other side. I also thank the Government for listening to feedback from me and other colleagues and adapting the support schemes so that more people can be included.
In my constituency of Penrith and The Border, key changes that have helped our tourism sector include the expansion of business grants to bed and breakfasts. I am also so grateful to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for responding to our calls for a dairy hardship fund. I hope that the Government can further and widen the support to include directors of companies who have paid themselves a salary through dividends, to expand the flexibility of the furlough scheme —I very much welcome the Chancellor’s announcements today—and to widen the business grants and rates relief strategies. That will really help vital businesses such as vets and dentists.
As a vet, I pay tribute to the profession of which I am a proud member. Vets, nurses and their allied staff have stepped up in this crisis to provide necessary care for our animals and support for our food supply chains. In addition, the veterinary sector has transferred much needed medical equipment, such as ventilators, into the NHS, and veterinary staff have stepped up in large numbers to volunteer in the NHS and in their communities.
As we are now looking ahead to the transition phase, it is important that support is in place and is targeted at businesses that may be slower to recover, such as those in the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are so important for Cumbria. [Inaudible].
The covid pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the importance of food production and security, and the critical areas of health and social care. Newton Rigg College in Penrith has over 1,000 learners and 130 staff, and provides education in vital areas such as agriculture, land-based studies, and health and social care. The college is now the subject of a local provision needs analysis by the Further Education Commissioner’s office, creating uncertainty over its future. It is critical that the Government work with local stakeholders to try to secure a viable and sustainable future for this important institution. Now more than ever, we must look after colleges such as Newton Rigg, that play such a big role in supporting our vital farming industry and providing important career options for our local communities. Covid-19 can and will be overcome, but we must make sure that our communities, businesses and institutions are supported to be there for the long term.