Good afternoon and welcome to my regular South West Surrey update No. 74. As of today, we have a total of 502,978 positive cases of COVID-19 with 42,350 confirmed deaths in the UK. There have been 6,443 confirmed cases in Surrey and sadly 802 confirmed deaths, with an estimated 210 active cases in Waverley. All data is accurate as of 11am this morning.
Missing figures Last night it was announced that some 16,000 positive test results were missing from the past few weeks because of an IT glitch – essentially the files were too big to be uploaded to the government dashboard – which is both worrying and astonishing. The Health Secretary will be on his feet around the time this email hits your inbox. I will ask him whether the repeated problems in testing mean it is time to re-look at the structure of the system: is it too over-centralised, trying to depend on three large laboratories for nearly all our testing? Admittedly this is being expanded to seven laboratories - but given that nearly every hospital and university has testing capacity, should we not be asking them to do care home and NHS staff testing to reduce pressure on the beleaguered system? You can hear me talking about the missing test results on the World at One earlier today with Sarah Montague who gets my prize for having the calmest voice on the radio right now.
Traffic Lights A lot of talk this morning about inconsistencies in the local lockdowns. A Daily Mail editorial questions why Wolverhampton is being locked down with half the infection rates of Barrow which is not. The answer it appears will be a traffic light system to make the situation less complex. Alert Level Three will be tougher than anything we have now and involved the closure of all pubs and restaurants. Level 2 is roughly where swathes of the North of England are now and Level 1 would be roughly where the rest of the country is including the rule of 6. A full statement is expected in the next couple of days, but the Guardian has the full story here. Interesting to see whether we end up going all the way on traffic lights as they do in China where people have individual traffic lights based on their infection status and where they have been which control where you can go and whether you can use public transport. If that feels creepy worth remembering Chinese people have a lot more freedom to travel right now than most people in the North of the country…strange times indeed.
President Trump Whatever your views on this most marmite of Presidents we all wish him a speedy recovery - even if the motives for doing so are varied: his supporters want him back on the campaign trail and his opponents want to see him better so that a potential defeat does not lose legitimacy as Matthew Syed argued thoughtfully in yesterday’s Sunday Times. But his decision to drive outside the Walter Reed hospital yesterday afternoon to wave at supporters was utterly reckless for the reasons explained by one of the doctors at Walter Reed. Surely a President should set an example and not flout the rules everyone else with the virus is being asked to follow?
The key number to remember for anyone with pandemic-related difficulties remains 0300 200 1008 the Surrey Helpline run by Surrey County Council (Mon-Fri 9 am to 5 pm).
WHAT’S GOING ON IN WESTMINSTER
Mutant algorithms must be muted Thursday afternoon will see the first debate on the government's new planning reforms and housebuilding targets. I am extremely concerned about these: not only are they unlikely to reduce the asking price for new houses in our area (a pressing need for young people trying to get on the housing ladder) but there is a real risk Waverley will be pressurised by the dramatic housing increases required by the ‘algorithm’ to approve permissions on green belt/AONB/AGLV areas. I will put in to speak (although there is no guarantee I will be called) but more importantly Robert Jenrick has agreed to meet me to discuss the concerns put to me by Farnham town council, Frensham and Dockenfield parish councils, CPRE and many others.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOUTH WEST SURREY
Farncombe Street Patrols Last week I wrote about my meeting with new police commander, Sam Adcock and the request from Sgt Claire Sutherland for more volunteers for street patrols. Anyone who can help can email me or Andy Poulsom who heads up the local community group at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Important to say this is a cross-party effort and Cllrs Paul Follows and Penny Rivers have been closely involved, including helping to set up the first public meeting on the issue last year.
Business Waverley A great resource (and e-newsletter) provided by the local Borough Council is its Business Advice website. The website has the latest advice and support from government and information on partner organisations offering free webinars and support during the pandemic. You can all play your part in helping the local economy by completing and sharing my South West Surrey Bounceback campaign survey which has already had more than a thousand people signing up. To the slogan ‘hands, face, space’ I would add ‘shop local, eat local, visit local!’
Mental Health Round Table Saturday is World Mental Health Day and to mark it on Friday I will be chairing a Godalming Mental Health Roundtable, being joined (virtually) by the top NHS England psychiatrist, Professor Tim Kendall, Surrey Heartlands NHS boss Dr Claire Fuller and Godalming College Principal Emma Young. It will be a fascinating discussion so please sign up here and share it with your friends and family locally. It starts at 5 pm.
See my list of local groups working to support vulnerable residents here.
THE ECONOMY AND JOBS
Airport testing Hopefully some much needed good news for the aviation and tourism sector with the government considering introducing rapid mass testing upon arrival from high-risk countries, as opposed to the current quarantine policy that is in place. Stephen Barclay, the Treasury Secretary, said on Saturday that we would be hearing more about this from the Transport Secretary in the next couple of days.
Growing Sectors The Work and Pensions Secretary has today announced the ‘growing sectors programme’ as part of a £238m Job Entry Targeted Support package. JETS is aimed at helping those out of work because of COVID-19 for three months and boost the prospects of more than a quarter of a million people across the UK. You can read more about this scheme and other employment support packages on the government website.
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON
Conservative Party Conference Usually at this time of year I (and most of my team) would be in Birmingham for the Conservative Party Conference. The pandemic has, of course, meant we have had ‘gone virtual’ but it does give the party (and non-party members) better access to a wide variety of speeches, panels and debates. So if you are a member why not take a look and if you’re not a member why not join the local Conservative party… we are a friendly bunch, I promise!
And finally, If you haven’t seen David Attenborough being quizzed by Princes George, Louise and Princess Charlotte, it is well worth a watch. David Attenborough is of course the closest thing to royalty it is possible for a non-royal to be.