First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, March 2021.
Delicate crocus flowers peeping through the snow in mid-February was a timely reminder that spring, the season of renewal, is almost here. It was a welcome sight as too was the news that the Government plan to reopen schools for all children from 8 March. The resilience of parents and pupils during lockdown has been remarkable and given many a new appreciation for teachers.
Reopening schools has however been a controversial decision. Teaching unions have called for a phased return to avoid the potential for another spike in infections, as many teachers will be returning to work before receiving their Covid19 vaccination. Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has been criticised for backing the Government’s decision to reopen schools despite opposition from the teachers’ unions. However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have said that there isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid19 than any other group, and quite rightly the Labour leader is being guided by science and not fear. Concerns about the impact on vulnerable children and the widening attainment gap swayed the decision. Parents who are concerned about sending their children back to school should seek assurances from the Headteacher about what Covid19 secure measures have been put in place to protect pupils and teachers.
The economy is also showing signs of spring shoots according to the Bank of England’s chief economist who predicts that thanks to the vaccine programme and easing of restrictions over the next few months, people will be socialising and spending more money by the summer. We hope he is right, and to support this Labour have called for extended support packages for businesses with rates relief and VAT cuts for the hospitality sector to keep businesses viable.
We can all do our bit to support our local economy by choosing to shop locally, supporting the many independent shops in the town who went the extra mile during the lockdown to deliver groceries when it was impossible for many families to get national supermarket chain deliveries.
East Suffolk Council has backed a bid by Felixstowe and Harwich International Ports to become one of ten freeport facilities across the UK. If successful, this would create a “free trade zone” which allows firms to import goods and then re-export them outside of normal tax and customs rules. Companies that operate inside the free trade zone pay lower taxes which enables them to be more competitive on price compared to other countries. Free Port status could attract inward investment by companies looking to take advantage of the lower tax scheme. If managed correctly this will bring significant regeneration for our area and and financial and economic benefits. This would include creating new jobs both at the Port and in associated sectors whilst ensuring the Port’s future, and investment to further improve the rail and road transport network to and from the Port.
We must however be sure that the economic benefits are shared by all our community by ensuring that East Suffolk Council secure Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) for the new commercial premises that will undoubtedly spring up if Freeport status is approved, as the CIL money is used to fund projects in our community such as upgrading equipment for children in playgrounds.