First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, November 2020.

Don Smith, former Councillor

Sadly, former North Ward and Walton Councillor Don Smith died at the beginning of October. He was a longstanding member of the County Council which he chaired on two occasions. He was also a member of the Felixstowe Town Council and was the Town Mayor in 2004. Don was a formidable debater, hardworking, polite, and scrupulously fair in his dealings with fellow Councillors and his constituents to whom he always listened.

Jobs under threat

By contrast, the heart of our Government does not appear to be connected to its ears, or able to control what is coming out of its mouth. Unsurprisingly bragging about “world beating track and trace” which isn’t working, saying that “Covid is an opportunity” rather than the devastating tragedy that it is, and being told to retrain for jobs that don’t exist, have served to undermine the public’s confidence at a time of crisis when we should have absolute confidence in our leaders.

The impact of central Government’s  incompetence on our local community is evidenced by the closure of a number of shops in our once thriving Hamilton Road, with The Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Bon Marché, Peacocks, and Pondens all reported to be holding closing down sales. It is a worrying time for those who will lose their jobs, joining the ranks of those already unemployed and depending on state benefits.

We are unconvinced by The Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to spend £238M on the Job Entry Targeted Support scheme (JETS) which provides funding for those who have been out of work for three months to receive guidance on how to prepare a CV and interview techniques. This would be welcome support if job vacancies existed. The Chancellor fails to appreciate that telling someone who has lost their job and is struggling to find work that they should retrain for another job, is unhelpful unless funding to retrain is made available across the community. The crass Government-backed advert suggesting those in the arts retrain in cyber security undervalues the cultural importance of those contributing to our wellbeing. Perhaps the Prime Minister will be out of a job soon – he just doesn’t know it yet.

While Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, may look like a lovable schoolboy, he has absolutely no faculty for understanding anything outside economic policy. It needs to be remembered that this is a Chancellor who has handed out billions of taxpayers’ money on sometime questionable schemes and Government contracts. The Government has failed to disclose details of its spending related to the pandemic to the tune of £3Billion, and we’re pretty sure that wasn’t spent on providing the public with discounted price fish and chips under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. We await with interest the outcome of the cross-party judicial review into this matter. Meanwhile, we are disgusted that the Chancellor has replaced the furlough scheme with a jobs subsidy which is unaffordable to many employers and puts further jobs at risk., whilst allowing wealthy tax-avoiding private equity firms to access Government financial support.

With so much focus on Covid-19, it’s easy to overlook that we are on the precipice of the Brexit cliff edge, and anxiously wait to see what impact this will have on our Port and our community.

Free School Meals

The footballer Marcus Rashford did an amazing job in forcing the Government to do a U-turn and provide free school meal vouchers for eligible children all through the school summer holidays. He was awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children. As a result of his campaign, as many as 900,000 more children have had free school meals on top of the 1.4 million who already claimed as the Covid-19 crisis played havoc with family incomes. He has now been campaigning for free school meal vouchers to be provided also over half term. There are an increasing number of children who are eligible for free school meals with fresh waves of unemployment. Parents don’t need just handouts at irregular intervals, but the certainty that their children will be fed all through the holidays as well as in term time.

Circuit Breaker

Keir Starmer has called for a two to three week “circuit breaker” lockdown in England as he accused the Government of having “lost control” of the coronavirus pandemic and no longer following scientific evidence.The Labour leader admitted a short lockdown would “require significant sacrifice across the country”. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recommended this on 21 September or risk “catastrophic consequences”. The Labour leader warned the country could soon “sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter”. A short lockdown would “provide an opportunity to reset and rectify some of the mistakes the Government has made”. He demanded Ministers “get a grip on testing, and hand over track and trace to Local Authorities”.

Wasted money

The Government has wasted millions of pounds during the pandemic and ultimately it’s ordinary people who will have to pay. Two contracts worth £1 million were handed to a small polling company. The firm carried out focus groups on Government policies. The Government was able to award the contract without a competitive tender because of new coronavirus procurement rules. £10 billion has been poured into test and trace, but a study found it had serious flaws. The system that is labelled “NHS test and trace” has little to do with the NHS. The system is contracted out to big private companies. Deloitte handles the huge Lighthouse Laboratories that can’t yet process the tests efficiently and in a timely manner, while Serco oversees the contact tracing system that regularly misses Government targets (initial fee £108 million). However, we are better than the US where research shows that one in seven people woudn’t seek coronavirus treatment because it costs too much.

Butterfly numbers in decline

Despite our sunny summer, the numbers of some species of butterflies is going down. There was a record number of participants this year in The Big Butterfly Count. It showed that three quarters of Britain’s native butterflies are in decline. While the number of large white and small white butterflies increased in the sightings, the Peacock, the Red Admiral, and the Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were all down. While global warming helps some species to increase, many common species continue to disappear.

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