First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, January 2021.

We are glad to see the back of 2020, and cautiously optimistic that with the distribution of the new Covid-19 vaccines we can look forward to a more positive 2021.

Western and Walton Ward News

The year ended on a bright note in Walton courtesy of the hard work under difficult circumstances of Shine a Light on Walton, who again provided beautiful illuminations. We are grateful for their commitment and were delighted to support their efforts last year through the District Council Community Enabling Budget. Hopefully we will be able to support them in this way next year.

Felixstowe Town Council have set up a Coronavirus grants fund to continue its work supporting local community groups and charities who have provided valuable services to many residents during the pandemic but needed Town Council financial assistance to ensure they could continue their services. For more information on this initiative please see Coronavirus Grants from Felixstowe Town Council.

2021 will bring new challenges. It remains to be seen what impact Brexit will have on the economy and knock-on effect of the chaos closer to home at the Port of Felixstowe. A surge in demand for goods and a shortage of ships during the pandemic led to delays and a backlog of containers at the Port, so shipping lines imposed substantially increased surcharges on containers imported into the UK. This will mean higher costs for businesses receiving their goods, as freight forwarding firms and hauliers already operating on low margins will pass on their increased costs to businesses and ultimately to consumers.

The Government has been generous with taxpayers’ money supporting businesses with Business Grants, Government-backed business loans, and funding the wages of furloughed staff. However, this money will need to be repaid. The Government has announced that from 6 April 2021 the National Living Wage will increase by 2.2% from £8.72 to £8.91 and will be extended to all 23 and 24-year olds for the first time. This had been expected to increase to £9.21 per hour but economic uncertainty led to the Conservative Chancellor shelving those plans. 16 and 17-year olds will receive an increase of 1.5% from £4.15 to £4.30 per hour.

The pay rise will come in handy for the extra car parking charges introduced by East Suffolk Council. We have been told that the increased charges were agreed with local Felixstowe traders who hope that the longer time allowance (£1.50 for two hours as opposed to £1 for one hour) may mean people stay for longer browsing the shops. The District Council has been asked to review the structure of the season ticket pricing and to reconsider whether or not to reinstate the extensions to time limits for Blue Badge holders.

Those residents who prefer two wheels to four will be encouraged to learn that the Town Council has submitted a response to East Suffolk Council’s consultation on: “How can we improve cycling and walking?” The Council received over 700 responses to its initial consultation (between 19 Oct – 7 Dec 2020). Cycling and walking are recognised as important in supporting better physical and mental health and reducing our impact on the environment, as well as congestion on our roads. The Council wishes to make cycling and walking in East Suffolk, whether for work, school, or leisure, safer, more convenient and more desirable for all ages and abilities.

Provided East Suffolk Council doesn’t agree to permit developers to dump more housing developments on Felixstowe green fields in 2021, Felixstowe should remain a pleasant town to live in.

Our hope for 2021

The beaming smile of 90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first person to receive a vaccine against the Covid-19 virus, was widely publicised. It was the sign of hope that we have all been looking for. A wonderful Christmas present for so many who had been self-isolating, who had been careful when out shopping, who hadn’t seen family and friends to hug for so long. She said “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19. It is the best birthday present I could have wished for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year.”

The UK’s health service was the first in the world to start rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine which proved to be 95% effective in trials. NHS England’s Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, called the new vaccine programme a “remarkable achievement”. He said: “Less than a year after the first case of this new disease was diagnosed, the NHS has now delivered the first clinically approved Covid-19 vaccination. That is a remarkable achievement.”

Ms Parsons, the NHS nurse who administered the vaccine, said: “It’s a huge honour to be the first person in the country to deliver a Covid-19 jab to a patient. I am just glad that I am able to play a part in this historic day. The last few months have been tough for all of us working in the NHS but now it feels there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

PPE Beach Litter

Discarded face masks and gloves were found on 30% of British beaches in the Autumn Beach Clean by the Marine Conservation Society. They were also found in 69% of inland litter picks. Single-use items like these pose a threat to wildlife on land and sea. However, the most common items found were still plastic take-away cup lids and wet wipes.

Permanent rise in Universal Credit

Current plans expect the increase of £20 per week in Universal Credit to end in April. Years of cuts have left the UK’s welfare system unfit for purpose in normal times with many enduring real hardship, made worse by the six weeks’ wait. There has been a big rise in the use of foodbanks. Many low earners are in the hospitality sector which has suffered big hits in redundancies. An excellent suggestion is to make the £20 increase permanent.

Call for enquiry into Government contracts

There are calls for an enquiry into the way Government contracts are being given out during the Covid-19 pandemic. In one instance the Government has awarded a £347 million contract for testing to a private helathcare company – Randox – whose testing kits had to be recalled earlier in 2020 for concerns about contamination. Other companies were not invited to bid. Concerns were raised as a Conservative MP is paid £100,000 a year to act as a consultant for this firm. An inquiry into the wider expenditure of public money is being called for. There are instances raised by the National Audit Office where public money has gone to firms without there being public bids which means there is a lack of transparency. They consider that there are standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust.

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