Hampshire Chronicle column 28 May 2020

Work continues at pace as MPs respond to the Covid-19 outbreak and I’m doing my best, using all my experience, to signpost the very latest to constituents and businesses. Tough times.

Seems every clarification, or easing of the restrictions, produce as many questions as answers but that’s the horror of a pandemic and I stand-by my long-held view that there is no manual as to how you beat this.

I repeat my thanks to all of you for the way you’ve responded in recent months and, of course, to our key workers across the board for the selfless way they have kept the show on the road. My admiration for teachers especially is undimmed as the Brine home school enters another month. We do our best like everyone else but remain grateful Ofsted don’t appear for an unannounced inspection!

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this month I made a plea for flexibility to lie at the heart of the furlough scheme going forward and have been discussing this with our Chancellor.  The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been a lifesaver for millions of jobs but it has to end for all our sakes given a current price-tag of some £40m each month.

My point was, if we are to avoid a cliff edge as the CJRS draws to an end in its original form, we need flexibility on the percentage paid by the state and to find a way whereby part-time furlough becomes a reality.  The Government subsequently announced just that and details are being published for phase two of the scheme starting from 1st August.

Furthermore, I am now exploring with the Treasury after feedback from local businesses the desire to choose this flexibility earlier – if their company is ready – and reduce the burden on the State at the same time. Suffice to say, because we must avoid fraudulent activity, this is complex but Winchester’s voice has been heard at the very heart of Government once again.

The other issue I discussed with Rishi Sunak this week – on a zoom call of course – was early years provision; a subject I promised at the recent election I would champion in this Parliament.

According to Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, the year to March 2019 saw around 500 early years settings close every month. This year’s figures will be available soon.

What I think we have here is a combination of several well-intentioned policies – the 30-hours entitlement, a rise in the minimum wage and increased pension contributions – which have made too many of these businesses unviable.

When it’s possible in Parliament we will resurrect the Early Years All-Party Group and I will lead a debate on the issue; liaising as I am with the Early Years Alliance and many constituency based nurseries and pre-schools.

This is a vital sector; it was struggling before Covid-19 and it’s struggling now.  I want parents to have the choice and I want this sector to thrive but, right now and as I said to the Chancellor, there’s a growing market failure in early years and Ministers must act. I would welcome further input from across Winchester and Chandler’s Ford.

Finally, if you want to contact me and you are a constituent please email or write. You can get very regular updates on my Facebook page at www.fb.com/SteveBrineMP and you can find my Steve@Ten survey, marking ten years as our MP, at www.stevebrine.com/surveys

Steve Brine MP