The coronavirus outbreak is having a profound impact. Not just on our health and the economy, but also on how we communicate and how we work. It will do so for some time to come.
When all of this is said and done, nothing will quite be the same. The world has changed. But change is not always for the worse.
There has been such a fast adjustment to different ways of working. I have been so impressed by pace at which so many people have adapted to and embraced these changes, learning new computing and other skills, working on different jobs from their usual one.
Nowhere is change more apparent that in Parliament. Five hundred years of history has been overturned at a stroke. MPs can ask questions, even of the Prime Minister, from their computers and iphones. From this week MPs can now vote over the web for the first time, ever. Changes which would never be possible in ‘peacetime’ became necessary and Parliament has had to adapt, and will continue to change with the times.
As have schools, offices and even GPs – with telephone and online appointments with doctors now commonplace. Businesses and working practices have changed overnight too. Remote working, once considered a poor substitute for the office, now looks set to be permanent.
But not every business can change in the same way. Right here and now in our area some of the sectors that have been particularly hard-hit are the cross-Channel ferry services, retail and the hospitality industry. That includes the many, many small businesses in our area who will be crucial to our recovery. Many such businesses and workers are benefitting from the grants and loans, tax holidays, direct payment of wages, increases and rule changes for welfare that Government has provided to support them in the short term.
Over the longer term though, we will need to work hard at recovery. For me, that means supporting the many local businesses who are reliant on tourism and the port, as well as ensuring the education and skills training for our area supports the new opportunities that undoubtedly the next phase will bring.
I have been making a strong case to safeguard and support jobs at the port, in the ferry industry and our wider local economy. P&O’s financial problems have threatened hundreds of local jobs so I have held talks with company bosses, trade union leaders and Government Ministers. For companies who have used Government support schemes, I have been clear that with taxpayer support must come a commitment to British jobs and our local workforce.
It is undoubtedly going to be tough in the weeks and months ahead. But be in no doubt that I am standing up for our community and our livelihoods.