I have spent the last fortnight writing my report on communities for the PM; I handed it in on Friday and very much hope he and the Government like it. I set out some big ideas on how to sustain the community spirit we have seen during lockdown, creating a more flexible public sector that gives local people more power and responsibility to look after themselves and their neighbours. I look forward to publishing it in due course.
The parliamentary term ended last week. Just before recess I was delighted to be chosen (through an opaque process overseen by my Wiltshire neighbour James Gray MP) for the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. Along with a dozen or so other lucky MPs I will spend part of each month over the next year getting a privileged insight into the workings of the British Army, including joining them on exercise and attending special briefings on operations. We even get a sort of uniform, though James was at pains to stress this does not make us real soldiers, and we are not allowed to wear it except on AFPS duties.
Coronavirus and its appalling consequences, for the families of those who have died and for those who have lost their livelihoods, continue to occupy the bulk of every MP’s time and most of our postbags. I am enormously relieved that the UK death and infection rate have fallen so much and that we are now able to open up the economy. In that context it appears paradoxical that this is the moment we must all don face masks when we go shopping. But really the paradox is an attempt to have to have it both ways, which is what we need to do: stop a new outbreak of infections while getting out and about as much as possible. From my conversations with retailers this week (Monday), it appears the masks are something of a restraint on trade. I very much hope we all get used to wearing them and can resume browsing and shopping as before.
I have written to the Health Secretary and the Care Minister about social care and I continue to push for desperately needed reform in this area. I had the pleasure of a visit to the new Avebury House care home, by the canal in Devizes, to meet the team who will shortly welcome their new residents. We discussed the really terrible plight of families who would dearly love to keep their relations at home, but the absence of proper support for ‘domiciliary’ care means they have no choice but to send them to live in a residential care setting – which even if it is a lovely place, is not home, and costs the taxpayer far more than it would have cost to support the family to keep the elderly person at home.
Much change is needed and I will keep up the pressure on government to deliver their plan for social care reform. From my conversations with the council, including the new Cabinet member for social care, the Devizes councillor Simon Jacobs, I am encouraged that Wiltshire is leading the way in developing the sort of system we need.