Writing exclusively for The Northern Echo, Stockton South MP Matt Vickers explains why he voted against the Government for the first time.
THIS week, I voted against the imposition of the 10pm curfew on, the hospitality sector.
Since then, my phone hasn’t stopped. The vast majority of texts and emails I have received have been overwhelmingly supportive.
And while there have been those who have questioned my reasoning, I believe my response has been extremely clear and concise.
Yes, I am a Conservative MP, but first and foremost I am Stockton South’s MP and I will always put the interests of local people and businesses first, irrespective of political lines.
To put it simply, I believe the 10pm curfew is counterproductive. We’ve all seen the image of crowds of people being told to leave establishments, only to continue the merriment by gathering on the streets. In many cases these people don’t then head home, but instead head to a local off license before going around to a friend’s house for another drink or two.
Rather than limit people’s drinking and social gatherings, the move is taking people from the Covid secure and compliant pubs, bars and restaurants, and moving them to non-compliant gatherings in streets or private homes.
While posing a danger to public health, this curfew is also having the effect of crippling the hospitality sector. Pubs who’ve previously called last orders at 11pm are now doing so at around 9.15pm to ensure they comply with the regulations and vacate the premises before 10pm.
One landlord told me that combined this has meant he’s down 60 per cent on his takings.
For restaurants, where most have already had to remove seats to ensure compliance and social distancing, the curfew might mean more than halving the number of covers each evening.
Stockton South has some of the best pubs and eateries in the country. I know because I’ve worked in some of them and have eaten or drank in most of them. The hospitality sector has adapted so much during this pandemic and I’ve seen first-hand how they have gone to huge lengths to become Covid secure. The ingenuity, responsibility and enterprise shown in adapting to the new normal has been incredible.
The government have provided fantastic support schemes like furlough, business rates holiday, business grants, supported loans and delivered it’s innovative ‘eat out to help out’ scheme amongst others. The curfew flies in the face of these incredible efforts to revive the hospitality sector and protect jobs.
As cases locally increase there is now a debate around local lockdown. The government has the huge responsibility of balancing lives and livelihoods.
We all know the consequences and the sacrifices people make to comply with lockdowns and I think it’s right that a localised approach is adopted.
It means that in areas of the country where infection rates are high and action is needed to contain the virus this can happen. It also means that parts of the country where rates are low people do not have more freedom.
The price of excessive measures is huge. They are detrimental to mental health, furthers the loneliness and isolation of the most vulnerable, can cost jobs and livelihoods and can have a vast impact on the quality of lives of our children and pensioners. For that reason, while we must lockdown where it’s necessary to control the virus, we should not lockdown areas where it’s not required and we should not lock down for any longer than necessary.
I have found the recent rises in infection rates very alarming indeed. Following conversations with the Secretary of State for Health and through constant communications with North Tees Hospital I am hopeful we will find the appropriate line of action as we look to tread the line of protecting both lives and livelihoods.
Many of our hospitality businesses are small family run businesses and they’ve been some of the hardest hit because of this pandemic.
Over the last few months, I have met with many of these business owners and have seen the incredible hard work and dedication they have put into being Covid-secure, now is the time we must trust and support them, not punish them. If more stringent restrictions come into effect, then we must look at ways to support this sector.
The recent closure of The Mitre pub in Bishopsgarth is a stark reminder of what what’s at stake, we simply must not let businesses like this fall through the gaps.
In the meantime, I would urge everyone to continue to follow basic guidance of wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining social distancing guidelines.
These are tough times, but together we will get through this.