Message from Andrew Mitchell

22nd January 2021

Vaccinations

I am pleased to confirm that following discussions over the last few days, our Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Hall will shortly become a local vaccination hub. The plan is to launch on the 1st of February and already the necessary adaptations, fridges etc are being installed. Free parking will be available at the Town House (formerly the Royal Hotel) for those coming to receive their vaccinations, thanks to the owner Adrian Harvey who has so generously agreed to make his large car park available. May I also thank Birmingham City Council for being similarly generous with their parking. Thanks to our local Councillors for fixing this.

More than 233,000 people across the urban West Midlands and Warwickshire areas have now been vaccinated and across the UK over 5 million people will have received their first jab by the end of the day.

This afternoon I attended a virtual meeting with NHS England and NHS Improvement to discuss the vaccination programme across the West Midlands. The NHS’ regional director, medical director, vaccination lead and the regional public health director provided a useful update and I am pleased to report that the roll out continues to progress well across the region. But as I made clear on the call it is essential that constituency by constituency information is made available (as we now have in the Royal Town thanks to the leadership of Dr Rahul Dubb). The granular level of information is essential if we are to nip early difficulties in the bud.

Covid 19

An additional 377 cases of Covid 19 have been registered in Sutton Coldfield for the week 9th -15th January compared to 536 for the 2nd- 8th January based on data from Birmingham City Council’s public health division.

The 7-day case rate between 9th- 15th January in Birmingham is now 679.3 cases/100K population, compared to an updated figure of 809.0/100K for the period between the 2nd to 8th January.

Over the 7 days leading up to 15th January, of 35,056 PCR pillar 2 tests, 7,881 (22.5%) were positive, higher than the regional and national averages but lower than last week.

Birmingham ranks 10th in the region for pillar 2 PCR tests, with 3,070 tests per 100k population. Over the 7 days leading up to 15th January, 15,918 lateral flow tests were also carried out.

Hospital admissions have increased significantly and range between 191 and 243 new cases a day at University Hospitals Birmingham Trust over the 7 days from 9th- 15th January.

Enhanced local contact tracing has restarted, focused on tracing of individuals who have not responded to the national test and trace service within 48 hours. This has achieved an 80% success rate in reaching people by telephone or text, the remaining 20% are being followed up through face to face visits.

Royal Sutton Coldfield updates

Yesterday I held an online meeting with a consortium of Primary School Headteachers from across Sutton Coldfield. I want to express my admiration and respect for the way our headteachers are doing everything possible to deliver education so this cohort of young people do not miss out. Everyone agrees that we want all children in school as swiftly as possible and I am so grateful to our schools for wrestling with the many problems that they are facing and continuing to make progress. We had a wide ranging discussion about school budgets, staffing, the challenges of online learning, the importance of student mental health and the Government’s messaging to schools. I will be following up the concerns directly with Ministers in the Department for Education including especially Nick Gibb, the Minister for Schools and Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State, both of whom have visited Sutton Coldfield relatively recently and met with teachers here.

One specific point that was raised was the provision of laptops and tablets for children to use while working at home. The Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust has allocated £90,000 to Sutton Coldfield’s primary schools to help provide home learning equipment. We are all so grateful to Sutton Coldfield Charities for responding in this magnificent way. It is obviously important that such charitable money should not substitute for goods and services which my constituents legitimately expect the taxpayer to pay for. Such spending should be the icing on the cake. But alongside national funding this money will help to ensure a greater number of pupils have access to equipment, particularly for families with multiple children where there are often not enough devices to go round. The Trustees of Sutton Coldfield Charitable Trust agreed to allocate an emergency grant from their charitable income which is a most significant boost for local schools. I believe that every child should have access to an appropriate device.

While I am raising concerns with the Government about equipment provision, I would also like to request and encourage any local businesses that wish to help at this incredibly difficult time and who have the ability to supply or sponsor even a small number of laptops and tablets to get in touch with local schools or with me and I will put you in direct contact with the schools that still require supplies.

On a cross party basis, local MPs and the Leader of Birmingham City Council have written to the Department for Education to highlight concerns on behalf of students. The current restrictions mean that many thousands of students have been unable to return to university following the Christmas break and are consequently paying for accommodation which they are unable to return to at present. These costs combined with substantial tuition fees for little to no face-to-face teaching and limited access to campus facilities and resources mean that many students are feeling isolated and frustrated at the costs they are having to pay while many are also coping with the loss of part time jobs. We have asked for an update on what the Government plans to do to support students at this difficult time.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has told Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust to make improvements following a number of specific inspections recently in November of their mental health services. Inspectors looked at whether the services were safe, effective and well-led. The trust’s overall rating of Requires Improvement remains.  Following the inspection, CQC put conditions on the trust’s registration. The conditions require the trust to address all ligature risks by 18th June and implement an effective system to improve risk assessments and care planning by 5th February. Inspectors also noted some good practice; mental health crisis services and health-based places of safety were effectively managed and patients were treated with dignity and respect across all services with adjustments made for those needing specific requirements. Leaders were visible and approachable for staff, patients and their families.

I regret to say HSBC has announced that their Four Oaks branch will close on Friday 7th May. Following the closure, the administration of customer accounts will be moved to the Sutton Coldfield branch which is just under 2 miles away. All HSBC UK and first direct personal current account customers can access their bank account at Post Office branches for cash withdrawals, cash deposits, cheque deposits and balance enquiries. Business customers with a debit card can pay in and withdraw cash, check their balance and deposit cheques. Wherever possible, local staff will be offered other opportunities within HSBC. I know that this will be disappointing news for both staff and customers.

Turning to another issue, hedgehogs, which is of considerable interest in Sutton Coldfield, I have been contacted by a young constituent, Joey, who sent me a brilliant resource that he has designed to raise awareness of the difficulties facing our hedgehog population. Hedgehog numbers have declined in recent decades and I am keen to support efforts to protect their habitat. As I mentioned last month, I have added my name to a new clause in the Environment Bill which would add the hedgehog to the list of protected animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This would introduce a legal imperative to search for hedgehogs in building developments and to mitigate the impact on their habitat. Joey has designed a board game which highlights the issues that are making life harder for hedgehogs, including the rise in the number of solid fences between gardens. If you have solid wooden fencing, do consider cutting a small hole at the base so hedgehogs can continue to roam free. Hedgehogs eat a lot of garden pests so are welcome visitors for many gardeners! I was delighted to be sent a hard copy of the game but the template can be found on his website for easy downloading and printing: https://helpingtheplanet.co.uk/2020/12/15/hedgehog-highways-the-board-game/. Many thanks to Joey for championing our hedgehogs. As a family we have personally rehoused four in the last 6 months.

On Tuesday virtually and at Birmingham University, I joined the launch of the Forum for Global Challenges, an ambitious international conference that will generate and share solutions to some of the most pressing challenges including climate change, poverty, rising inequalities and the effects of the global pandemic. The project is run by the Institute for Global Innovation at the University of Birmingham and the main forum will take place in Birmingham next May.

Westminster news and Parliamentary business

This week I have tabled a number of Written Parliamentary Questions, including on the topics of mental health, homelessness and pesticides. I have received a large number of emails from constituents expressing concerns about the use of certain pesticides and the impact on bees and other native pollinators. https://bit.ly/3c0NKMu

The Department for Education has issued a joint consultation with Ofqual to seek views on alternative assessment arrangements for GCSE, AS and A levels and propositions for vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs) to seek to ensure that students taking these qualifications are not disadvantaged in comparison to their peers: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-how-gcse-as-and-a-level-grades-should-be-awarded-in-summer-2021

The Government has strengthened the Prompt Payment Code, ensuring larger companies pay their suppliers on time. Under new reforms, companies that have signed up to the Prompt Payment Code will be obliged to pay small businesses within 30 days - half the time outlined in the current code. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-tackles-late-payments-to-small-firms-to-protect-jobs

Opportunities and Events

A reminder for anyone that missed last week’s message; on Monday the 8th of February I will be holding an online session for local businesses alongside the Department for International Trade as part of the Parliamentary Export Programme. The event will be focused on Free Trade Agreements and exporting after Brexit. If your business would benefit from free export advice then please send me an email to register for the event: andrew.mitchell.mp@parliament.uk

FOLIO Sutton Coldfield has a series of online local interest talks over the coming weeks which will take place on Zoom: http://foliosuttoncoldfield.org.uk/online-local-interest-talks-2021/

Oak National Academy and the National Literacy Trust have launched a Virtual School Library to support families during the third national lockdown. The Virtual School Library hosts free reading and writing content from much-loved children’s authors - providing a free-to-access book every week from the platform’s author of the week. https://library.thenational.academy/

Ahead of the Commonwealth Games, Sport Birmingham has launched a Commonwealth Challenge educational resource to help children stay active at home. Each challenge provides a different link to an activity: https://www.sportbirmingham.org/commonwealth-passport-and-map?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=

BT has launched Stand Out Skills a set of free resources with tips and advice to help people stand out when applying for jobs: https://www.bt.com/standoutskills Support is available for young jobseekers out of education looking to start their career, and older jobseekers who may be finding themselves unemployed for the first time in a long time or needing to change career path.

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As your MP I am here to help. If you feel I can assist with any concerns, please do not hesitate to get in contact by emailing me on andrew.mitchell.mp@parliament.uk

Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP