Clarity of message is vitally important | Antony Higginbotham
There are some weeks in Parliament when you need to divert attention quite quickly, because of something urgent and this week was one of those weeks.
Like everyone else, Monday evening was the first time I had heard that there was guidance in place asking people not to travel into, or out of, Burnley and other areas where the so called ‘Indian variant’ had been identified.
These news reports did not chime with the conversations I had been having with ministers or officials in the Department for Health and Social Care and so I sought urgent clarity on the matter.
Thankfully they confirmed my understanding, that there was no additional legal restrictions and the new guidance was intended to reinforce the message of all of us exercising care and caution as we go about our lives.
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Whilst this newspaper did carry that confirmation, on Tuesday the confusion was spreading with national news outlets continuing to report that there was, in effect, a local lockdown in place.
During an Urgent Question in the House of Commons later that day I asked the vaccines minister to confirm, once again, that this guidance did not prevent people from exercising the freedoms that we reclaimed last Monday and highlighted the importance of clarity of message.
He confirmed that point once again, and over the course of that afternoon and evening the message became clearer, with ministers meeting with me privately to ensure we got the message right.
The new guidance is now in place. It asks that all of us, across Burnley and Padiham, get tested twice a week, get our jab when eligible, and exercise our own caution day-to-day, recognising that there are Covid-19 cases in the borough.
And on the second one of those, I was really pleased to see that all those aged 30 or over are now eligible for a vaccine.
This is in addition to 18 years and over with any underlying health conditions; 18 years and over who are living, caring, or working with anyone with underlying health conditions; all health and social care staff; and carers – paid or unpaid.
Now that I’m in the list of those who are eligible I’m delighted to be booked in for my first vaccine on Friday, at Burnley General Hospital, and I’d encourage everyone to look at whether they are eligible and get the vaccine if so.
There has also been lots of other things going on this week though, and whilst Tuesday became dominated by the guidance, I am always determined not to be side-tracked from delivering on the promises I made in December 2019.
One of the most important of those promises was around securing our borders, introducing a fair and responsible immigration system.
One that welcomes those with the skills we need, and those fleeing persecution, but comes down hard on those who abuse the system. In the last few months, we’ve made big progress on that, and I have covered it in previous columns, from the new points-based system to the reform of asylum rules currently being drafted up.
But this week the Home Secretary went further by announcing the creation of a digital border.
Whilst this may sound like a small change, it is fundamental.
Because understanding who is coming in and out of the UK is crucial and these reforms, which will allow us to precisely count the numbers entering and exiting the UK; and the implementation of a new electronic travel authorisation which will allow us to quickly deny entry to foreign criminals, is very much welcome. It is a long overdue change, but one which has my support.
And that also applies to the plans announced for non-UK soldiers to be given visas without having to pay for them.
Those who are willing to serve the United Kingdom in our armed forces, and give their loyalty to our country, should receive our loyalty in return. It’s right that we recognise their contribution by not only smoothing the pathway to residency and citizenship, but also by lifting the financial cost of doing so after 12 years of service.
As we get through the last phases of this pandemic, by exercising caution, taking weekly tests and ultimately getting vaccinated, our borough has a great opportunity to build back better than ever before and that’s where my focus will remain.