Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column: We need to do everything we can to support our Armed Forces

This week we have seen our vaccine delivery programme continue at pace with over 13 million people across the country having now received their vaccination against Covid-19.
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This is a monumental achievement that we can all be proud of and is testament to everybody involved; from NHS staff to the countless volunteers we have operating in Burnley and Padiham.

We are now averaging a phenomenal 2.5 million doses a week and having reached nine in 10 of those aged 75 and over – at a rate of 1,000 a minute last Saturday, we are now preparing to accelerate the rollout by offering a vaccine to everyone over 50 by May.

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And for that small group of people in the first four cohorts that have still for whatever reason not yet been contacted you can contact either the NHS on a free of charge 119 number, or book in using the website www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination.

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham speaking in the House of CommonsBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham speaking in the House of Commons
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham speaking in the House of Commons

Down in Parliament it’s also been busy, with the 2nd reading of the Armed Forces Bill going through the House.

The primary purpose of this Bill is to extend the maintenance of the Armed Forces, one of our solemn duties carried out every five years since the English Civil War.

But this year we’re going much further. This new piece of legislation is also about enshrining the Armed Forces Covenant into law and ensuring that anybody who has served our country is not disadvantaged when accessing key public services.

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It’s important as we've a proud Armed Forces community within Burnley and Padiham and we need to do everything we can to make sure both serving personnel and our veterans get the support they need, when they need it.

I had the pleasure of speaking in the debate on Tuesday night, raising the point that our Armed Forces allow us as a country to sleep soundly at night, in the knowledge that a world-class organisation stands ready to defend us and our allies 24/7.

And over the past 12 months, we have seen all too well the reliance we have on them here in the UK. For without their expertise and manpower, we would not be where we are today in the fight against Covid-19 and in the roll-out of the vaccine.

The Armed Forces Bill not only renews our Armed Forces for another five years; it delivers on another manifesto promise to back our veterans and our active personnel properly; something I will always champion, alongside the brilliant local groups we have in the borough - Healthier Heroes, Veterans in Community and Burnley FC in the Community.

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Another topic discussed was Local Government Finance, or for us here, the amount of money that has and is being made available to both Burnley Borough Council and Lancashire County Council to cope with the added pressures placed as a result of Covid-19.

Back in 2019 I made a promise to the people of this borough that I'd bring Government focus and Government investment to Burnley and Padiham; and the local funding settlement for Burnley Council shows that is exactly what we're doing.

In the last year alone over £50 million has been provided to Burnley Council for nothing other than Covid.

Grant funding for businesses totalling £34.27 million; a council tax hardship fund of £1.48 million; business rates relief amounting to £11.1 million; domestic abuse services seeing an additional £95,000; a self-isolation grant fund of £114,000; compensation for lost income of £350,000 and an extra £2.11 million to manage day to day services like refuse collection and green spaces totalling £2.11 million.

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And this is just a portion, with a further budget increase planned for next year too.

I'll never stop lobbying the Government, standing up in Parliament to speak for Burnley and Padiham to ask for more support but we have to focus on the facts - and the fact is that this Government is providing the support needed.

The argument that yes we've had more funding from Government "BUT" does not hold sway. There is no BUT. If the local Council is going to raise Council Tax it should be clear about why it is doing it, particularly if they are inserting that BUT. Because the answer can't always be more tax rises. We have to squeeze every pound and penny out of the money that goes to local councils. That's what residents deserve.

And with proper financial management Burnley Council, with these extra resources now at its disposal, can weather the storm of Covid and provide all the services local people rely on.