Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
At 6pm on Sunday, 17th January, front line workers, including teachers, were invited to Ipswich Hospital for vaccination; they were to show their NHS number and work identity badge. Having been alerted to the opportunity, and despite the short notice, several teachers rushed over, greeting friends as they arrived to join the queue, thankful to be prioritised.
However, a teacher at a large primary school was turned away, alongside some colleagues, because they worked at an Academy, and vaccinations were only being offered to those directly employed by Suffolk County Council (SCC).
Meanwhile, they watched as office staff, who certainly don’t work in the front line, were accepted because SCC paid their wages.
Is this Government policy? If so, it is blatant discrimination; does it also mean teachers at private schools will not be prioritised as front line workers?
All teachers, wherever they work, are doing their very best to sustain education, rising to the challenges of endless U-turns, and diktats, because they are committed to the long term wellbeing of their students, keeping them safe and monitoring their progress. Whoever employs them, teachers pay their taxes and National Insurance like everyone else.
The following day, Monday, 18th January, a couple approaching their eighties living in a rural Suffolk village were contacted at 11pm; their rapid response secured vaccination appointments the following afternoon. But how are other elderly people being contacted; a 93-year-old is still waiting.
Not everyone has a mobile, especially the elderly, and most would be in bed by 11. What about people who aren’t registered with a GP practice?
According to an ITV Anglia report on 21st January, vaccinations in Suffolk are at the lowest level in the country, except London. Covid cases may be declining, but that is surely not an excuse for vaccination centres to be deployed so slowly.
Whilst some GPs have already given patients two doses, and are now calling in the 70+ age group, others are still waiting for supplies. This is leading to disquiet amongst the local population, including Terry Waite, who expressed his concerns to ITV.
The county may be Conservative, with all MPs (including Matt Hancock) and all but one (Ipswich) councils “blue”, but if the 700,000 plus residents feel they are being ignored by the Health Department, without vaccination supplies to support its elderly retired population, as well as front line workers, the forthcoming local elections – whenever they happen this year – could deliver a shock to Downing Street.
People of all ages are dying, not just Covid victims, but from delayed cancer or heart treatment, whilst others remain in daily agony, increasingly immobile, awaiting hip and knee replacements which have already been deferred by a year. Vaccination appears to be the only route to a degree of “normality”, alleviating the overwhelming stress on health workers, as well as their patients.
The same is true when it comes to hospitality and tourism, key industries in the area, but threatened by the pandemic, with dozens of businesses likely to close permanently, contributing to rising unemployment, with even apprentices made redundant. Vaccinating the local population is vital to reviving the economy, and ensuring that once-thriving companies, with excellent leadership and reputations – like Southwold-based Adnams – have a strong future again.
The Chief Executive, Andy Wood, who was also the highly successful founding Chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP), appeared frustrated, and quite emotional, during a recent TV interview. The company has cancelled pub rents for the present, supporting tenants whose venues are so popular with their communities, crucial to social interaction in small towns and villages across the region. Whilst the main brewery remains partially operational, able to sell beer online, the hotels and restaurants are closed instead of bustling with activity, and staff are furloughed.
The Government appears to be debating that hospitality remains closed until May, but fails to understand the financial implications of such a decision when they are integral to the national and local economy, with millions spent to make businesses Covid safe.
Southwold is a shadow of itself without Adnams at full throttle; small and medium sized businesses depend on the thousands of tourists, second home owners, and visitors its services draw to the town all year. This is just one example of the many small towns and villages – right across the country – which are equally challenged because of the pandemic.
Adnams is just one of hundreds of successful Suffolk businesses, employing thousands of people, with many suffering a double whammy in the wake of Brexit: engineering, boatbuilding, creative industries, professional services, the sciences, retail, food and agriculture, as well as hospitality, reflecting the range of expertise available, and desperate for a route map out of the current crisis.
As national debt soars beyond £2.1 trillion, the Prime Minister has apparently recruited 30 top business leaders to advise the Government on how to boost the economy as it emerges from the current crisis: BP, Tesco, BT, Jaguar Land Rover and the McKinsey Consultancy, are just some of the big names “representing industries from retail and hospitality to finance, science and technology”.
They are invited to “share their views on the economy, providing a commercial perspective on policy and highlight obstacles to economic recovery”. Quarterly meetings (via zoom) are planned; hardly indicating any degree of urgency.
But where is the local voice? Big business, with leaders on vast multi-million salaries, can’t offer the same insight as people like Andy Wood, who quickly established NALEP as one of the best LEPs in the country, identifying and funding key projects to maximise growth, linking skills training to business needs, and proactively promoting opportunities for inward investment.
It is regional business leaders who have their hands on the local pulse, who have the knowledge and contacts to know what will/won’t work to enable regeneration, where to target investment – to provide dynamic innovative solutions to the challenges – so money isn’t wasted. Ministers should listen, and learn, instead of patronising and ignoring these voices.
The Government has done well to acquire vaccinations and establish regional centres, but delivering immunisation is something of a lottery, so please don’t lose the plot by neglecting Suffolk, or it will not be a net contributor to the Treasury for much longer.