Bristol South

Support for Businesses in Bristol South during the Coronavirus crisis

I have been having weekly calls with local leaders and all of the Bristol MPs to ensure we are doing all we can as a city to get the help to those who need it during this crisis, including the many businesses that make up our local economy. I know this is a very uncertain and challenging time for everyone – particularly businesses and sole traders.

I’ve been in touch with a lot of local business owners about the impact of Coronavirus on their businesses. And I recently joined an online meeting hosted by the Federation of Small Business (FSB) to hear from Bristol South business owners on the issues they continue to face so that I can raise these in Parliament if needed.

The Government has announced various support packages available to businesses, which I’ve been helping people to make sense of and access. There are many gaps in the support available and I have been working with frontbench colleagues since the start of this crisis, to raise these with the Chancellor (see earlier letter here); from not being able to get Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans to a lack of support for self-employed people.

In some cases, the Chancellor has listened and extended schemes and introduced additional financial support. There are still many unresolved issues, including grant eligibility for businesses that do not qualify for business rates relief, for company directors who pay themselves through dividends, and for the many self-employed who do not qualify for Self Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

There are also challenges that are sector specific, for example those businesses which hire apprentices (see earlier article here), veterinary and dentistry practices who fail to qualify for grants, for pub landlords who continue to pay rent to their pub companies whilst being closed, and many more. I continue to work with local businesses to push on these issues.

As always, please do let me know if you encounter a specific problem that you need help with. You can reach me via karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk

If you run a business in Bristol South or are a self-employed, you may find these resources helpful…

The Government has asked that most customer-facing businesses close to further restrict the spread of Coronavirus. A full list of which businesses are required to close can be found here.

The Government is looking to ease some of the initial measures to enable some businesses to re-open and employees to return to work. It has guidance on how to make the workplace safe while Coronavirus remains present in the community. See here.

For those businesses still operational, the government has created guidance on how to operate while observing social distancing – here.

For the full Government business support hub, see here, with specific guidance for businesses, here.

The Confederation of British Industry advice is available, here.

For employers and employees, see Acas advice here.

FSB members can access further support here.

The Business Support Helpline is for advice on a range of business issues: 0300 456 3565. Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. Email enquiries@businesssupporthelpline.org

People or businesses which need urgent help should talk to their local authorities, as they can provide direct support quickly through their assistance schemes.

Bristol City Council business support pages can be found here: This includes a list of additional funding support schemes, many are sector specific.

Government support packages include:
The Coronavirus Business Job Retention Scheme. This will see HMRC pay 80% of ‘furloughed’ workers’ wages up to a £2,500 per month cap. Extended until October 2020 with new guidance due in August. Check your eligibility here.

The direct grant scheme for the self-employed. The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will pay self-employed individuals up to 80% of their profits, up to a £2,500 per month cap for the next three months, although this will be extended if necessary. Check your eligibility here.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will see banks offer loans of up to £5m to support SMEs, delivered by the British Business Bank. Check your eligibility here.

Government-backed Bounce Back Loans may be available for small and medium businesses – they are 12 months interest free loans of between £2,000 and £50,000, Details here.

Business Rate Relief for all businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure and nursery business in England for 12 months in 2020-21. Eligible pubs will also be entitled to a business rate discount of £5,000. See here for details.

Cash grants of £25,000 are being given out by the local council to the smallest businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector. You can apply via the council website here. With £10,000 grants for all business in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief. If a business is eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, it will be contacted by the relevant local authority.

Top up Fund: Small businesses that aren’t eligible for the small business or retail, leisure and hospitality grant funds may be eligible for the business grants top-up fund. Your local authority will publish full details when the fund is open for applications and contact eligible businesses. See here.

HMRC ‘Time To Pay’ service allows businesses and the self-employed to defer tax payments over an agreed period of time. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. HMRC have also launched a helpline to help businesses concerned about paying their tax due to Coronavirus: 0800 015 9559. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm.

HMRC is also offering tax deferments on both self-assessment tax returns and the quarterly tax return for 20 March-30 June. This is also an automatic offer with no applications required.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) costs for businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be met by the Government in full for up to 14 days per employee. Further guidance here.

Further advice for businesses which have apprentices is available here.

Karin Smyth MP urges Government to step up support for apprentices during Coronavirus crisis

Bristol South is one of the areas of the UK in which the lowest percentage of 18-year-olds go to university – less than 1 in 5 (see earlier article). Quality apprenticeships offer a route to degree-level qualifications and decent career prospects for those who don’t take the university route. It creates options, where there otherwise would not be many. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been championing apprenticeships since I was elected to Bristol South in 2015.

My annual apprenticeships fair with City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions  shining  a light on this important route to a quality career  and links people up with these opportunities.   

People have been contacting me concerned about the impact of workplace and school and college closures since the very beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak. Apprenticeships straddle these two elements and I was immediately concerned about what this might mean for apprentices in Bristol South and  beyond.

I’ve spoken with the Principal at City of Bristol College about the challenges they face, as well as the  Apprenticeships lead at Bristol City Council.  Both  raised concerns about  the sector’s ability to continue with the progress that has been made in this area in recent years without further targeted support.

As well as the college and the council,  I’m in touch with local businesses who employ apprentices  and  independent training providers – many of whom attend  my annual apprenticeships fair in Hengrove.  Government support announced so far does not help many of them.

Disappointingly, but perhaps predictably, new start figures for apprentices have dropped dramatically since the start of the year as many employers focus on the short-term survival of their business.  A recent survey by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) found around 60 per cent of employers had stopped recruiting apprentices altogether as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic;  with it also having a significant impact on the numbers of apprentices who will  successfully  complete their apprenticeship.

Current apprentices face an uncertain future - when will they be assessed? Will there be a job for them at the end of their furlough? Can they finish their apprenticeship?  These are all questions that, for many, remain unanswered.  Furthermore, it is not clear  if, and when, employers will take on  any  new apprentices.

At the start of the outbreak in the UK,  I asked the  Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson  what support the Government planned to provide businesses and the education sector to maintain apprenticeships during this time (see earlier article).

As Chair of the Apprenticeships All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), I have also written to Apprenticeships Minister  Gillian Keegan  highlighting the challenges and to ask for further government support.  We  want to see greater flexibility in the Apprenticeship Levy and have asked that the deadline to spend this money be extended. Another issue of concern is that currently providers are given a 12-week period in which to find an apprentice another employer if they are made redundant. This is clearly unrealistic in the current climate and we have asked for this window to be extended.  We also asked that the government extend the financial guarantees given to colleges for A level provision, to be extended to apprenticeships – I believe deeply in parity of opportunity.

Working with employers, training providers, local authorities and  Labour  colleagues, we’ve  spent  many  years trying to support more people through  decent apprenticeships and we have some good examples of this here in Bristol. 

As we come through this crisis and begin to think about recovery and  creating a workforce for the  future, apprenticeships  have an ever-important role to play.  Many will lose their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. It will also have an impact on pupil’s educational attainment. Apprenticeships are one significant way that we can help people back into work while filling existing and new skills gaps.

The Minister  has since recognised  this, saying: ‘Apprenticeships will play a vital role in securing our economic recovery, post Coronavirus.”   The government now needs to step up its  support  for  apprentices, employers and training providers  to ensure that the groundwork that has been done in this area is not lost.

Karin Smyth MP on the importance of Coronavirus testing and contact tracing

There has been much confusion around the latest announcement from the government on changes to the lockdown restrictions. The Labour Party, under the leadership of Keir Starmer, has been pushing the government for more details on the plan going forward as there are many questions left unanswered (see an example of this here). 

The virus remains active in our communties and, in order to help restrict its spread and prevent further large outbreaks, we must have extensive local testing and tracing measures in place. This will help us to isolate and control any new outbreaks quickly and efficiently. 

The focus to-date has been centred around testing an app on the Isle of Wight, but we cannot rely on an app alone. Contact tracing is a skill that requires community knowledge. Despite having more than 20 years’ experience working in NHS planning, I have found it difficult to follow how the Government intends testing and tracing to work once scaled up.

The Government is not currently choosing not to use local expertise to test, trace and track the virus. It is not even sharing existing test result data with local authorities and healthcare providers to enable them to better respond to localised outbreaks of the virus.  The test, trace and isolate strategy will not work unless ministers ensure that local public health planners have the tools and resources they need to make it function efficiently (see video here).

Speaking in The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee this week (see video here) , I raised my concern that the centralised national approach to this means that we aren’t in a position to undertake the necessary level of testing and tracing to successfully isolate new outbreaks in schools, let alone cities the size of Bristol.

I asked the UK’s National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond, how we get from where we are now to where we need to be – following the example of countries such as South Korea, which has used testing and tracing to avoid a lockdown, control the virus and protect its citizens. Sir Diamond agreed that we do need to work on this and pointed to the new creation of a Joint Biosecurity Centre, which he said would play an important role in harnessing a huge amount of data in a way that we haven’t done so far. But this centre is in its infancy, the crisis is now. 

People are now being told to take risks as part of the changes to the lockdown restrictions – to return to work, to prepare to send their children back to school or nursery and, for those without cars, to use public transport in order to do so.  Without significant localised testing and contact tracing which identifies those who need to self-isolate, this leaves us with very limited protection against this highly contagious disease. 

Almost every country that has managed to get to the next stage has had significant testing and tracing as part of the strategy. The UK needs to do that too and I, and the Labour Party, will continue to push the Government on this.

Karin Smyth MP speaks remotely in Domestic Abuse Bill

Last week, I spoke via video link in an important parliamentary debate on domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill brings in some key changes to existing law – including strengthening support for victims and provisions prohibiting cross-examination in the courts. Another welcome change to the rules means that those fleeing domestic abuse and facing homelessness as a result will be automatically prioritised for social housing.  

The coronavirus emergency has shone a light on the inadequate protection and support for survivors of domestic abuse, and we cannot wait until this crisis is over to address this.  

While Avon and Somerset Police has not yet seen the sharp rise in domestic violence incidents it expected, we do know that a lot of domestic abuse goes unreported. And that calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline have risen by around 50 per cent since the social distancing measures were introduced. There were also 16 deaths reported of women and children linked to domestic abuse in the UK during the first two weeks of the lockdown – almost three times higher than the same period the previous year.  

Since becoming the MP for Bristol South in 2015, the impact of domestic violence has been one of the most heartbreaking and dominant parts of my casework.    

Statistics show that Hartcliffe, Filwood and Bishopsworth have significantly higher rates of domestic abuse than elsewhere in the city. The last Bristol Women’s Health report showed women in Hartcliffe were much more likely to be victims of domestic violence – at a rate of double the national average – with almost 600 incidents recorded in a year, the highest figure in the city.   

The figures also show that more people in the south of the constituency view domestic abuse as a ‘private matter’ – up to 14% of people in Filwood compared with less than 6% in most areas of the city. And it is important to remember that, particularly in light of this attitude to domestic violence, an estimated 1 in 5 cases go unreported.    

That said, my surgeries have been filled with women, mainly in their 20s, with children, who have been desperate to remain part of their community and have had family support but who have been seeking refuge from their perpetrator.  More often than not, it is they who have to leave their homes and their communities.  

Earlier this year, I held a surgery especially for women who had come through domestic violence—they were largely on the other side—and I asked them what services they would like to see changed. I am very grateful to them for sharing their experiences with me.     

Many of their suggestions centred on the justice system, others related to mental health support once people have managed to flee their abuse, because the trauma does not end when someone leaves.   

I heard examples of how the abuser can use the system to manipulate the victim from a distance; for example, childcare arrangements and child maintenance payments can all add to the psychological trauma once someone has left.   

We need to provide ongoing support to these families once they have escaped their abuser: help with furniture and white goods, financial and legal support and counselling.   

Ten years of austerity has had a terrible impact on the ability of local authorities to fund the specialist services for survivors of domestic abuse.  With the government now placing a statutory duty onto local authorities to provide much of this support, there must be adequate, long-term funding, that reaches diverse specialist services.    

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens has been doing a lot of work locally around tackling domestic abuse, including commissioning a new victim support service. She recently wrote about her work in this area and urged victims to come forward – a plea I would echo. 

But the local authorities could not do such work without our excellent voluntary sector’s work with victims. I pay tribute to all those working with victims of domestic violence and abuse; organisations such as Next Link and Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) – which recently highlighted the importing issue around the ‘hidden’ sexual violence against older women.    

The sector is coming particularly to the fore at this time, doing tremendous work to support women locally. If the Government is really serious about making an impact, it should provide funding for this work.    

I was pleased to see the Government followed Labour’s suggestion to dedicate £76 mililon from the £750 million charity support fund to support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery; and I hope that they also fast-track this to get the funding where it’s needed immediately.  

The impact is wide, and when in recent discussions with headteachers and local police we have been trying to address behavioural problems locally, we have often come back to a background of young men experiencing violence at home and then repeating it. We have to also consider the role of perpetrator programmes in putting the onus onto men to take responsibility for their actions. We can, and must, break this cycle.

***

Support for victims of domestic abuse

Victims of domestic abuse are not subject to the stay at home restrictions and can go out. They will be able to access safe spaces at Boots pharmacy consultation rooms across the country. More info, here.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is then you can call the National helpline on 0808 2000247. In an immediate emergency, please call 999. If it is not possibly to speak the operator can guide you through some other response methods.

Bristol charity Next Link also runs a telephone helpline 10am-4pm Mon-Fri 0117 925 0680 for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse and their website has more guidance too.

The Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Assault Support (SARSAS) helpline is open Mon 11am-2pm, Tue, Wed & Thu 12-2pm and 6-8pm and Fri 11am-2pm. Call: 0808 801 0456 or 0808 801 0464. Or see website, here.

***

Karin Smyth MP on the community response to the Cornavirus crisis

In times of crisis, as the famous quote goes, look for the helpers.   

And in Bristol South, they’re everywhere. Bristol City Council is doing a great job of co-ordinating this effort – establishing need, working with charity partners to put systems in place to help people through this. Much of this has been about building on what’s has already been developed by local people over many years – particularly here in Bristol South.  

As it is home to some of the most deprived areas in the city, Bristol South already has some incredibly innovative, agile community organisations which have been running crucial services to support local people, organisations such as Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership. These foundations have put us in a strong position to be able to get help where it’s needed during this Coronavirus crisis.

Working with the Labour-run council, local ‘community anchors’ such as Knowle West AllianceBS3 Community and Heart of BS13 (formerly Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group) are stepping up their responses with pop-up food banks and a growing network of volunteers to support people with shopping, collecting prescriptions and other tasks – things which those being shielded are unable to do themselves at the moment.   

As well as new food banks run by existing organisations – such as Square Food‘s Square Meals campaign and BS3 Community Larder – we’re also seeing new entrepreneurial initiatives reaching into Bristol South. From hyper local mutual aid groups to The National Food Service, which was set up in Bristol just six months ago and is now delivering meals to over 200 people across Bristol South every week. Unlike most food banks, it’s not means tested and you don’t need a referral to use it. Anyone who needs food for whatever reason – say you can’t get to the shops or book an online delivery slot – can self-refer. See my webpage for details of this and all the other support available.

But I know that these voluntary organisations, while responsive and effective, are currently facing many challenges. While businesses are able to access government support to cover most of the wages of furloughed staff via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, those involved in responding to the pandemic must continue to pay staff or rely on volunteers with no extra financial support; this is on top of a huge reduction in income as they cannot fundraise or generate income in the usual ways. The Quartet Foundation is doing what it can to help with emergency grants, and is particularly keen to support more South Bristol organisations, but it can only do so much.

I know that many local community organisations, who are essentially providing a public services and a social safety net, are desperately worried about their future. It is for this reason that I have been calling on the Government for some time to provide them with greater financial support. The current offer falls far short of filling the financial black hole that many charities are facing.  

And as new Shadow Charities Minister Rachael Maskell MP recently said, we need to make sure that there is not only funding to see us through the next few months, but also to ensure there will be grants available to rebuild.  

That said, we have a system where charities rely on grants and volunteers to deliver vital local services which, should this funding or volunteer effort subside, would disappear. It’s not sustainable. It’s essential that the Government and other statutory bodies recognise and respond to this. The work many of these highly efficient organisations do isn’t an optional extra, it’s essential to help ensure that people have the food, healthcare, guidance and support they need.  

Bristol is fortunate enough to have an umbrella organisation, Voscur, which supports the city’s voluntary sector. They’re currently helping to share funding sources, provide safeguarding training and distribute other vital information to the wealth of city’s charities and volunteers which have come together to help people through this.  

This is particularly important considering the issue of burnout among those working hard for their communities. I know that some of the women heading up operations for the community anchors in Bristol South are working 10-12 hour days, often seven days a week to oversee the local response. The calls they’re receiving are increasingly complex, with people starting to feel the mental strain of the crisis. We must support voluntary sector workers with their mental health and wellbeing throughout this, while also equipping them to support others.  

The Government is not recognising the public service role provided by these organisations. It is vital that the Government looks at what additional measures and financial support it can make available to this sector. It must also ensure that new funding gets to them as quickly as possible to prevent further damage being done. I will continue to press the Government on this as a key demand in tackling the Coronavirus emergency.  

As we recover from this crisis, we must create a more equal sustainable and supportive society in which these community organisations are supported to have a leading role. 

Karin Smyth MP and Labour Party seeking answers from Government on issues with Coronavirus support

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth is working closely with her colleagues in parliament to seek clarification on some of the support available, challenge any issues that arise from this and hold the government to account over its decisions and approach.

Karin has been contacted by constituents who have questions and concerns around the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, support for self-employed people and small businesses and Universal Credit. She has raised these with fellow members of the Shadow Cabinet, pushing the government for answers and action.

Below is a follow up letter, which Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this month…

When we receive answers or further information, Karin will update constituents who have been in touch.

If you live in Bristol South and need support from your MP during this difficult time, please email: karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk – Karin and her team continue to work remotely throughout.

You may also find this Coronavirus resource page useful: karinsmyth.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-guidance-and-advice/

Karin Smyth MP on supporting constituents during the Coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is shaking our society to its core. It’s an extremely worrying time for everyone – with so much uncertainty and no real indication of when it might end; but we will get through this together. 

My team and I are working remotely to support constituents through this – listening to concerns, signposting to vital services and helping people to navigate the system, while working with my colleagues in Parliament to raise issues and resolve problems in a bid to ensure the help gets where it’s needed most.   

Here in Bristol South, I’ve heard from lots of people who are – understandably – very concerned about their health, their jobs and their businesses, and myself and my team are doing everything we can to help you through this. I’m helping people across the constituency every day with information and advice and making calls to local authority and government departments to try to get things moving. 

For some people, this is the first time they’ve had to access government support – but for many, it’s not. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is having to process a huge number of new claims with a limited number of staff (remembering that anyone in the high risk category and anyone showing symptoms, or living with someone showing symptoms, must self-isolate at home – this includes DWP staff). The government announced a package of emergency support – such as funding for furlough – but there are many processes that businesses must go through to access this, and it will not help everyone.  

You may have seen my Coronavirus information article on my website, which is regularly updated with the latest guidance and links. It includes the brilliant We Are Bristol Coronavirus hotline – where the council is linking people in need with volunteers and agencies ready to help. We’re adding to this list all the time, so please do keep checking back there if you have any questions. I’ve also been sharing regular posts on my social media channels to help ensure the relevant information reaches the people who need it. And I’m pointing people in the direction of these resources, if appropriate, when they contact me. 

Too many people are struggling to access the support they need. From people in self-isolation unable to get delivery slots with their local supermarket or collect their prescriptions to people on zero hours contracts finding themselves with no income to cover their rent and bills; and families struggling to juggle childcare and work to businesses without the financial means to pay their staff, suppliers, rent and bills. 

As before, a lot of the help on the ground will come from the voluntary sector – as well as from those key workers essential to keeping us safe: NHS staff, emergency services and other health and social care workers. From local charities, community groups and the thousands of people who have signed up as volunteers for the NHS and with Bristol City Council’s COVID-19 response force are all working to get us through this crisis.   

I am in touch with local healthcare providers, the council and local councillors, police, schools and nurseries, small businesses and charity and community organisations across Bristol South to see how I can support them in this huge task. I’m listening to their concerns, finding out what they need and am feeding this back to the relevant government departments.    

I know there are still issues outstanding on furloughing, on access to the self-employment income support scheme, on businesses being able to access government backed loans; as well as a lack of support for the charity and third sector. I, along with my opposition colleagues under the new leadership of Keir Starmer, are raising these with the government. While Parliament is not currently sitting, my Parliamentary colleagues and I are working on ways to govern while complying with the important government guidance around social distancing.  

More issues will arise in the coming weeks and I’m keen to understand these fully and push for action on these. As Keir has said, Labour will be constructive in its response, supportive of the government where it is right to do so but will ask the difficult questions. Our purpose when we do that is to save lives and protect our country.  

I am keen to make sure that you have enough support to get you through the next few weeks and beyond. As your MP, I care deeply about what you’re going through and will do everything I can to help you. If you need my support during this time, please email me: karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk 

Coronavirus – guidance and advice

I’ve been contacted by constituents who are, understandably, concerned about the impact of Coronavirus on them and their families.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for our public health and our economy at an individual, local, national, and international level.

Below, I’ve compiled some key information which may be helpful during this period of uncertainty.

NHS guidelines

The NHS has a plan to cope with the spread of the virus and has some essential advice for people on its website, here.

If you believe you may have contracted Coronavirus, you can check your symptoms via NHS 111’s online symptom checker, here.

Anyone presenting symptoms of Coronavirus – a persistent dry cough and fever – must self-isolate for at least 7 days, see latest info here.

The government says it is now testing certain groups, including NHS and care workers as well as over 65s with symptoms. More info, here. You can apply for a test if you fall into these categories, here.

The NHS is encouraging people who suspect they have or have had Coronavirus to fill out this survey, to help them better understand the virus.

Anyone in the high risk category – which includes people over 70, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions, are advised to stay at home.

Everyone is encouraged to wash their hands regularly with soap and water. For a guide on best practice for washing hands, see here.

It is very important we follow this essential guidance to help restrict the spread of the virus and ensure that our NHS can best cope with the pandemic.

Pharmacies have issued advice for people needing prescriptions. They ask that, where possible, you order your regular prescription online a week before you need it, that you only go to collect it once you’ve been notified that it’s ready and, send someone else to collect it for you if you should be self-isolating as per the official guidance.

There is a new Co-op Health app which offers free delivery of repeat prescriptions. You register and can pay online and get them delivered to your door. See here.

Government response

The UK Government has a helpful online Coronavirus hub, here. full of information and latest updates.

It urges people to stay at home as much as possible, work from home if you can, limit contact with other people and wash your hands regularly.

On 11 May, the Government relaxed its ‘stay at home’ restrictions to allow people out of their homes to work, exercise* and play sport with members of their household. (*Unlimited exercise).

If you must go out, please try and follow the government guidelines on social distancing here.

People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should have received a letter telling them they’re in the shielding group, or have been told by their GP that they are.

It means that you should not leave your house and extra support should be available. More info, here. If you do fit into this category and have not yet received a letter about this, you can register here or call 0800 028 8237.

There is a WhatsApp service that you can use to get the latest guidance on Coronavirus sent directly to your phone. Simply add GOV.UK‘s number to your contacts: 07860 064422 and send “Hi” as a message to the number on WhatsApp.

It is vital that we all play our part in helping to prevent the spread of this virus. The measures that the UK Government has put in place are there to protect us all – and particularly older and vulnerable people whom we may unknowingly pass the virus onto.

Avon and Somerset Police is working really hard to help enforce these important restrictions and have already issued fines to people in breach of these. If you want to report someone you believe to be in breach of these public health regulations, you can do so online here.

Travel advice

The Government has advised against all non-essential travel. People should be staying at home where possible (see guidance above).

Local public transport operators (buses and trains) are running reduced services with extra measures in place to help tackle the spread of Coronavirus. Please see here for the latest travel updates.

The Government has announced a temporary 6 month MOT exemption to enable vital services to continue, frontline workers to get to work, and people to get essential food and medicine. All cars, vans and motorcycles which usually would require an MOT test will be exempted from needing a test for an extra 6 months. More info, here.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all non-essential international travel. If you are currently overseas on holiday or seeking to return from a period abroad, you are advised to contact your airline or travel company. You are also able to contact the FCO by calling (0)207 008 1500.

Critical workers

A critical worker is classified as someone who is needed to help keep things running as part of the Coronavirus response. It includes NHS workers, police, health and social care workers and and charity workers involved in the Coronavirus response plus others in essential services; for the full government list, see here.

Bristol City Council is offering free parking to NHS workers in its council run car parks. See here for further info.

Karshare is offering free car use to healthcare professionals. See here.

Green Flag is offering a free vehicle breakdown service for NHS workers. Just call 0800 051 009 if you break down and show your NHS ID for free recovery. See here.

Bristol Food Union is providing free meals for key workers and is running a scheme where people can donate a meal to a key worker. See here.

NHS England has pulled together a list of all the businesses offering free meals and discounts to NHS workers, see here.

I hope those of you who can will join me in applauding key workers at 8pm every Thursday as part of the clap for carers initiative. Head to your window or door and join in with the public round of applause.

Support for employees

Many people are, understandably, concerned about their job situation as a result of the uncertainty around Coronavirus – particularly people on zero hours contracts and those unable to work due to self-isolation, social distancing and caring for members of their family. Others are facing losing their jobs as a result of this.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – the government has cover the cost of 80% of employees earnings if they are furloughed due to their workplace closing as part of the Coronavirus response. It is hoped that this will result in fewer job losses. The scheme covers the four month period of March-October, with the level of government support set to change from August. More info, here.

The rules regarding Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) have been updated in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. The latest changes are available here.

ACAS has further advice for employees during this difficult time, here.

The Self Employment Income Support Scheme – to support self-employed people, the government is allowing you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed. Tax and VAT payments have also been deferred. More info, here.

If you’ve recently been made unemployed, you can find out more about the support available here. The Government is reviewing this and taking extra measures in response to the impact of Coronavirus.

People whose jobs and income have been affected by coronavirus can get help from the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) through its expanded career coaching and support service, Future Bright.
To find out more and sign up, see here. Or contact your local team at: futurebright@bristol.gov.uk

There are some free online digital skills courses here. Bristol City Council has more online courses free for those receiving benefits, see here.

School closures

UPDATE: The Government has released guidance to support schools and nurseries in re-opening from 1 June ‘at the earliest’. You can read more about this, here.

With school and nursery closures across the UK, I know that many parents are concerned about the amount of leave they may be able to take to look after their children if still required to work.

You can find information about your right to time off for dependants here. Please also check with your employer as some have more generous allowances than others.

The government has said that school provision will be made available for children of critical workers (see guidance above for what classifies as a critical worker) and vulnerable children.

Home Learning Support materials for those children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) can be viewed here.

The Council has introduced a free school meal vouchers scheme which can be used to purchase food in local supermarkets. See here for details.

Future Quest is running online activities aimed at students in years 7-13. See here.

Food supplies

In light of panic buying, the UK’s leading supermarkets are assuring people that there is enough food to go round if people stick to what they need. Many have introduced a 2 or 3-item limit.

They have also introduced extra measures to ensure customers adhere to social distancing while shopping – including limiting the number of people in store at any one time.

Many have introduced set times for NHS and other critical workers only, to ensure they have access to the food they need. With online delivery slots filling up weeks in advance – a lot of supermarkets have introduced priority slots for those vulnerable customers in self-isolation.

Supermarket responses to Coronavirus

  • Aldi’s response here
  • Asda’s response here
  • Iceland’s response here
  • Lidl’s response here
  • Morrisons’ response here
  • Sainsbury’s response here
  • Tesco’s response here

Please also remember there are smaller shops across Bristol South, such as Parsons Bakery, Flip on North Street and Tobacco Factory Community Kitchen, many of which do have the supplies you need and welcome customers who are observing social distancing.

The Bristol Lockdown Economy website lists a range of local independent businesses offering online and delivery services during lockdown – see here. There’s another useful (searchable) list on Best of Bristol, here.

And if you live in BS3, there’s a new #WeAreBS3 app to connect you with local independent shops currently trading. See here.

Local food wholesaler Arthur David is now offering next day home delivery to BS postcodes, see here. And East Street Fruit Market is delivering fruit and veg boxes and waiving the delivery fee for older and vulnerable customers – see here.

Bristol South has a number of independent food banks (see below).

  • BS3 Community Larder based at St Pauls Church in Southville.
  • Carpenter’s Food and Support based in the Withywood Centre.
  • Counterslip Cares based in Counterslip Baptist Church in Whitchurch, covering Hengrove, Hartcliffe, Knowle, Knowle West and Totterdown too.
  • Refresh in Bedminster.
  • Victoria Park Baptist Church food bank.

In order to receive food bank support, please call the council’s hotline
between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Friday on: 0800 694 0184

Organisations supporting people with food recognise the reasons people may be struggling to get food vary – and currently include people who are self-isolating and unable to get to the shops or secure an online delivery slot. There are a number of organisations to support you under these circumstances – it is not means tested.

Knowle West Alliance is helping Bristol City Council deliver food support to people in Knowle and Filwood and is looking to expand to other areas.

Bristol Disability Equality Forum has more info on these and some other independent businesses offering support, here.

Heart of BS13 has a community kitchen to distribute free frozen meals to people in Hartcliffe, Withywood and Bishopsworth. Call 0117 911 2719 (10am-5pm Mon, Wed, Thu), text 07500 599 637 or send a Facebook message to Heart of BS13.

The National Food Service delivers meals to hundreds of households across Bristol South each week; it is not means tested and you can self-refer by calling 0117 3250450. The helpline is open 10am-6pm Monday-Friday. If you can’t get through, leave a message and someone will call you back. To support the National Food Service with its local effort, see here.

Support services

Bristol City Council is co-ordinating the local effort and has launched a We Are Bristol hotline for people in need of support. You can reach it between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Friday by calling: 0800 694 0184.

If you live in the Bedminster area and are self-isolating, BS3 Community is on hand to help you collect food, prescriptions, walk dogs and run other essential errands if needed. Call: 0117 3812181 or email: bs3.covidresponse@gmail.com for support.

The government announced a temporary ban on evictions and other support for renters. See here. Shelter offers free advice on housing issues, here. Or call: 0344 515 1430, lines open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm.

Levels of domestic abuse are currently higher than usual. Victims of domestic violence are not subject to the stay at home restrictions and can go out. There are safe spaces at Boots pharmacy consultation rooms , where people can contact specialist domestic abuse services for support and advice. More info, here.

Those facing domestic violence should call 999 if they need urgent help. If calling from a mobile, they will be connected to a phone operator who will ask which service is needed. If someone is unable to speak, they will be transferred to the Silent Solution system which runs a 20-second automated message. Here, they will be prompted to press 55 to be put through to the police. If they are calling from a landline phone and are unable to speak, the operator will connect them to the police directly.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is then you can call the National helpline on 0808 2000247. In an immediate emergency, please call 999. If it is not possibly to speak the operator can guide you through some other response methods.

Bristol charity Next Link also runs a telephone helpline 10am-4pm Mon-Fri 0117 925 0680 for women and children who are the victims of domestic abuse and their website has more guidance too.

The Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Assault Support (SARSAS) helpline is open Mon 11am-2pm, Tue, Wed & Thu 12-2pm and 6-8pm and Fri 11am-2pm. Call: 0808 801 0456 or 0808 801 0464. Or see website, here.

If you are being shielded and need access to your benefits in cash form, the DWP has teamed up with the Post Office to offer cash deliveries. See here.

South Bristol Advice Services can offer help and guidance around debt and benefits issues. See here for details.

The Centre for Sustainable Energy can help those struggling with energy bills, they have vouchers available and other advice to help reduce energy bills. See here or call: 0800 082 2234.

We Care can help with home repairs or improvements. Find out more about the services on offer, here. Or call: 0300 323 0700 Mon-Fri 10am-4pm. Or email: info@wecr.org.uk

Age UK Bristol is supporting older people through this and has an online hub, here. You can also call their helpline: 0117 929 7537

The uncertainty we’re all currently facing may impact people’s mental health. The Government has some guidance for coping with that, here. And the NHS advice around mental health while staying home is available here. For those feeling desperate or alone, St Mungo’s helpline The Sanctuary is available from 4-10pm daily by calling 0117 954 2952 or 07709295661.

Heart of BS13 is running a Positive Minds helpline to support people in Hartcliffe, Withywood and Bishopsworth with emotional support, signposting and practical advice. Call 07378310079 between 9am-12noon Monday or 1-4pm Wednesday or 07880661239 between 1 and 4pm Thurday or 9am, and 12noon Friday. Alternatively, email minds@heartofbs13.org.uk

Ignite Life, which aims to enhance the lives of young people, is offering emotional support, welfare support and foodbank support to local families. Email hello@ignite-life.co.uk or call 07814 019447 or see here

This is a really worrying time, especially if you, or someone you know, are living with a terminal illness. Marie Curie’s dedicated Support Line is open 7 days a week via tel: 0800 090 2309 or web chat.

Bristol Law Centre offers free legal advice for a number of issues – from employment to immigration. You can find out more, here.

Turn2us provides practical information and support to people facing financial crisis. It includes a benefits Calculator and grants search function and has information about additional rights due to Coronavirus. See here. Or call: 0808 802 2000.

Ofcom is working with internet providers to ensure people remain connected during this time. It has launched a series of measures under the Stay Connected banner, including removing data caps. More info here.

How you can help

It’s been great to see so many people and organisations coming together to support the response to Coronavirus.

Bristol City Council is co-ordinating the citywide volunteering effort and has a registration page for anyone interested in volunteering to help with Can Do Bristol, see here.

Many of Bristol’s amazing foster carers are older and at a higher risk from the Covid-19, and may need to self-isolate, so the council urgently needs more carers. If you can help, you’ll receive all the training, support and advice you need to help Bristol’s vulnerable children, email fostering@bristol.gov.uk

If you can afford to donate to the local Coronavirus Response Fund, you can do so here. It will help fund charities and community organisations who are supporting people through this pandemic.

Knowle-based Square Food is helping hundreds of families with free healthy meals everyday. Donate to their #SquareMeals appeal here where your donation will be doubled thanks to some fund-matching from the Quartet Foundation.

Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership is looking for people able to help with supporting the effort in Hartcliffe and Withywood by doing shopping, walking a dog, or providing a friendly chat on the telephone for people who are isolated, please email reception@hwcp.org.uk

Support for community organisations

The voluntary sector has a key role to play in the Coronavirus response, but we know that it’s a difficult time for charities and voluntary organisations. There is support available.

Voscur – which supports voluntary sector in Bristol – has lots of resources on its website, including guidance around safeguarding volunteers, volunteer agreement templates and guidance on GDPR and data protection. See here.

Locally, the Quartet Foundation has a big pot of money to give grants to local groups helping people through this and they are particularly keen to hear from organisations in Bristol South. For more info or to apply, see here.

The Charity Excellence Framework has an up-to-date list of funding sources on its website, here.

Bristol Food Network has a resource hub for organisations supporting people with food as part of the Coronavirus response, it includes best practice, funding opportunities and more – see here.

Support for businesses

Please see separate web page for support for local businesses, here.

Constituency surgeries

In line with the current public health advice, I have postponed by upcoming advice surgeries and face-to-face community engagements. My team and I are still working hard remotely to respond to constituents’ concerns as quickly as possible, although we will be prioritising cases relating to the Coronavirus outbreak.

If you live in Bristol South and need further advice or support, please get in touch by emailing karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk

I hope that you and your family stay safe during this difficult time – please do reach out for help if you need it. The community response to this situation has been heartening. Together, we can ensure that we support those who need help. 

Karin Smyth MP’s response to the planning approval for an arena in Filton

I’ve seen the planning decision relating to the plans for an arena in Filton and my position on this has not changed. Like many of my constituents I remain convinced that the best location for any such development is in the centre of Bristol.

Substantial amounts of public money have been earmarked for transport improvements in the Filton area – with plans for a new train station, Metrobus routes and bridges. We need to see similar investment here in Bristol South.

I welcome Ashton Gate’s plans to expand and create build a Sport and Convention Centre alongside its 27,000 capacity stadium. They have a strong track record of delivering large scale events – from football matches to huge music concerts – and, crucially, of getting people to and from the stadium from across the region. Most local people walk, cycle and use trains or buses to get to Ashton Gate. Its location makes it accessible not only for people in Bristol South, but also right across the city and the region. 

But, with ambitious plans to expand its annual programme of events it would benefit from more transport infrastructure – electrification of the existing track which runs from Temple Meads through Bedminster and Parson Street, a new station for Ashton Gate as part of the re-opening of the Portishead line, a Metrobus stop outside the stadium and a new pedestrian bridge over the main road.  The plans focus on sustainability – encouraging people out of cars and onto forms of active travel, very important considering the climate emergency we are in.

Finally, we cannot talk about the Filton arena plans without considering what is happening to Arena Island near Temple Meads (which was supposed to be home to the city’s new arena). We were promised hundreds of jobs and apprenticeships as part of the original arena plans and I want to see that the new development proposals benefit people in Bristol South – as the plans for Ashton Gate will. 

Hundreds of jobseekers attend MP’s annual jobs and apprenticeships fair in South Bristol

The South Bristol Jobs & Apprenticeships Fair takes place in Hengrove each year

Students, parents, carers, grandparents and individuals looking for work headed to the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove 27 Feb 2020 for the only event of its type in Bristol South.

The South Bristol Jobs and Appenticeships Fair was set up by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and City of Bristol College in 2017 to help local people access a full range of jobs and apprenticeships opportunities. Now in its fourth year, it builds on previous work by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Bristol City Council, and remains the only event of its type in South Bristol.

More than 60 stallholders from businesses, training providers and other employment support organisations were on hand with information and careers advice for the 800+ visitors. Some stalls included apprentices who had found their role at previous fairs. They returned to share their experiences of apprenticeships and encourage other people to become apprentices.

City of Bristol College Principal Andy Forbes and Karin talked to stallholders and visitors about what they were hoping to achieve from the fair. Local families found out about the options available and signed up for apprenticeships and courses. Many employers took people’s CVs and contact details and expect to recruit people from this.

Speaking after the event, Karin said: “I’ve had a fantastic day talking to so many people – young people and older people looking for a job, looking for apprenticeships. We want to make apprenticeships more attractive, to help people understand how you get onto them and give people access to the jobs and training that they need. What’s really lovely is we’ve talked to people who came to last year’s fair and they’re back here this year with a job encouraging new apprentices to come forward. ”

Ricky-Jay Jones, 19, from Withywood, is now an IT Apprentice with Fowlers of Bristol thanks to registering for an apprenticeship at last year’s fair. He said: “I got my apprenticeship at the fair last year. The best thing about it is that I’m learning a lot of new things and I’m learning to get on with a lot of people. It’s building my confidence up and it’s helped me get to know more about IT than before. I’m hoping to try and stay on with Fowlers when my apprenticeship finishes.”

Chris Mitchell, who works for Bristol City Council and helps organise the event, said:  “Today has been fantastic. We’ve had very happy employers and very happy people who we’ve encouraged to come here. It’s been the biggest and best event we’ve done here and, by working together, we’ve brought together a great range of employers and people.

“It’s vital for people here in Bristol South; because if anyone is a bit unsure about themselves, it’s much easier for them to talk to an employer at this sort of event. They’ve still got to apply for the jobs in the usual way but because they’ve actually broken the ice with the employer and they’ve decided, after talking to this employer, ‘yes, I’m going to work for you’, it makes the world of difference.”

Mike Gregory, was manning the HMRC stall and recruiting for a range of jobs and apprenticeship opportunities. Originally from Knowle West, he commented on how brilliant this event was for local people.

He said: “We’ve seen lots of people from students at the college to people who’ve been made redundant and are looking for new work, for retired people who want to get back into the workplace; a massive range, it’s been brilliant. Events like these are essential for Bristol South. Growing up in the area, I didn’t find that there was anything going on. Becoming an adult, looking for work in the area I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t have any help; but with stuff like this there’s advice and a face-to-face interaction that makes people feel much more confident in going for a role. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

City of Bristol College Principal Andy Forbes said: “It’s my first fair, since I’ve only just joined the college as Principal but I’ve been really impressed with the size, the scale and the energy in the event. We’ve seen a really good mix of people coming through the door – parents, youngsters, our own students. It’s such an important event for Bristol South and Karin has been such so helpful in getting this organised, it’s been a great partnership. She is such a champion for South Bristol.”

Fair organisers (L-R) City of Bristol College Principal Andy Forbes, Bristol South MP Karin Smyth, Richard Smale from the DWP and Chris Mitchell from Bristol City Council

Karin added: “It’s been great to work with Andy and the team at City of Bristol College, Bristol City Council and the Department for Work and Pensions on this important event. We’re already starting to think about next year’s fair and hope to be able to help even more people take their first, or next, step in their career.”

The fair comes just weeks after Andy and Karin celebrated the start of work on the new Advanced Construction Skills Centre at the South Bristol Skills Academy in Hengrove. The Advanced Construction Skills Centre, due to open in September 2021, will help train the next generation of construction workers and will open up opportunities for young people in Bristol South.