Along with the rest of the country, the West of England has now entered a new phase of Covid-19 restrictions, which will be in place until the start of December. We can see that the virus has been spreading at an alarming rate across the West of England and further action is unfortunately now needed.
I know that these new restrictions will be of great concern for residents and businesses. The Combined Authority has been preparing for this scenario and stands ready with a package to protect jobs and support residents and businesses at this challenging time.
I welcome the Government’s announcement of an extension to the furlough scheme until the end of March 2021, support for self-employed residents and grants of up to £3,000 for premises that have to close. In addition to these significant measures, I was pleased to see the Prime Minister announcing further investment which will amount to over £20m additional funding to help the region support our businesses and residents.
WECA has also committed £9.4m to implementing the Regional Recovery Plan – this is in addition to the £100m we have already allocated to businesses and skills over the next four years. Our Recovery Plan builds on the strengths of our region and addresses some of the challenges we face as the pandemic continues.
Through the Combined Authority, residents and businesses will be able to access additional support which I hope will be of great value at this difficult time.
For example, I have expanded my Future Bright programme to provide hands-on coaching and careers advice for every resident whose job has been affected by the pandemic. I have also expanded the trusted advice we give to businesses through our West of England Growth Hub. This will remain a vital first port of call for businesses who need additional support during these challenging times.
For residents facing redundancy, we are rolling out a Redundancy Response Initiative and Talent Retention Scheme. These will support businesses facing large-scale redundancies re-deploy workers to employers with vacancies. I hope that this will help hundreds of local people avoid periods without work.
And because I know that this is a stressful and anxious time for everybody, I have made an important investment to roll out the Thrive at Work West of England tool. This is a free to businesses across the region and aims to help them support their staff’s mental health and wellbeing.
Having to go into this new period of restrictions will doubtlessly put great strain on residents and businesses. I urge all residents to remain patient, be responsible and follow the new rules. Only by doing this can we slow the spread of the virus and the new restrictions can be eased once again and our region’s economic recovery continue.
In the meantime, I hope that the additional support available through the Combined Authority will provide a much-needed lifeline for many. I will continue working with Government and our regional partners to ensure residents and businesses can access the support that they need.