It is common knowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on the health service across the UK, and hospitals in particular.

During the major surges in COVID-19 cases over the last year we, like lots of other hospitals, had to make some very difficult decisions to cancel some clinics, operations and procedures to safeguard our resources to care for seriously ill COVID patients. This was done in the interests of keeping our patients and staff safe.

Here in Lincolnshire, we have made every effort to continue to deliver care to everyone who needs it through this pandemic, and having planned surgery continue on the Grantham site has helped us to do this. However, there are some who have waited longer for care than they might previously have done.

Now, as the vaccination programme rolls out and we start to see some national restrictions eased, we are turning our attention to re-instating services that have been affected by COVID, and getting appointments booked in for those who have been waiting.

In United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, we are making the shift to managing COVID not as a pandemic, but as an infection which is endemic in our society. We are changing how we care for COVID patients, so that they can be cared for in just the same way as those with any other infectious disease – something we are already well-versed at doing with high standards of infection prevention and control practices.

We constantly share examples with other hospitals to ensure we are all making effective use of isolation and infection prevention and control procedures, so that all of our patients can be reassured about the safety of accessing hospital services.

I hear that there are people in our communities who are scared to go into hospital, or attend appointments, because of the risk of COVID. This saddens me, because I know that means patients who desperately need our care are not accessing it. We would be keen to talk to individuals to offer reassurance to help them access the care they need.

My job is to restore that confidence in our hospitals, and to reassure the people of Lincolnshire that our hospitals are safe environments for everyone.

I want everyone to know that they can safely use our hospitals, and should access NHS services when they need them.

Dr Karen Dunderdale is the Director of Nursing at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

What were we hoping for or anticipating on a grey day in March, nearly 12 months since the start of lockdown? Perhaps for many it wasn’t all a ray of sunshine from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak as he delivered the 2021 Budget. Whilst the announcements might not have us grabbing for the factor 50 sun cream, he certainly did provide a level of optimism for businesses and business owners.

The Chancellor highlighted that we were experiencing a swift and sustained economic recovery in the face of the pandemic. Whilst the cost of the necessary measures to support the economy, jobs and livelihoods was at a level only comparable with that faced over the period of the world wars, our long-term economic prosperity would be underpinned through investment in improving productivity, harnessing innovation and through focusing on a more sustainable and green economy which embraced technology and skills.

Our journey to the future though starts in the here and now, with, in the coming months, a focus on supporting the economy and businesses whilst at the same time safeguarding jobs, as well as ensuring those out of work or looking for work can find suitable vacancies. Certainly, it’s clear support through apprenticeships and skills training is high on the agenda.

In outlining the government’s response and support for those affected and impacted by the pandemic, the Chancellor reiterated that the roadmap for our exit out of lockdown was irreversible. It was then great to hear that measures of support for businesses, including the employees and the self employed are going to be in place for perhaps much longer, perhaps longer than might have been thought prior today. This takes into account that for many, getting back to business, reopening and returning to pre-pandemic trading levels is going to take some time, not least for sectors like the entertainment, hospitality and leisure, bricks and mortar non-essential retail, the arts and sport.

Looking at the key announcements and measures to support businesses, the workforce and the self-employed, the following were perhaps key:

  • Furlough to remain in place until the end of September, with employers being asked to contribute towards salary at the rate of 10% in July and 20% in August and September
  • For businesses looking for support to ‘restart’ their business there was the introduction of the Business Restart Grant, with £6,000 available to non-essential retail and £18,000 available to those in the hospitality sector. This is in addition to the provision of the new Recovery Loan Scheme which will provides loans from £25,000 up to £10,000,000.
  • Those benefiting from the business rates holiday will be able to continue to do so until the end of June at which time relief will be reduced to two thirds.
  • Those who are self-employed will benefit from an extension to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and the provision of a 4th and 5th grant application. The scheme will also now be open to those who have not been able to apply and the newly self-employed if they filed a Self-Assessment Tax Return by midnight on 2nd March.
  • The hospitality and tourism sector will benefit from a continuation in the rate of VAT charged from 20% to 5% until the end of September, at which time the rate will increase to 12.5% for 6 months.
  • For many small businesses facing increased and tough competition, the Chancellor announced measures to introduce a Help to Grow programme which provides management training and access to technology and financial support for purchasing software – hopefully accounting software
  • In addition, the housing sector received perhaps an already anticipated boost with the extension of the removal of stamp duty on house sales up to £500,000. This will remain in place until 30th June.

Perhaps the headline grabber wasn’t the pending increase to Corporation Tax (from 19% to 25% in 2023), or the fact that duties on fuel and alcohol remain unchanged, but it was the introduction of the ‘super deduction’ tax relief available to those making business investments. The two-year tax break would allow companies to deduct 130% of their investment from their taxable income, cutting their taxes by the equivalent of 25p in the pound.

Overall it was perhaps as expected a Budget for the here and now, but the Chancellor was more than clear about the need to ensure government borrowing and the budget deficit are not only kept in check, but that the national burden of debt is reduced, whether this is in his lifetime or the next generation of chancellors, only time will tell. 

We would though be naive to think we shouldn’t expect tax hikes and reform of tax legislation at a time when it might at least be more palatable. For now, given the element of certainty provided, the scene and conditions have been set for businesses to work on and put in place their roadmap to recovery.

More of our budget coverage:

James Pinchbeck is Marketing Partner at Streets Chartered Accountants, a top 40 UK accountancy practice. James, as a specialist in marketing professional services, is responsible for the development and implementation of the firm's strategic marketing as well as its engagement in the community it which it works and serves. His role allows him to capitalise on his broad interest in the national and local economy as well as his passion for enterprise. As part of his wider interest in enterprise, marketing and education, James is a board member of NBV – the East Midlands Enterprise Agency, an FE College Governor and a board member of the University of Lincoln’s Business School. He is also an Institute of Director’s past Branch Chairman.

It looks as if the local elections are going ahead in May after all. But, apparently, if we decided to risk a trip to the polling station, we are being told to bring our own writing implements and, of course, our masks.

Much as I am against the idea except if circumstances preclude a visit, on this particular occasion I would have thought that voting by post for all might have been a better idea; but I’ve been reliably informed that Royal Mail can’t deliver on that (no pun intended).

I am a big fan of local government, even in its current emasculated form. I want to see it given more powers. I want local government structure and finance to be reformed. After all, the council tax, which was cobbled together to replace the dreaded poll tax, is still based in England on 1993 property values. Then there’s the confusion in three tier areas like Lincolnshire about which council does what.

However, we live in unusual times. If we behave ourselves, we could be back to something like normal, whatever you think normal is, by the end of the year. So, why add to our problems and therefore why not park the local elections until next year?

As the government intends to plough ahead, there will apparently be voting for candidates for the Lincolnshire County Council, for the Police and Crime Commissioner and a few district council by elections. As far as the county is concerned, with the possible exception of Lincoln City, there will only be one winner, and that is the Conservative Party. There might be a few Tories masquerading as Independents, who slip under the wire.

Indeed, back in 2013, the last time I was elected, (thanks largely to a UKIP candidate, living in a care home, who never emerged not even at the count; but whose votes probably denied my Tory opponent victory) the surge of UKIP managed for only the second time in the County Council’s history dating back to 1973 to prevent the Tories from getting an overall majority. By 2017, those Ukippers had disappeared and those that survived had donned the blue rosette.

In the past four years since I retired from the County Council, I have heard nothing at all from my Conservative county councillor, who, I believe, lives in Skellingthorpe. In fact I haven’t heard from any other party or individual either. I wonder if he will be standing again. Mind you, his party will certainly have the funds to mail me a few leaflets, whose hand delivery, I believe, may be outlawed because of COVID.

And as for canvassing, that was becoming a dying art even before the virus struck. In any case, who is going to open their door to a stranger, especially with a clip board and possibly sporting a rosette, at the moment? There’s always social media, you may say. And who do you think has got that tied up? Given the ‘vaccine bounce’, as most people get their information from the media, either local or national, there is surely only one show in town.

Then there’s the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), another bright idea from across the pond, shoehorned into this country and worked out seemingly on the back of a fag packet, at the expense of democratically accountable Police Authorities and whose support via the ballot box barely makes double figures.

Surely the saga of the suspension and reinstatement of our former Chief Constable some years ago, at no small cost to the tax payer, I might add, and the recent musical chairs appointment of our latest one should make you ask why the judgement of a single person should carry so much weight.

I believe that, once elected, the PCC appoints their Deputy, who, as far as I know, has no electoral mandate and yet could take over if anything happened to their boss until a replacement could be voted in. Is that really democracy?

So, what do I do? Yes, I will hopefully have had my two jabs by then, but I could still be carrying the virus. I’ve been pretty careful for nearly a year now so, why risk anything? What if I just happen to forget to bring my pen or pencil? I suppose I could apply for a postal vote; but, under normal circumstances, I’m not in favour of them.

If I did decide to go to the polling station, judging by recent history, I would probably spoil both ballots anyway, given what I’ve already written. I know that some people disapprove of this action, so I hope that they exercise their democratic right. You know, I think I might just stay at home on polling day, and I reckon many people might do the same. Why break the habit of a lifetime as far as local elections are concerned?

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.

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