Over the last week I have had meetings, conference calls and contact through digital media with many local organisations and businesses to discuss the impact the coronavirus is having on our daily lives. Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has offered to help in the community, and for the work of our councils and voluntary organisations in trying to co-ordinate these efforts.

Many people have been in touch asking where they can go to offer support, and also local residents who are vulnerable and self-isolating wanting to know if help is available for home deliveries of food and medicines. Folkestone and Hythe District Council is following the national guidance in creating a community hub for our area to co-ordinate both those who are seeking help, and people volunteering to give it. The District Council can be contacted by telephone on 01303 761116 and by email at Covid-19@folkestone-hythe.gov.uk if you would like more information about this. There will also be local community hubs for Folkestone and Hawkinge, Hythe and Lyminge, and Romney Marsh which residents will also be able to contact directly. I have included this information, along with the latest health and travel advice in a new section of my website which can be found at damiancollins.com/covid-19. We will be updating this regularly with the latest news and advice.

Last week the government announced further measures to help businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus and the shut-down of many areas of the tourism and hospitality sectors. I know this will have a severe impact on our local economy, and this has been an issue that I and other MPs have raised with Ministers directly in the House of Commons. I was therefore pleased to see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, has confirmed that the government will pay 80% of the salaries of employees not working. Employers can contact HMRC to join the coronavirus job retention scheme, which will pay up to £2,500 per worker each month to businesses. The scheme will be available within weeks, by the end of April. Wages claimed can be backdated to 1 March. Businesses will also be able to get loans, interest free initially for 12 months, through the coronavirus business interruption scheme. The loans will be available from Monday 23rd March and the government has not put a cap on how much money will be available. Hospitality, retail and leisure will pay no business rates for the rest of the year, and no business will pay any VAT from now until the end of June. I would fully expect that date to be revised if the crisis is still continuing.

I know that there are concerns about what more can be done to support self-employed people and those on zero hours contracts over the coming months. I would hope and expect that there will be further measures announced by the government on this shortly, but please do get in touch with me about any particular concerns you might have.