In response to the CPF discussion on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, we received submissions from 74 CPF groups, representing 109 constituencies plus one Conservatives Abroad group, two national groups and at least 991 members. Since the start of the year, about 1,500 members from 160 constituencies have participated in CPF discussions. This includes 14 new groups that have been launched. Thank you to everybody who has been involved: your ideas are continuing to help shape our country's future.
This was the first time that many groups ran their discussions online, via video conferencing software such as Zoom. Feedback was encouraging, e.g.:
“This made us use video conferencing for the very first time, and it was surprisingly successful! We will be doing this again.” (Buckingham CPF)
“This was our first meeting on Zoom (we usually meet in a side room of a convivial local pub). It went very well-better than we expected. Everyone spoke up and our discussion was lively.” (Bexhill & Battle CPF)
“This was our first virtual meeting using Zoom and after the initial dread that the technology would fail or the invite would not work it proved interesting and enjoyable.” (Telford & Wrekin CPF)
“Zoom forums actually work – much to everyone’s surprise!” (Shrewsbury & Atcham CPF)
Recognising the time-sensitive nature of recommendations, in addition to preparing a concluding collation of policy suggestions, our CPF Manager produced detailed weekly reports for the Director of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretaries of State for Health & Social Care, for Education and for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the CPF Chairman and the Party Chairman. As usual, we look forward to publishing a formal response to members’ ideas in due course.
What follows is an overview of the key points raised by CPF groups in response to the five consultation questions, plus a few representative quotations. It is worth noting that trends identified were of unprompted concerns and therefore do not reflect the greater level of concern that would presumably be found if we were specifically to ask to what extent members shared each particular concern or idea. Also, many discussions took place before the details of related support schemes were announced and the CPF is delighted that contributions from its members helped to shape changes to policy that were subsequently made.
1. Positive examples of changes made in local areas that others might like to adopt or adapt
“Our village has for some time been putting together an emergencies response planning group to anticipate all possible emergencies and put in place the sort of response the village could produce.”
“My GP has ceased to see patients without telephone consultations first. They have two surgeries: the RED surgery deals with those whom they suspect have respiratory or flu-like symptoms and all others go to the AMBER surgery.”
“The parish council supports a new initiative to crowd fund £5,000 to help those in dire financial straits in the village.”
“Store holders in the local market joining together to offer a delivery service to all their customers.” “Shops working together to provide combined delivery boxes.”
2. Groups whose needs or concerns the government has yet to address adequately
Although the question asked about areas of need, it is right to begin by noting the widespread support that CPF groups expressed for the swift actions taken by the government, for instance to enable workers to be furloughed and to ensure businesses could access loans:
“We fully support the government’s actions in fighting the virus.”
“People were quite impressed with the Government’s attempts to minimise the economic hardship suffered as a result of Covid-19 and the lockdown.”
“The Government has done its best in difficult circumstances particularly on financial support to companies and employees.”
“The measures put in place so far by the Chancellor are welcome.”
More than two-in-five (41%) expressed concern for the self-employed and those changing jobs, who did not qualify for the emergency funds announced at the start of the lockdown.
About one-in-five groups (18%) stressed they want shelter for the homeless to continue.
“The gap between digital “haves” (home computer and/or smart phone plus adequate broadband and/or signal) and “have-nots” (slow or no online access and/or smartphone and signal) has been cruelly exposed. Those most at risk and in need of support are least likely to use online services or be contactable via social media, email or text.”
“Those millions of vulnerable citizens who were isolated before the crisis and who have felt even more isolated since the lockdown.” “Visually impaired, hearing impaired and physically challenged individuals.” “A number of groups like single mothers are starting to feel vulnerable the longer that lockdown is going on.”
“Some young people have suffered significant harm to their wellbeing (psychologically and physically).” “There will probably be increased demand for mental health services for several years, especially children and the many recently bereaved—often unable to say goodbye to their loved ones in the ways they might have preferred.”
“Many vulnerable children were expected to continue schooling, but many have not turned up. Others are likely to be left behind, educationally, as they do not have access to a PC, broadband and support to continue their education during the lock down.”
“Big private companies and most halls of residences have released students from their rent contracts without penalty, leaving many others with private landlords dealt a very unfair hand.”
3. When current restrictions might be lifted…
“The lockdown was introduced to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed and the restrictions should be lifted as quickly as advisable when the NHS is judged to be in a position to cope with current and future demand.”
The vast majority of groups (94%) recognised the damaging impact that the current restrictions are having on many areas of our national life—from individuals’ physical and mental health to the education of school children and university students: “There is a growing risk that more lives will be lost as a result of the lockdown.” One-third (37%) expressed particular concern that NHS demand should not be exceeded: “Most people’s priority is to protect their families.”
One-in-five groups (21%) expressed the need for greater transparency and “a mature dialogue to avoid destroying public trust.”
“Let us all make our own choices about accepting more risk to improve our quality of life. If this Conservative government with its strong majority cannot defend individual liberty then no other UK government can or will.”
“Lifting restrictions on people returning to work without lifting restrictions on schools put many parents in an impossible position.”
“The school year needs to be moved so that schools are open during the summer.”
“Parents are commenting on the medium/long-term impact on their child’s education.”
“From one of our teenagers: ‘Many of my [year 12] friends are already talking about having to retake the whole year if we can’t get back to college soon.’”
“A Young Conservatives member noted lots of her peers are worried about the impact on the next generation of a slowing economy and possible increased burdens of taxation.”
… and how government could boost the economy once they are lifted
One-in-three groups (37%) wanted to “encourage repatriation of manufacturing in sectors such as food, pharmaceuticals and engineering.”
About one-in-six groups (15%) suggested reducing business rates; one-in-six groups (15%) extending the VAT deferral scheme; and one-in-twelve (8%) announcing a stamp duty holiday to get the economy moving again. Suggested tax rises included airport taxes and a new top band of council tax.
One-in-five (17%) said that HS2 and “all large projects must be seriously re-evaluated.”
One-in-five (18%) called for rural superfast broadband to be expedited “to ensure those who have the most to gain by remote working are not left behind.”
“The enormous economic damage is disproportionate to the risk to the population.”
“Government can boost the economy by optimistic communications, so confidence returns. The tone of news must be less negative and gloomy.” “There has to be a message of hope about the future.”
“We urgently need to open up hospitals again to patients with long-term diseases (e.g. cancer patients) so they can continue treatment. Could all the Nightingale hospitals become the main COVID hubs, so hospitals remain safe for the vulnerable?”
“The one-size-fits-all approach to risk is leading to unwarranted fear of infection in age groups below 50 and particularly in children, delaying the return to work of those who must travel and the return to school where unions’ warnings must be countered.”
“We MUST get the economy moving again and people back to work soon. Part of the problem is that the Government has been too effective in communicating its lockdown mantra.”
“Government needs to lead the country back to work ASAP by starting infrastructure projects so that business will follow. It should promote UK firms and UK solutions.”
“The priority needs to be the support of small businesses, underwriting any loans they may require in the short term.”
“The exhortation to return to work might not be successful unless encouraged by a corresponding early phased reduction in the 80% income support scheme.”
4. Ways that CPF groups hope society will be better once the pandemic has passed
“We hope it will lead to a cleaner, greener, healthier and more co-operative world.”
“We hope community volunteer initiatives generated in a crisis will have a continuing life.”
“Working from home will be more common.”
“Local sourcing will increase.”
“The amazing response to be able to put together the Nightingale hospitals is a huge testament to the hard work of our armed services who have been unsung heroes somewhat.”
“The military have been conspicuously efficient in the assistance rendered; an extension of the disciplinary ethic to other areas of the public sector would work wonders.”
5. Other observations
“The hospital staff are wonderful, so kind and helpful, not only to their patients but also to family. They are just getting on with the job, under such difficult circumstances. Special thanks also to the Hospital Chaplain and MacMillan nurse.”
While there was universal praise for the way frontline healthcare workers responded to the crisis (the above quote is from a CPF Group Coordinator who was hospitalised with the virus and low oxygen levels), one-in-three (33%) called for reform of the NHS’s bureaucratic management, with 1-in-11 (9%) calling for an inquiry into Public Health England’s response to the pandemic.
One-in-seven groups (15%) “hope that China will pay a price for causing this pandemic” and a further one-in-four (27%) want a more distant relationship with them.
One-in-four (23%) were concerned that “the media in general, and BBC in particular, has taken a very negative, anti-Government approach from the beginning of the outbreak.”
One-in-nine groups (11%) warned against extending the Brexit transition deadline, with a further one-in-nine (11%) mentioning benefits they perceived should follow.
“The daily briefing should include positive announcements specifying how many COVID patients have recovered and the total spare capacity in ICU.”
“The infrastructure investment business models assumed by Ofcom have ceased to be appropriate at a time when access to full fibre has become essential to survival.”
“This government must resist calls for universal basic income and erosion of individual liberty and privacy.”
“The UK needs to take a lead at the UN and ask for a worldwide ban on wet markets and the illegal trade in wildlife.”
“WHO doesn’t seem fit for purpose and, with China, needs to be held to account.”