WE are now approaching the half-way point in this second lockdown and I thank the people of Stourbridge, Cradley and Lye for doing all they can to stop this virus in its tracks.

There are some who do not want to follow the rules but they are the minority. The majority understand we must protect the NHS and save lives.

The winter will remain a tough one but all the time our ability to tackle this virus grows and the news about vaccines gives us hope for the future.

I certainly welcome rapid mass testing sites in Dudley and Birmingham as this will also help us get to a point where normality can at least return a little while any vaccine comes online.

By nature, I am an optimist and I do believe now is the time to start looking to the future for Stourbridge. Much is happening right now to plan ahead and to address the challenges Covid has thrown up.

I had the pleasure in parliament last week of saying ‘thank you’ to those who are working on the economic frontline to get people back into work.

The reality is that even before the pandemic, the job market in Stourbridge and across the West Midlands was changing rapidly due to automation, artificial intelligence and digitalisation.

Covid has accelerated this process by years in just a few months, so the focus must be on reskilling and upskilling to deliver new business models in a post-pandemic era. We can certainly do it and the government’s renewed focus on further education and vocational qualifications is most welcome.

In a similar vein, I also met online with the Black Country Business Consortium to discuss their work in Stourbridge and the economic recovery after coronavirus. There is a lot we can do and a lot to do, and we need to get on with it.

Last week, I had the honour of attending the local Remembrance Day services and I laid wreaths in Mary Stevens Park, at Lye Christ Church, St Peter’s Church, Cradley, and at the Stevens Park War Memorial. Many thanks for all those who paid their respects in their own way in what was a very different commemoration this year.

In other local news, I gave a shout out in parliament to local charities in the constituency such as Leslie’s Care Packages, which works tirelessly to ensure that rough sleepers have the support they need. The Government has given funding to find secure accommodation for rough sleepers during the pandemic. Stourbridge doesn’t have many but that is too many.

I have also renewed my support for the campaign to get Justice for Ryan Passey and spoke on this in Westminster last week.

I believe there needs to be a change in the law around the carrying of knives and self-defence in addition to the family’s campaign to see if the law can be changed to ensure juries must give a reason for their verdict in certain circumstances.