The past 7 months have both flown by and dragged on. Flown by because we have seen the larger part of 2020 – a year that was meant to be filled with so many exciting opportunities for our country – go by, with those opportunities and the chance to take them largely being taken from us.

Dragged on because the times we are living in – where we’re not able to share proper time with loved ones, promote our businesses, and chase new opportunities – are completely alien to us.

Nevertheless, no matter how difficult it may seem now, it’s important to remember that this strange period will pass and there are better times ahead.

That’s why we need to do everything we can to make sure as many people as possible can go back to work (and having an income they can rely on) once the pandemic is over. Earlier this week I visited Stage Audio Services, a Wordsley based business which up until the pandemic was seeing record demand for its services.

The owner of the business told me how hopeful he is that his businesses will be a success once the pandemic is over – he just needs the support to carry his business through till that time.

Like most suppliers to the events industry – whether that is makeup artists who cater for family weddings, or stage service providers who organise large-scale music festivals – I know that these businesses have been hit harder than most.

That’s why I have been making the case to Ministers for more sector specific support to be directed to these businesses. More broadly, last week the Chancellor announced a further package of measures to support businesses through what we know will be a difficult winter.

I was particularly pleased with the changes to the Job Support Scheme which will mean that small businesses who experience reduced demand for their services will only have to fund 5% of the cost for the reference hours not worked by their employees.

Employees will have to work a minimum of 20% of their usual hours, but the Government will now pay the remainder of 61.67% of the hours not worked – ensuring that employees still receive a minimum 73% of their normal wages (where they earn £3,125 a month or less).

It won’t have escaped Dudley South residents that over the past few weeks and month most of our neighbouring areas have moved into Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions.

Although we too have seen rising case numbers and hospital admissions across our borough, due to the vast majority of residents having worked so hard to slow the spread of the virus, up until now the rate of increase here has not been significant enough to warrant a move from Tier 1.

Unfortunately, as expected, the rate of increase has now reached the point where an imminent move to Tier 2 or even 3 is highly likely. With this being the case, the Chancellor’s announcements last week are even more timely for Dudley residents.

I can also assure residents that I will be working harder than ever to make sure that we do everything we can to protect both their lives and their livelihoods throughout this horrific pandemic.