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Dowden re-opens up his ministerial brief

09 July 2020

By Tim Le Couilliard, Newgate Public Affairs

Culture and sports secretary Oliver Dowden announced that from the 25th July, gyms, swimming pools and leisure facilities are to reopen in England, following stringent guidelines including timed booking and spaced and cleaned equipment. 

Outdoor team sports are also being allowed as of this weekend whilst artists, musicians and dancers can perform live outdoors. Those who perform indoors are still yet to have a date to return as the government looks to “confidently usher socially distanced audiences indoors as soon as possible.” From Monday, beauty salons, spas, tattooist and tanning salons will also be allowed to open. 

These measures are being taken to “get the nation get match-fit to defeat this virus” – but Dowden was keen to stress that should there be local spikes, facilities will once again be closed. 

In addition to the measures to support the hospitality sector that were announced by the Chancellor yesterday, Dowden today announced a VAT cut for zoos, shows, theatres and amusement parks, to encourage people to “make the most of this summer safely”. 

Elsewhere for the government, Rishi Sunak will be glad that he caveated his £30 billion “Plan For Jobs” yesterday with a notabene that he could not save every job – a message that he has double-downed on in his media round today after stating that the UK is entering “one of the most severe recessions this country has ever seen.” He makes his comments following the sad announcements that thousands of high-street jobs have been lost in the 24 hours since the package of measures was unveiled, with Boots, John Lewis and Burger King shutting numerous stores amidst restructurings. The Daily Mail Online headline this afternoon leads with “60,000 workers face redundancy”.  In today’s media round, Sunak expressed sympathy to those whom he couldn’t help “in exactly the way they would have wanted”, with the government promising to support lost employees “in any way that we can”. 

Although yesterday’s statement was focused on the hospitality sector, with an emphasis on limiting job losses for the tourism and restaurant trade in particular, the job losses will come as a blow to the Chancellor who is currently ranked near the top of lists of popular Conservative ministers. Criticism has been voiced from the Opposition stating that the government’s “Plan For Jobs” will “waste billions at a time when others are crying out for support”, calling instead for a more “targeted approach”. Sunak has also had to address concerns expressed by HM Revenue and Customs Permanent Secretary, Jim Harra, who has questioned the measures as neither being value for money for the taxpayer nor certain to be effective. Sunak has qualified his measures as necessary “swift action” and used ministerial direction to push through the agenda, thus making the responsibility for the actions his own rather than Harra’s.  

Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon was able to strike a more positive tone today by announcing that Scotland is to enter its next stage of lockdown. Following England’s lead, the changes allow Scots to visit other households and go inside as of Friday 10th July, with the 2-metre social distancing requirement also to be relaxed (with stipulations). Pubs, restaurants, places of worship and hairdressers will open from the 15th July. The measures are being amended following a steady decline in the number of new cases in Scotland (some days not recording any at all).  The next review in Scotland is set to be on 30th July.