I am writing this just hours before the Chancellor announces his Budget to the House of Commons.
Over the last week I have been frenetically lobbying on Cheltenham’s behalf. There are three things that I have been focused on.
First, I have been in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, as well as speaking directly to the country’s Chief Medical Officer and the Director of Public Health at the Council. I have sought urgent assurances in respect of the Festival, and asked that it was specifically discussed at Monday’s Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by medical and scientific experts.
The clear verdict, based on the best medical advice, is that cancelling big outdoor events would not be supported by science. As the Deputy Chief Medical Officer noted, "The virus will not survive very long outside," adding that "Many outdoor events, particularly, are relatively safe."
Second, given the growing impact of the coronavirus, I have made clear to the Treasury that Cheltenham businesses need urgent support to tide them over the coming months. The overwhelming majority of local companies I have been in contact with are fundamentally viable, and with decisive help will remain so.
Third, I passionately want Cheltenham to thrive again after the shadow of COVID-19 has lifted. That’s why I have been calling on the Chancellor to give the final funding green light for the £400m Air Balloon scheme, which I have campaigned on for five years, as well as the £200m scheme to make Junction 10 four-way. Both would have a dramatic impact on the future prosperity of our town – unlocking great life chances for all our young people.
And as I have said to the Prime Minister, whilst I warmly welcome plans to level up the North, they can’t come at the expense of Cheltenham.
Because when coronavirus has passed, Cheltenham must be ready to come back stronger than ever.