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Good and bad

July 28, 2020 12:07 PM
lldar (Thanks to Alex for sharing their work on Unsplash.)News overnight contained further criticism of the Government in its response to the pandemic. It also contained some potentially good news
1 Repatriation
Back in April we asked why the Government was making such a mess of repatriating Britons stranded around the world caught by Covid related lock-downs particularly compared to efforts being made by other European countries see here
Well now we know why A report by the cross-party House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee of MPs chaired by Tory Tom Tugendhat said the government's operation to assist 1.3 million British nationals was "too slow" and placed "too much reliance" on people booking their own tickets home on commercial airlines, while other nations acted more swiftly by booking charter flights More than 55 per cent of them said it had been difficult to make contact with an embassy, consulate or high commission and more than 60 per cent said advice received was unhelpful.
Mr Tugenhadt said

"Many UK citizens stuck abroad reported that they were unable to access the information that they needed, whilst others were not treated with the empathy and compassion that they should expect," the report said.

"Though there were notable successes, the FCO was outpaced by events, leaving many seeing it as out of touch with the needs of those in difficulty.

"Too many UK citizens were not provided with the support that they should reasonably expect to receive."

The MPs said that "little was done" to provide financial support for citizens facing hardship while stuck abroad.

And they criticised the department for only spending £40m of the £75m allotted for repatriations, in a move which the committee's Conservative chair Tom Tugendhat said could "only be explained as cost-cutting".

He said the inquiry concluded there had been "clear failings".

"For many of those Britons stranded, the advice they received from the FCO was confusing, inconsistent and lacking in compassion, at other times misleading and outdated, and, in the worst cases, entirely absent," he said.

The MPs said France and Germany were among countries to have placed greater focus on charter flights early on in the crisis and were able to repatriate their citizens "more quickly".

The UK chartered 186 flights to support the 1.3 million nationals travelling abroad, whereas Berlin chartered more than 260 flights for 260,000 citizens, they said.

The FCO was criticised for only offering emergency loans as a "last resort" and the committee said it was "disappointed" the department considered it was "acceptable advice" to tell citizens to crowdfund for help returning home.

The committee said the unspent money should be "kept aside" for anyone stranded during a potential second wave of Covid-19 and should be used to help Britons who permanently reside overseas to return to the UK.

2. New strategy to encourage cycling
Throughout the pandemic polls have consistently said people don't want to go back to business as normal. The improved air quality as traffic dropped was particularly noted. Well the Government have announced a new £2bn strategy to encourage more cycling and walking

Thousands of miles of new protected bike lanes, cycle training for both children and adults, and a national e-bike programme are among plans unveiled by the Prime Minister today to help steer a cycling and walking "revolution" across England.

Councils and metro mayors are also set to be given stronger powers to close side streets to cars and restrict traffic around schools, backed by funding for 12 new 'Mini Holland' cycle-friendly areas and the creation of "at least one zero emission transport city centre", according to the new Cycling and Walking Plan for England.

A new walking and cycling watchdog - dubbed Active Travel England - is also being established to oversee the budget for infrastructure and ensure cycle lanes are up to scratch, the government said.

Moreover, cycling could even soon be prescribed by the NHS under today's plans, which also include pilots in areas with poor health rates to encourage GPs to offer patients access to bikes through their local surgery to help tackle the causes of mental and physical health problems.

To mark the launch of the policy package, the first batch of bike repair vouchers worth £50 each are also set for release today in a pilot scheme to encourage people to get back cycling. As many as 50,000 vouchers are to be made available just before midnight this evening on a first-come-first-served basis to those registering online, the Department for Transport (DfT) explained, adding that if successful the scheme could be rolled out more widely.

Other measures announced include free cycle training from local authorities and schools and a new national e-bike programme to assist people less able to take up traditional cycling.

There is always a reservation that announcements are easy but the follow through is often lacking. However it is a promising start and one we welcome