'AT the time of writing this there’s no indication as to when it will be safe to start relaxing the Covi-19 “lockdown” restrictions and it’s vitally important that everyone obeys these as far as humanly possible. Nobody thinks this is easy, and it only gets more difficult the longer it continues, but it’s literally a matter of life or death for a great many people.

There are no words that can adequately express all our thanks to the thousands of workers in the NHS, and in other care services, and to many more in less obviously essential jobs – the people who keep our essential utilities such as gas, water and electricity functioning, shop workers and everyone who works in our food and drinks industries, and a great many more. I just hope that when the crisis is over the UK Government will remember how valuable these workers are, and that they won’t go back to describing them in insulting terms such as “unskilled”.

My constituency office team are exceeding even their own high standards. They’re dealing with between four and five times the usual number of constituents asking for help, and of course they’re all working from home so we never see each other except on a computer screen.

A lot of queries are from employees who think their employers’ businesses should have been closed down. When I’ve looked into these I’ve usually found that there were valid reasons for them staying at least partly open, although sometimes the level of communication from management to employees was woeful. The rules are clear, however, that even businesses that need to stay open still have to follow the guidance on “social distancing”.

The other main group of queries are about the rights of employees if they can’t work because of the restrictions, and about the financial support for employees and self employed people. It’s bitterly disappointing that some businesses have taken the uncaring way out and dismissed their workers or forced them to take unpaid leave. While the UK Government’s financial support packages are by no means perfect they are deliberately designed to allow businesses to retain all of their workforce and pay them at least 80% of their usual wages.

It’s also scandalous that the first reaction of some of our biggest banks was to try and squeeze more money out of businesses by charging extortionate rates of interest when they asked for loans to keep their businesses going.

Parliament is due to return next week but with very few MPs actually present. The Speaker has agreed a whole raft of changes to the antiquated rules of procedure to allow us to do our job of holding the Government to account by video link, in fact I’ve already “attended” meetings of the Public Accounts Committee without leaving home. It’s not ideal but trying to make Parliament run in anything like its usual way would undermine all the precautions we’ve been taking'.