Greenock Telegraph 27th March 2020

We are living through the most extraordinary of times. Our community has been required to make changes to minimise the harm that will fall upon it. And as the days and weeks go by we shall have to make more. In most crisis I would expect people to rally round and help each other. Some politicians have attempted to invoke the spirit of the blitz. I don’t think that’s appropriate for a number of reasons, but the comparison doesn’t stand scrutiny anyway. During the war, communities faced a common enemy for periods of the day or night and then rallied together to make the best of what they could. Even during air raids, the shelters became a place of community. But the solution to COVID-19 demands isolation. Many of us can’t risk mixing with older family members or those with underlying health conditions. It is prudent to keep all our human contact to an absolute minimum. The irony of that is while isolation will protect us from the virus and ensure our physical health, it can be bad for our mental health. Social media, which can be a curse at times, could turn out to be a blessing. Products that allow us to talk to and video people all over the globe are just as useful to talk to people much closer to home. Whereas before it may have seemed strange to Skype or Zoom somebody that lives on the same street as you or a friend that you know you will see later that week, now it is important that we do. Create your own wee digital community. It doesn’t need to be a long chat, just checking in to make sure someone is alright. A phone call or a text can make all the difference. We can help each other through the coming weeks and out of sight must not mean out of mind. Today and in the coming weeks, please wash your hands, only go out when necessary and keep in good health, physically and mentally. The tide will turn.


Letter to Inverclyde businesses – COVID-19

Dear Inverclyde business,

Coronavirus is affecting all our daily lives including our workplaces. I recognise the very challenging position that many employers and employees are now facing.

In this public health crisis it is vital that ALL businesses act responsibly and align fully with the social distancing measures introduced to protect the nation’s heath, well-being and economic future. As such I would advise all business premises, sites and attractions to close now unless:

  • essential to the health and welfare of the country during this crisis (as defined below); or
  • supporting (or being repurposed to support) essential services; or
  • capable of working in a way which is fully consistent with established social distancing advice; or
  • wider public health, health and safety or other considerations apply and require a facility or service to continue to operate or a specific period of time for a safe shutdown process to be completed.

Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors definition: 

those facilities, systems, sites and networks necessary for the functioning of the country and the delivery of the essential services upon which daily life in Scotland depends. Essential services are the fundamental services that underpin daily life and ensure the country continues to function. There are 13 designated CNI sectors (Energy; Communications – Telecommunications, Public Broadcast, Postal Services, Internet; Government; Transport; Finance; Civil Nuclear; Defence; Chemicals; Space; Government; Health; Food; Water and Waste; Emergency Services) but not everything and everybody within a national infrastructure sector is ‘critical’.

If you do not meet the criteria of critical then my advice is to close now. The job retention scheme may make that process easier.

Job Retention Scheme: 

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all employers in the UK will be able to access support to continue paying part of employees’ salaries who would otherwise have been laid off during the ongoing crisis.

Furloughed workers are employees whose employers cannot cover staff costs due to coronavirus, and as such they have been asked to stop working but have not been made redundant.

Such employers are now able to access support to continue paying part of their staff’s wages, to avoid redundancies and so they can retain their teams.

To avoid fraud, there are expected to be cross-checks between the applications for grants against PAYE records for each employer.

Employers will be required to make one claim for the entire workforce, record how many workers are covered and will need to keep records.

How the scheme works: 

  • The employer should discuss with affected employees and notify them (preferably in writing) that they have become ‘furloughed workers’. ACAS have suggested information that should be included. An adapted letter has been attached.
  • The employer can claim a grant of 80% of workers’ wages up to £2,500 a month once they have been furloughed.
  • The employees remain on the payroll deducting tax and national insurance under the pay as you earn (PAYE) system.
  •  If employers want to top up pay levels, they can, but will not be able to claim for more than 80 per cent of £3,125.
  • The employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and employee’s salary but does not have to.
  • The furloughed workers should not undertake work for their employer while they are furloughed.
  • The scheme is available to all employees.
  • The employer needs to get agreement from the worker to do this, unless it’s covered by a ‘lay off’ clause in the employment contract.
  • The employer needs to submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings. The submission will be through a new online portal which is expected before the end of April (HMRC will set out further details on the information required).
  • If an employee’s salary is reduced as a result of these changes, the employee may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.
  • For employees on zero-hour contracts, the employer can use the monthly pay in February 2020 as a benchmark for each person’s pay when furloughed. If any employee did not work in that month, they should claim Universal Credit.
  • If employees have to stay at home to look after young children, the employer is likely to be allowed to claim compensation if they furlough these workers.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020 but will be extended if necessary.

HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

It is expected that employers borrow or self-fund in the short term to provide the wage package.Below are a few websites that contain additional information that may prove useful. HMRC guidance on:

COVID-19 support for businesses can be accessed here   

COVID-19 guidance for employees can be accessed here.

If a business needs short term cash flow support, it may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Funding sources to support businesses in Scotland facing coronavirus

These are difficult times but if we all do what is necessary then we will get through them quicker and normal service can be then be resumed. By working together we can minimise the damage to the economy and save lives.

Yours sincerely,


Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde



Written question – Universal Credit [25/03/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether she has made an assessment of the potential merits of removing the five-week wait for claimants to receive their first universal credit payment during the covid-19 outbreak. (30849)

Tabled on: 17 March 2020

Will Quince:

As both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID 19 and we have been clear in our intention that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing. These are rapidly developing circumstances, we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

The answer was submitted on 25 Mar 2020 at 13:00.


Business and social distancing

Dear Inverclyde business,

Re: Business and social distancing

I am writing to urge you to please follow the Scottish Government’s advice regarding business and social distancing –

I recognise these are difficult times but I would ask that you act responsibly and align fully with the social distancing measures introduced to protect the nation’s health, well-being and economic future.  If that is not possible, then I would ask that you close down until you are advised otherwise.

Yours sincerely,


Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

Written question – Basic income [23/03/202]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of introducing a basic income to provide financial assistance to people affected by covid-19. (30848)

Tabled on: 17 March 2020

Mims Davies:

As both the Prime Minister and Chancellor have made clear, the Government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID 19 and we have been clear in our intention that no one should be penalised for doing the right thing. These are rapidly developing circumstances, we continue to keep the situation under review and will keep Parliament updated accordingly.

The answer was submitted on 23 Mar 2020 at 17:15.


Inverclyde and COVID-19

The community of Inverclyde is going through a difficult and demanding period. This is our biggest peace time challenge. It may seem unreal, there are no obvious signs of the threat but the infections continue and the deaths too. We are not alone in this. COVID-19 is causing disruption all over the world. And across the globe communities are coming together to fight it. The action we take will determine the number of people that contract the virus and consequently the number of people who die. The advice from Government and council is based on the most up to date available. It will change as time goes by. That is why it is important to keep checking the appropriate websites, watch the news and be prepared to adapt. Every individual has a duty of responsibility to the community and each individual must be prepared to accept that and act upon it. This will mean changing our working habits, travel plans, social life and family life. The vast majority of people in Inverclyde understand that and are acting accordingly but, as always, there are a few selfish people who think they know better. It is up to the authorities to take the necessary action and up to Government to give them those powers. They think they know better or that it is a problem for other people to handle. It isn’t and I am not being overly dramatic when I say people will die because of their action. In times like these, people will look to the authorities for guidance and help. In the UK we have stumbled into this crisis and mistakes have been made but we are slowly getting it right. The pressure on the emergency services is extreme and as always the men and woman of our emergency services will rise to that challenge. We owe them a great debt. We always do. COVID-19 is affecting all our lives and we need to accept that. As businesses and organisations adapt so must we. It is a time to be more tolerant of others, many people will be scared of the isolation, worried for their or loved ones health or just more tired than usual. If we all get the basics right we can slow the spread, flatten the curve of infections and come out of this stronger and wiser as a community. This is not like any crisis we have experienced before. The solution may literally be in our own hands. So please wash them and observe the advice around social distancing. By acting responsibly you will save lives and help bring this crisis to an end.


COVID-19 – hotlines



Scottish Enterprise helpline: 0300 303 0660.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5:30pm



HMRC helpline: 0800 0159 559

Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm.




Scottish Government helpline: 0800 028 2816. 

Open daily from 8am – 10pm



Home Office helpline: 0800 678 1767

Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm


Written question – FCO, travel advice [19/03/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what (a) travel advice and (b) recourse to funds his Department is providing to people who’ve booked travel and accommodation abroad to attend sporting events which become cancelled or played behind closed doors. (28665)

Tabled on: 12 March 2020

Nigel Adams:

The global response to coronavirus is developing rapidly, with many countries imposing travel restrictions and closing borders and we have now taken the step to advise against all but essential travel globally. We urge all British nationals in country to speak to their travel provider if they wish to return to UK and follow the guidance of local authorities while they remain overseas. Travellers should speak to their tour operator, airline, transport/accommodation provider and insurance company (as applicable) to discuss the options available to them.

The answer was submitted on 19 Mar 2020 at 15:49.


Westminster diary w/b 9th March


9am flight and on the parliamentary estate by 11am. Just time to prepare for questions, which today are for the Department for Work and Pensions. I bobbed for questions but wasn’t taken. Not deterred I bobbed for topical questions and didn’t get taken. I was hoping to raise a Universal Credit case with the minister. I shall pursue other channels. There was a statement on the Corona virus (COVID–19). It’s not a time to panic but I am concerned about the scheduled cruise ships visiting the area. I have to say the Secretary of States response was disappointing. He was unable to explain any plan to contain a breakout on a cruise ship in UK waters. I was on a Delegated Legislation Committee to change the law on tax credits. It was not a controversial matter and was not challenged. I took the opportunity to ask the government to end the 2-child cap which will force another 20,000 Scottish children in to poverty.


This was a hectic day. The evidence session with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select Committee (PACAC) was very interesting. The witnesses were Sir John Manzoni KCB who currently serves as chief executive of the civil service and the Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and Sir Mark Sedwill KCMG FRGS Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service since 2018. He has served as National Security Adviser since 2017. These two big hitters were there to explain the recruitment policy for special advisers (SPADS) at cabinet level and importantly who can hire and fire SPADS. The influence of Dominic Cummings was questioned but you don’t get to the heady heights of the civil service that these two gentlemen have reached by being phased by a mere select committee. They came, they saw, they told us nothing. It was just like the comedy programme Yes Minister but without the laughs. I went straight from there to the chamber to lead in a debate on the Telecommunications Bill. First, we debated amendments to the bill. One from Labour and one from the Conservatives were designed to omit Huawei from the digital infrastructure. Neither managed to get enough backing but there was a minor revolution in the Tory ranks and we shall revisit that when the next telecommunications bill is being debated. We then had the 3rd reading but that was uncontentious.


It’s UK Budget day. A budget long on promises but short on substance. It was almost like a pre-election (oh please not again) budget. Lots of sweeteners to keep folk happy but nothing to say where the money is coming from. As the saying goes, the devil and god are in the detail. I suspect as it unfolds, we shall see that a lot of these sweeteners will be on the never never or maybe the never at all. The red book will be poured over in the coming days.


I had the pleasure of meeting President of Catalonia, Roger Torrent. He explained the negotiations with the Spanish Government who are now recognising the conflict, recognising the Catalan cause and negotiating as equals. He is still pressing for an amnesty for the political prisoners and the 1,000 people who have been informed they could be prosecuted because of their part in the 2017 referendum. It was good to hear that the prisoners are allowed out to work up to 5 days a week. They are still prisoners, but they are strong. I caught a rather quiet flight home. Fewer people are travelling because of COVID-19 and I shall continue to monitor the situation regarding my travelling and the service provided by my constituency office.


A few engagements have been cancelled but I have constituent meetings to keep me busy along with an article for the ClydeLife magazine to write. If the event is not cancelled, I shall be planting trees up at the Coves Road Reservoir on Saturday.