This week we have turned a corner in the fight against Covid-19, with the newspapers full of uplifting scenes as Britain is the first country in the world to begin vaccinating its public with the Pfizer vaccine. This rollout is a momentous occasion and has been joined by the news that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be both safe and effective in the pre-eminent medical journal The Lancet. While the Oxford vaccine is yet to be approved by regulators, this is a good indication that we may shortly bring 100 million pre-ordered Oxford doses ‘online’, to add to the 40 million Pfizer doses the Government is already beginning to distribute.
The start of this vaccination programme is a positive one, but it will not end the pandemic overnight. We must all continue to play our part – however, as Christmas music begins to invade the airwaves and we get into the festive spirit, the country will rightly be feeling that we will soon be putting the challenges of 2020 behind us.
In other good news, this week the Government has also announced the Prime Minister’s “Lifetime Skills Guarantee”, which will benefit tens of thousands of adults. This ambitious initiative will help people to retrain and upskill so they are in the best position possible to pursue new jobs as the economy bounces back from the pandemic. The scheme will offer the opportunity improve career prospects, as adults can study and choose from hundreds of free courses next year, including engineering, health, construction and accountancy. This will transform our skills system, ensuring that more people, no matter their age or background, can get the skills and qualifications they need to progress and get a good job and livelihood.
This week I will be visiting a number of schools, including Dorset House, Arundel, St Wilfrids and Windlesham House to meet (outside) and congratulate the winners and runners up of my Christmas Card competition. All the entries – over 300 – were excellent and show that we are not short of talented young artists in the South Downs.
Finally, a word on the ongoing Brexit withdrawal talks. At the time of writing negotiations are still ongoing and a final conclusion is yet to be reached.
The fact that meetings are still taking place at this stage is a good sign. In my 27 years of business experience a negotiation is only likely to be concluded towards the final deadline. We could of course sign a deal tomorrow if the EU would accept identical terms to those they offered to Canada – a much less significant trading partner than the UK, so there is every reason for there to be a reasonable concession from their side in recognition of this.