After a long and difficult 2020, I know we were all looking to 2021 to bring us brighter days. Unfortunately, I write this column during January's lockdown and the pandemic continues its dreadful impact on all our lives. Nonetheless hope feels firmly on the horizon after the final fortnight of 2020 brought us both additional vaccine approvals and the start of a new relationship between the UK and the EU with the positive conclusion of our trade deal negotiations.
This has allowed us in government to make significant progress on many different fronts in the first weeks of the year. With the opening of the London ExCel Centre as a mass vaccination hub, alongside hospital hubs and an increasing number of GP surgeries and pharmacies, our capacity to vaccinate is rapidly expanding and we hope to offer a first dose to all the top four priority groups by mid-February. I have been speaking weekly to our local NHS teams at every level and we have been working together to troubleshoot issues when they arise, share critical information with residents and keep as many services running as possible while the vaccine rollout gets underway.
In my ministerial role at Cabinet Office, I have been working over the past few months to clamp down on covid fraudsters. The latest scam is one of the most despicable yet, targeting the elderly and vulnerable by asking for bank details or cash payments for access to vaccines that are fake or non-existent. Along with the National Economic Crime Centre and Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, and law enforcement I have been trying to highlight this scam to as many people as possible. Please do remain vigilant and follow basic advice in relation to the NHS COVID vaccination programme, which will always be free. The vaccine is only available via the NHS, who will never ask for payment or request bank details as part of an identity verification process to secure a vaccine appointment.
I have also been working with Ministers across government to see what we can do differently and better now that we have left the EU. One of those things is regional development and we are looking at how freeports might create new jobs, skills and opportunities. An exciting proposal has been put forward by Tilbury, London Gateway and Ford in Dagenham that would look to generate improvements across North East London and Essex.
Following on from the success of my previous virtual jobs and apprenticeships fairs, I will be hosting another on Friday 12 February to coincide with National Apprenticeships Week. During this event we will specifically be focusing on employers with apprenticeship opportunities and those employers who have signed up to the Government’s Kickstart Scheme to provide roles for those aged 16-24 who are in receipt of Universal Credit. More information on this event will be available on my website and readers can sign up by contacting my office at: Julia.email@example.com