It was announced yesterday that a staggering 70 per cent of adults (57 million people) have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccinations, and an impressive 40 per cent (20 million people) have received both doses. The vaccination programme continues its rapid progress, with people over 34 years old, or those who turn 34 before 1st July 2021, now being eligible for a jab.

I know this has been said many times, but this really is a fantastic achievement, and I thank everyone who has been involved in the programme’s success.

The Government has also pledged £19.3 million to a Cov-Boost study, led by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. The study will trial seven vaccines and will be the first in the world to provide vital data on the impact of a third dose on patients’ immune responses.

This research will give scientists from around the globe, and the experts behind the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, a better idea of the impact of a booster dose of each vaccine in protecting individuals from the virus.

This week also saw the launch of Step Three of the roadmap out of Lockdown, and it was very emotional to see families embracing once again after such a long time being apart.

I am sure, with the current weather, people will welcome being able to sit inside a pub. To help welcome people back to indoor entertaining, I will be joining James Arkell at the Tawny Owl pub in Taw Hill. Pubs and restaurants are such an important part of local communities, and they have had such a challenging year. Now that we are able to visit them again, it is vital that we show them our support.

I also had a very interesting meeting at Nova Hreod Academy earlier this week to learn more about the Catalyst STEM Programme that will be starting in 2022. It is aimed at children who show an aptitude for STEM subjects and allows them to study these subjects in greater detail.

As part of the programme, Nova has developed relationships with universities, organisations, businesses and local employers – giving students access to a wide variety of experts in the STEM sector.

The additional opportunities provided by the Catalyst scheme will help identify budding scientists and engineers, nurturing their enthusiasm for the subjects and setting them on the path for a successful and rewarding career.

On a final note, Zurich, who are a major employer in Swindon, are set to double the number of apprenticeships in the UK from 15 in 2020 to 30 in 2021. Zurich UK’s apprenticeship scheme has been running since 2014 and offers posts lasting from 18 months to three years.

The apprenticeships cover a variety of topics, from claims and underwriting to IT & Operations, spanning a significant proportion of the business units within the company. Places are available across the UK, including Swindon.

I am hugely supportive of apprenticeships, which provide a key opportunity for young people to develop key skills and kick-start their career – all whilst earning a wage at the same time.