Diary - a very positive feel at the YOI

A rise in coronavirus cases in Birmingham saw households banned from mixing in new lock-down measures. The rate of infection more than doubled in the city in a week to 90.3 cases per 100,000. The measures also cover neighbouring Sandwell and Solihull, affecting more than 1.6 million people in total. Public health officials have warned of "worrying signs" of infection among the elderly, as an official measure indicated the UK's epidemic is growing again. The R number was raised to between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March. People across England have told BBC News they are struggling to access coronavirus tests. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last week that no-one should have to travel more than 75 miles for a test, after the BBC revealed some were being sent hundreds of miles away. For me, it was to Portland I went to meet the new Governor of HMP YOI, Rob Luxford. From the moment I arrived, to when I left some three hours later, I could not help but notice and feel something different about the prison. As a former soldier, I'm afraid I do notice things like rubbish, scruffy uniforms, dirty boots and morale and, while I am not saying this was prevalent in the past, there was definitely a positive vibe and that was reflected in the many prison officers and staff that I met. A new shower block and painted landings were additional improvements that the Governor and his team have invested in. Mr Luxford generously gave me a lot of his time and I met inmates and staff on an interesting tour. I also met come civilian staff, who run a large and well-equipped workshop. They also make steel-framed polytunnels, which are sold to other prisons. It was fascinating. This activity clearly has huge benefits for the prisoners as more than one has written following their release to thank the staff there. Rather touching. Having overstayed my welcome, and enjoyed some 'posh' coffee, made my Debbie Cain, the Governor's PA, it was time to leave, hop on my motorcycle and head to the Veteran's Hub, run by Andy Price. Located off Portland Road, Andy and his team have established a cafe, garden, weight room and library behind a commercial property. It is proving a huge success, taking care of more than 100 veterans who need a helping hand for one reason or another. Andy's recently won some funding, which was well deserved, and is now going for charitable status. I spent more than an hour chatting to those who were there, being updated by Andy and just enjoying the whole environment. Andy deserves huge credit for achieving so much in such a short time and all power to his elbow. It was then time to head back for a Zoom-call with the PM. After one or two glitches, the PM came on and explained why he was having to push through the Internal Market Bill next week. I can't wait for Brexit to be truly done when the transition period ends on 31 December.