WE all hope that 2021 will be a better year than the last. However, within days the Prime Minister had announced that Britain would begin our third national lockdown in ten months.

It is hard to ignore the fact that, without the hard work of the scientists developing the vaccines, we would be back where we were last March.

Yet, while another lockdown was undoubtedly needed, it was not inevitable. On New Year’s Eve, it was hard not to look at the celebrations in New Zealand with envy. While cases in Britain are spiralling out of control, our friends in New Zealand are living in relative normality. That is the difference a competent government and a correct coronavirus strategy can make.

In Britain, the list of poor decisions from our Government is endless. The privatised track and trace system has been shambolic, lockdowns have come weeks too late, and the Government has been negligent on airport testing.

Rather than learn from its mistakes, it seems that the Government has repeated the same errors time and time again.

With this latest lockdown, schools have sadly been forced to move to remote learning. No one wanted this, least of all teachers, however it had become clear that many education settings were no longer safe for staff, students, or their communities. I was one of the first MPs to back the education unions’ call for remote learning, because when workers say that their workplace is unsafe, we should listen. It’s truly unbelievable that Boris Johnson ignored this and that his Government chose to send children and teachers back to environments that he later admitted were “vectors for transmission”.

What is even more astounding is that the Government had not properly prepared for remote learning. Without a functioning test and trace system, this was not an unpredictable situation, and it was irresponsible not to prepare for the possibility. In both June and September, I submitted questions to the Department for Education (DfE) enquiring about preparations for this scenario, only to receive disappointing answers.

Yet again the Government would do well to remember that old adage, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.

Unfortunately, one of the difficulties with remote learning is that, even in 2021, not everyone has access to broadband or a computer. The coronavirus pandemic has served to further expose the deep inequalities in Britain today, including the digital divide.

While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it’s hard not to feel like those who dismissed Labour’s General Election promise of universal broadband as a “reckless fantasy” were too hasty. In order to bridge the digital divide, Labour has now called on the Government to ensure that every child who needs it has access to a device and the internet, while also removing data charges for educational websites.

On top of this, the DfE must offer technical support to schools and set minimum contact time for pupils with teachers.

This is not a lot to ask from Government when the education of thousands of children is at stake. The worry for many parents, especially in more deprived communities, is that, without proper Government support, remote learning will increase inequality in education and continue the levelling down of regions like the North-East by the Conservatives.

It’s time for the Government to step up and close the digital divide.

Mary Kelly Foy is the Labour MP for the City of Durham