Talking to friends and constituents, I hear and feel a real sense of frustration. We have the challenges of the summer, lots of tourists who think they are also taking a holiday from Covid, mixed with a real concern as furlough comes to an end and redundancies begin. How we adapt and react to these challenges over the days, weeks and months ahead is going to be crucial.
The world of employment will fundamentally change. Lifelong learning won’t be a nice to have, it will be a necessity. Government will need to put more resource into re-skilling us and help people to see how we can translate our skills into different growing sectors of employment. Many in hospitality have found a home in health and care, including many who have been upskilled and reskilled. The health and care sector will need to grow, but it will be different. Technology will play a bigger part, new medicines will come to market faster, and how we handle the issue of social care will and must change sooner rather than later.
The variety of work opportunities will grow as businesses reduce using supply chains overseas which look long term to be vulnerable. Now is the time to invest in smart manufacturing and food production. The South West is a prime candidate for both. We are tech savvy, the heart of food production and increasingly seen as the preferred place to live – away from London. House sales are booming. This is the time for the Government to invest in the South West among other rural parts of the country. Cities will change – and market towns like Newton Abbot will thrive.
This should drive investment in broadband and local infrastructure, with projects such as the railway line being critical going forwards. The new white paper consultation on housing is a start to new post-Covid growth. We need the right type of homes to be built, with the right infrastructure (such as retaining hospitals in our towns) enabling us to address both local employment, better connectivity and local productivity.
However – and this is a big however – the Government must look not just at adding to existing overstretched communities but also at building more new towns and villages. It must also look again at regenerating towns where once shoppers go home the town dies. They need to look at putting flats above shops for full time town dwellers who want the town to live, day and night. It should be about creating a safe and respectful night time economy which is of benefit to all.
The Government must respect the environment and our special heritage – and local people must have a meaningful say, something they have never really had. Developers must put substantially more into infrastructure and social housing, not just affordable housing. The money and the infrastructure must be paid and delivered up front. The quality of build must be key and this is not a time for post-war housing thrown up for the short term but now here to stay. The decisions about how land is designated must be done thoughtfully and with full local input and should be reviewed every five years. This isn’t about ‘nimbyism’ but rather building and maintaining sustainable communities.
As migration pressures grow, we as island Britain must look again at how we manage our borders. It’s no good saying the French should do more. Post-Brexit, I would like to see a fair, welcoming society in Britain to all that can and want to contribute. But we need a robust system and a faster system to determine who stays and who goes – and most important to identify those who are victims of slavery and give them the help they need to turn their lives around.
Whilst we live through this so called ‘new normal’, we must plot our course for the next normal, creating new opportunities and taking them forwards. This new ‘normal’ is our opportunity to create a long lasting and sustainable community for the future.