Another week of lockdown – but there is light at the end of the tunnel. This week we expect the Prime Minister to set out how we can begin to exit safely to ‘new normal’. Although in Teignbridge we have escaped the severe impacts which other parts of the country have experienced, there are families in our local communities who are grieving the loss of loved ones. So I am conscious that there is an understandable nervousness about exiting from lockdown. The key will be for each of us to properly exercise social distancing practices, which is much easier in rural areas like ours. If we can do that at the supermarket, then I think we are sensible enough to do that in a broader range of activities.
Support for our Farmers
The closure of restaurants and the wider lockdown has had a huge impact on British farmers and growers. Farmers are struggling. The only good news is that those in Teignbridge are less affected than most. Most of our dairy is sold as milk direct to the consumer through supermarkets. The farmers that have really suffered are those selling into the service industries, the restaurants and bars. Lamb prices have largely held up and we are still exporting lamb to France. Beef is the biggest issue where expensive cuts of meat no longer have a market into restaurants. Much is being turned into mince which sells at much less of a premium. And because we are not going to the pub, we don’t need so much malted barley to make beer!
After a good virtual meeting with local farmers it was clear that much of the answer is in our hands and we should buy local as often as we can. A number of local businesses have taken and are selling local beef. We need more of them. We also need to put pressure on supermarkets to support British farmers by picking British produce marked with the red tractor logo to put in our trolleys. But in some supermarkets, I’m told there are no red tractor logos so you have to read the label quite carefully! I have asked all Devon MPs to support the #BackBritishFarming campaign and we are asking the government to get behind us nationally.
Support for Tourism and Hospitality
The biggest challenge will be getting our tourism and hospitality sector back up and running. Two virtual meetings this week with local businesses made this very clear. Not only does it play a huge part in our local economy, it drives the health and wealth of our food and drink sector, and in turn our farmers. Given the rural nature of our tourism and the natural environment we have in plenty, it is entirely possible to reopen those businesses with effective social distancing. Many have already looked at how they would manage these changes. I am lobbying government to think again at their assumption that these sectors should be the last to open.
But to enable that to happen, we need government financial support as the sector slowly comes out of lockdown- and we need you to feel comfortable and safe too. I have signed a joint letter with Devon MPs to ask the Chancellor to extend the business rate relief threshold up to £150,000, extend the furlough scheme and increase its flexibility, among several other measures that will help businesses in these sectors prepare and adjust for re-opening. But so we all feel comfortable I am also suggesting opening businesses should be required to obtain a certificate of compliance with social distancing rules. If we significantly improve our protection of the most vulnerable, the risk of additional movement from incoming visitors would be minimised.
My next phone-in surgery will be Friday 15th May at 2-3pm. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.