Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Newspaper column 24 June 2020 - COVID-19 update 12

The events of the last week have really brought into focus the challenges our part of the world is facing as we seek to overcome the COVID-19 virus and reopen our local economy and return to some sort of normal life.

We saw local non-essential retail shops able to open for the first time in 13 weeks. It was good to hear from local businesses that trade had been brisk in our main retail centres. I would again encourage us all to do all we can to support or local businesses, and not forget the many smaller shops in our tourists towns and villages – hundreds of local jobs depend on these businesses being able to return to profitability as soon as possible.

On Friday we had the announcement that the medical advice had been issued that allowed the threat level for the virus to be dropped from 4 or 3. After weeks of seeing the number of cases of the virus, along with the numbers in hospital and the number sadly dying with the virus, falling consistently this was welcome news.

This will allow the government to now make a number of decisions that will allow other parts of our economy to open up. For us this will hopefully include the tourism and hospitality sector. At the time of writing this there is great expectation that the government will make an announcement on this soon.

Along with this we are expecting the outcome of the review into the 2m social distancing guidance. This is expected to see this changed to allow for a 1m distance providing other mitigations are put in place such as wearing masks, or not sitting face to face. I know this will be welcomed by the many local pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes as it will enable them to open in a way that allows them to serve more customers.

Along with the confirmation of the progress we are making there was also the very sad news of job losses. Both at the airport and one of our biggest local hotels over 100 people are set to lose their jobs. This is on top of the thousands of people who have already lost their jobs across Cornwall in the past 3 months and I am also aware of other businesses who are facing tough decision on how many of their staff they can keep on.

I know there are some who suggest we overplay the importance of tourism to our economy, but the reality is our local economy is heavily dependant on tourists. Over 30% of all private sector jobs rely on the tourism sector directly. This forms the bedrock of our local economy that then provides the income for tens of thousands of households to be able to spend money with countless other businesses. For every job or business lost in tourism others will also be at risk in the supply chain in other sectors.

Additionally, many of the excellent local businesses and other facilities we all get to enjoy while living here simply could not exist without the visitors we attract every year. The majority of our favourite local pubs, restaurants and shops simply wouldn’t be here without tourists.

That is why I am now quite clear – we must welcome tourists back to Cornwall as soon as possible. With the threat level falling and all the data showing we are winning this fight, within the guidance that will ensure we continue to prevent the virus being spread, we must allow our local tourism and hospitality businesses to welcome visitors.

I understand why some people are cautious and concerned at the risk of opening up to tourists at this time. But we do need to accept that progress has been made. We cannot remain in lockdown forever and while there will never be a 100% guarantee until we have an effective vaccine, which could still be many months away, the risk is now low enough for us to welcome visitors back.

Some of the messages that have come out from Cornwall Council, and other quarters, in recent days have really not been helpful. To suggest we should wait until the autumn to allow tourists back to Cornwall is putting tens of thousands of local jobs at risk. If we do not welcome people you can be sure other parts of the country will do. People will be looking to go on holiday and with foreign travel severely restricted many families will be looking to travel within the UK. This presents a big opportunity for Cornwall to enable many of our local businesses to salvage something from this season and secure many jobs. If we do not grasp this opportunity others will.

What we need is a united positive message that makes clear we are ready to welcome tourism back to Cornwall. We will all need to get used to seeing more people around in the weeks ahead and each of us manage our own safety and wellbeing in the way appropriate to us.

So, my plea to us all is to be positive about allowing tourists to return. The risks of not doing so, for our local economy and jobs are almost incalculable.