The latest figures which were released at the end of last week show the level of government support through the COVID-19 pandemic for businesses and jobs in our constituency. The economic shock has impacted just about every part of our local economy and as we begin the long road to recovery, it is good to reflect on the support so far that has protected thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses.
Treasury figures show that 17,600 employees have been furloughed with the government funding 80% of workers’ wages – estimated at a total of around £145milllion from March – August.
5,700 self-employed people have received the self-employed income support scheme which has put over £16million into the bank accounts of local people.
Almost 1,900 businesses in St Austell and Newquay have received government backed loans through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme or Bounce Back Loans totalling almost £50million. Three thousand six hundred businesses have received grants and further 1,200 are having their businesses rates bills cancelled until April next year.
This is an unprecedented intervention by the government to support businesses and project jobs and our constituency has received one of the highest levels of support of any across the country.
This is all on top of the specific measures taken to support the tourism and hospitality sector, which our constituency relies on more heavily than any in the country through the VAT cut and Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.
Whilst I am very much aware that there will be those individuals and businesses who will have fallen through the gaps and not able to access the various support schemes, there is no doubt that we would be facing a much bigger challenge locally if these schemes had not been in place. The Chancellor has always been open and honest that we will not be able to save every job or protect every business. I continue to make representations to government ministers for further support both for those who have so far not received any support and also for our vital hospitality businesses who will face further challenges as the season ends.
Sadly, there will be those who lose their jobs and businesses who will not survive this crisis. The government is already taking steps to invest in job creation and training to ensure any recession and increase in unemployment is as short as possible.
It is important we make the most of what is left of this season. I do understand the concerns some people have of the risk of welcoming tourists to Cornwall at this time. However, all the evidence to date shows that there has been very little impact on the level of cases of Coronavirus in Cornwall since tourists were allowed to come. Last week saw a reported 9 new cases in Cornwall – among the lowest of any week so far – and this is with increased levels of testing available. There have been no new cases of people falling seriously ill and requiring hospital care. Whilst there is no room for complacency and we must all continue to keep to the restrictions and guidance, we can take some confidence from the fact that to date the increase in cases some feared is not materialising.
Whilst there have been a few notable spikes in a few parts of the country, the overall trend nationally continues to show the downward trend in the number of cases.
Our traditional sectors of tourism, hospitality and food production will always be the bedrock of our Cornish economy. These are our strengths and we should continue to make the most of them. But one things the events of recent months have highlighted again is the need to reduce our reliance on these sectors, which can level our economy vulnerable, and invest in other new sectors that will create jobs and attract inward investment.
Last week we received more good news in the confirmation that the government will be investing in a number of ‘shovel-ready’ projects in Cornwall that will go some way to achieving this. Funding was announced that includes support for projects in the space industry in Cornwall and lithium extraction as part of an overall £14million package. Possibly more than any other opportunities these two areas have the potential to change the profile of our local economy and create some exciting career opportunities for local people.
So whilst I will always champion our amazing tourism and hospitality businesses and promote Cornwall as a great place to come on holiday, I will also continue to work to attracted the investment and government support we need to see in these other great opportunities for our county.