Over recent days, we’ve had time to pause and reflect on the plans to ease national restrictions since the Prime Minister spoke to Parliament on Monday.
When I first heard murmurings that the unlocking plan would be “slow” and “cautious”, I felt a degree of frustration and I know this feeling was shared by many residents across East Devon too.
It’s not just the inevitable questions of when you can pop round to a neighbour’s house for a cuppa or visit friends and family, which we all dearly miss.
The crux is to guarantee jobs and livelihoods for industries still many weeks away from a real restart. That’s why I’ve repeatedly made clear to Ministers that East Devon’s hospitality, retail and leisure businesses who’ve been hardest hit by the pandemic – and who incidentally have spent significant sums on measures to keep customers safe – need reasonable notice to get back up and running as soon as possible.
With our vaccination programme already hitting significant milestones and beating initial targets – with a third of adults having now received a vaccine – I’m glad the government wants to see the roll-out go further and faster in the coming weeks. The Prime Minister has therefore announced plans to bring forward initial targets by aiming to offer a vaccine to every adult by the end of July, as well as vulnerable people in categories 1-9 and those over 50 by 15th April. These new ambitions will help us protect the most vulnerable sooner and take us closer to easing restrictions, so progress is irreversible and never in doubt.
As schools reopen and the economy is gradually and safely reopened, the government will carefully tailor the level of support to individuals and businesses to reflect the changing circumstances. The Budget on March 3rd will set out further detail on economic support and I’m pushing for the 5% hospitality VAT rate and the business rates holiday to be extended to give our high streets and hospitality industry a real helping hand. We must give them every tool to bounce back quickly.
We should be optimistic about the summer. Ultimately, whatever people’s thoughts on international travel and protecting against new variants from overseas, we cannot have a “lost summer” here and the government needs to make sure UK domestic travel has unequivocal backing. People want to go on holiday and they shouldn’t feel discouraged to come to the greatest part of the UK – and the best corner of Devon.
This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 24th February 2021 and in the Sidmouth Herald and Midweek Herald later in the week.