As the vaccination programme continues to be rolled out at pace, we can at last turn our attention to post-pandemic planning. The likelihood that things will ever return to normal is unlikely, but nor should they. Over the course of the last twelve months we have seen huge fundamental shifts that have altered the way in which we have lived, worked, and interacted. Many of these changes are here with us to stay and local and national politicians are going to have to keep up with the speed of change to ensure that we can build and enhance these outcomes for the betterment of all.
Firstly, with more working from home, we must improve digital connectivity. South Devon still lags far behind the rest of the country, and poor connectivity can mean the difference between being able to do your job or not. We must turbocharge digital rollout to ensure that anyone can work anywhere across the whole of the UK.
Secondly, we are fortunate to have on our doorstep the finest seafood and agricultural produce in the land. Yet all too often our supermarkets are stacked with produce that has come from far off lands. Well, our farmers and our fishermen need us all to eat more of our homegrown, home caught produce. A new ‘buy local’ campaign that includes the fishing and farming sector must be launched and it should be a requirement for supermarkets to champion such an initiative. We know that in a post-pandemic world we must all be healthier; well the first step is to eat better quality, locally sourced produce.
Third, with more working home and an increase in demand for local services and food, we need to upgrade our transport links. The South West’s road and rail links have been obliterated and overlooked. Our rail links were ripped up under the Beeching cuts, and our road infrastructure improvements have been ignored. Thankfully, even before Covid the Government recognised the need to act, committing to dual the A303 and launching a £5bn ‘Restoring your Railway Fund’, both of which will have a huge impact on our community. My surveys (found here) on reopening the Churston and Goodrington Line and South Brent station would not only help residents but alleviate congestion and encourage inward investment.
These are just three areas in which taking immediate steps will have instant results. From digital and transport connectivity to supporting our local economy, I believe we can not only aid the economic recovery but attract new jobs, further investment, and create new opportunities.
Fishing Fund comes online
Supporting growth and innovation should never come at the expense of those sectors long established in an area. As a passionate and fervent supporter of the fishing community, I am all too aware of the challenges they have faced through Covid and Brexit.
However, these problems are surmountable and demand for our world-class seafood will rise again as hospitality and tourism businesses, both in the UK and across the globe, reopen. In the meantime, it is particularly welcome to see the £23m Fishing Exporters Fund due to come online this week. This fund will offer up to £100,000 of compensation to those small to medium size businesses who have been needlessly delayed by overzealous border controls on the European side.
This £23m arrives with a new £100m Fisheries Fund directed at developing our harbours, expanding our fleet and investing in processing plants. On top of which a further £32m has been made available as replacement for the European Maritime Fisheries Fund. All told £155m is being invested by the Government into the fishing sector, equivalent to over 17% of the industry’s total worth.
With this support we can build a truly modern 21st century industry that will be the envy of the world. I will be supporting the industry all the way as it seeks to reach its full potential.