As we start to unlock it is a welcome change to turn our attention to the future and begin to plan for a post-pandemic Britain. This future depends on our ability to learn from the mistakes of the last twelve months and to identify in what areas we can improve.
The pandemic has cast a shadow across the world, and it has been a dark and difficult time for so many, but it has also shown our strengths. The role of community has been reasserted and we have seen that the Great British spirit is alive and well. The millions of individuals and thousands of local organisations that stepped up to help in their communities have shown us to be a strong and resilient society that can act at times of crises. This approach and attitude was so very neatly encapsulated in Captain Sir Tom Moore, who embodied the very best of our country.
We should be keen to learn from these examples, but also to recognise that a return to normality (pre-Covid life) is unlikely. In fact, the ways in which we work, eat and interact have been so fundamentally altered over this dreadful period we must recognise that significant change is required in our local areas.
The rapid rise of working from home has brought huge benefits to millions, allowing people to revaluate their work-life balance, able to work from virtually anywhere, and therefore spend more time with their families. This change should not be resisted post-pandemic but cultivated and encouraged, and to do this we must answer the call for improved digital connectivity. Over the coming months, the emphasis on improving digital connectivity should be a Government priority. Working with local groups such as Connecting Devon and Somerset, work is already underway in South Devon to improve connectivity up to 96%, the national average. Such an achievement would attract investment, job opportunities, and bolster our local economy.
In tandem with digital connectivity, transport links lag far behind the rest of the country. The tearing up of rail lines under Beaching can only be described as wanton acts of vandalism. The need to restore and reopen old lines is one of my top priorities. Reopening Brent Station and the Churston and Goodrington line will encourage more people off the road and on to rail, all while improving air quality and attracting more environmentally friendly visitors to the area.
Our reliance on farmers, fishermen and local producers has clearly demonstrated the high quality of produce coming from Devon, something which should not just be celebrated but actively promoted. First, a ‘buy local campaign’ should be established to encourage as many as possible to support our local producers and the local economy. Second, creating a Devon brand that promotes our produce to both a domestic and international market, something our Cornish colleagues, frustratingly, are way ahead of us on.
Planning for our future has been difficult in recent months, but we can look ahead with renewed vigour and reassurance. By improving infrastructure, supporting our local markets, and enhancing the community spirit that we have so often seen on display in recent times, we can build back better and stronger than ever before.