Last Friday non-essential shops in Wales were given the green light to reopen by the Welsh Government, with doors opening to customers on Monday for the first time in over 12 weeks.
This was a step forward for Wales, bringing us closer in line with our UK counterparts on the road to economic recovery. That recovery is needed to help pay for the enormous costs of the lockdown and to get back people back into work. Secure funding for our essential public services in the long term depends on a strong economy.
Over the past few months, I’ve held digital forums with a large cross-section of businesses from the constituency, from manufacturing and construction to agriculture, tourism and hospitality. These online meetings have proved to be hugely useful in hearing first-hand about the experiences of local businesses during the lockdown, the Government’s support packages, how the banks have behaved and how we can get our economy moving again.
Following the First Minister’s announcement last Friday, I hosted another digital forum with the tourism and hospitality sector. It’s good news that the go-ahead has been given for tourism to re-start in Wales from next month, but I understand this may cause local people to feel anxious as there have been concerns about visitors to Pembrokeshire during the lockdown. It’s important we work together for the smooth return of this important industry.
I’ve been impressed by the efforts local businesses have made to implement new safety measures from day one of re-opening. Things will be different, but businesses are ready to go the extra mile to reassure the public. New national ‘Covid-secure’ standards like the ‘Good to Go’ scheme will help build that public confidence.
However, one sector that seems to have been totally overlooked by Welsh Government is the hospitality sector – pubs, cafes, restaurants which are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
Such is the strength of feeling among these businesses that Milford Haven restaurateur Dan Mills of Martha’s Vineyard has brought together pub and restaurant owners from across the county in writing a letter to Mark Drakeford. In his letter, Dan asks for clarity on reopening, grant support, positive messaging and to revisit the 2 metre rule in Wales.
Pembrokeshire’s tourism offer is a varied one. Our fabulous walks and beaches are complemented with warm and welcoming pubs and restaurants. Together, Pembrokeshire offers one of the best destinations anywhere in the UK. But, leave out just one part of that offer, when elsewhere is reopening, and we could see our sector miss out to places like Cornwall, the Peak District or the Norfolk Broads.
With hospitality reopening in England on July 4th and social distancing reducing to 1m, this gives our English counterparts a huge advantage when people are seeking a well-deserved ‘staycation’. There is no need for this divergence of policy, especially after all four Chief Medical Officers agreed to lower the threat level from 4 to 3 last week.
I fear for some of our local businesses who have staff furloughed and have yet to earn money this season. With the scheme moving to co-financing on August 1st, I raised the point recently in Parliament that these businesses may not be able to afford to pay the 10% owed to its staff, leading to redundancies. They would require additional support. The simplest form of support would be the sensible reopening of this important part of our economy.