Anthony Mangnall MP for Totnes and South Hams
Parliament has returned after what has felt like an eternal summer recess and it is hard to know where to begin, the legislative timetable is chock-full, and we still have the very significant Fisheries, Agriculture and Trade Bills to debate.
We must also ensure there is the provision for some future levels of support for those adversely impacted by Covid.
However, before I begin to depress readers, I thought it might be useful to use this piece to give a sense of the lessons that have been learnt over the last few months and to highlight some of the areas we might expect to see some significant changes.
I am, if anything, a student of politics and I am all too aware that it is often argued that MPs should be predominantly based in Westminster while maintaining an ear to the ground in their constituencies.
I agree that this has been the status quo for a great many years, undoubtedly aided and influenced by the words of Burke in the 1770s. Nevertheless, over the last six years, we have seen a significant shift in the way in which MPs operate and perform their duties.
Since March, MPs have engaged in endless local community group meetings, listening, learning and, I hope, digesting. Much of what has been learnt has been fed back to Government and, in turn, has helped to influence and shape policy decisions.
An example of this, is the cut of VAT to five per cent for the tourism and hospitality sector.
Following conversations with local groups across South Devon, where I was informed that this would be a positive step, I, in turn, wrote to and lobbied the Chancellor, backed by 84 colleagues. As a result of this lobbying, we saw this policy shift successfully secured.
MPs are all recognising the benefit of greater local engagement and integration.
Enhancing our work with local groups will play an essential role in helping to rebuild our economy and ensure that we are not clobbered by a second wave.
This shift from being a Westminster-based MP to a Westminster-constituency hybrid is a welcome step, for now and for the future of our democracy.
This move towards a Westminster-constituency hybrid has been aided by an increase in accessibility. Historically, only accessible to residents on a Friday, constituency surgeries were perhaps all too infrequent, however, the introduction of Teams, Skype and Zoom calls has seen community-led events and surgeries come together with great speed and an ability to speak to more people, more frequently.
This shift to online meetings has allowed us to jump from town council meetings to community care group gatherings to local climate change discussions. You might say that we should have been attending these even before Covid but technology has given us the ability to attend from Westminster or the constituency.
The use of such technology has given us all greater access to one another, and the lessons being learnt are even more significant.
An example of a local meeting that may have otherwise taken months to organise, was a caring group Zoom call I organised between all caring groups within my constituency.
This meeting allowed for discussion around best practices, problems faced and what was needed for the future. These sorts of meetings are now becoming a regular fixture in my diary so that I can help the policy to match the local demand and knowledge.
I hope there will be long and lasting change with how elected representatives engage and work with their local communities.
Moving forward, the question must be asked ‘what is next?’ and ‘what is going to be done as we face a winter of great difficulty?’
Firstly, throughout the summer, the Chancellor has trialled policies to see which would have the most significant impact and benefit.
I believe that, extending the five per cent VAT on tourism and hospitality is a must. Over the summer I have spoken with literally hundreds of businesses linked to tourism and hospitality, the vast majority of which are facing a positive end-of-financial-year scenario, which was almost unthinkable before July 4. This is welcome news. The five per cent VAT level for tourism and hospitality is very much in line with the rest of Europe and its continued existence would provide further breathing space for those businesses who have been so badly impacted by this crisis.
Secondly, many students have taken gap years and are now faced with little opportunity to travel. We should be looking to implement a nation-wide Gap Year Placement Scheme.
This scheme would enhance these young people’s experience with the private, public and charitable sectors and give them a taste of the real world before progressing to university.
Imagine the benefit this could have to a young adult who has not yet made up their mind about where to go and what to do. Such a scheme should be paid and would bolster the individual’s CV.
Finally, all major crises throughout history have ended with a renaissance of sorts. Given the levels of innovation and creativity we are seeing today, I believe this period will be no exception.
We need to harness these benefits and see that they are developed and supported both locally and nationally.
We have always been a proud nation of inventors and innovators, let’s kickstart a new era that not only benefits our economy but tackles the problems that we are facing.
These are just a few ideas of what we might like to look at.
Throughout September I will continue my work with local groups across the South West to ensure that we are always, listening, learning and digesting.