MP Anthony Mangnall: Setting our economy back on the road to recovery

The EPIC centre in Paignton

The EPIC centre in Paignton - Credit: Archant

As we approach the end of 2020, it is fair to say this year will be one people across our local community are keen to forget.

The extensive restrictions levelled across Devon, despite our low levels of the virus, have damaged our local economy and raised questions about the sustainability of our high streets.

Looking ahead to the new year, the Government must make further economic support for businesses impacted by Covid a priority at the Spring Statement.

First of all, the Government should explore the option of extending the VAT cut for hospitality and tourism, which has thrown a vital lifeline to businesses across these sectors. At present, this temporary reduction in the VAT rate from 20 per cent to five per cent is scheduled to end on March 31.

While the roll out of vaccines will hopefully have removed the lion’s share of Covid restrictions by March, the finances of businesses in these sectors will remain on a knife’s edge for some time.

In order to provide stability for businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors, both in our local community and across our country, the Government should consider extending this vital lifeline.

Secondly, the Government should redouble its efforts to put our high street shops on a sustainable footing.

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Even before the pandemic, the digital revolution and the growth of online shopping was already raising questions about their future.

The Treasury’s ongoing Business Rates Review is considering what more can be done to reduce this burden, as well as whether to introduce an online sales tax to allow our local shops to compete on a level playing field with multinationals like Amazon.

Aside from the ongoing work of the Business Rates Review, the Government should look at providing greater support for high street shops reopening after the end of Covid restrictions in the new year.

In May, the Communities Secretary announced a £50 million fund for supporting local high streets to reopen safely after the first wave of the virus.

A further such package should be provided as we emerge from the second wave of Covid, to kick-start local economies, get people back to work, and customers back to the shops.

Thirdly, more investment in increasingly important sectors is required.

From January 1, our country will finally take back control of its waters, with the UK becoming an independent coastal state, free to pursue our own fishing policy for the first time in almost 50 years.

To make the most of this opportunity, the Government should consider investing more in building up our fishing fleet, which has fallen by almost one-third over the last 25 years.

As the largest and most valuable fishing port in England, Brixham will be well-placed to benefit from the fishing revolution that will accompany our exit from the Common Fisheries Policy.

As our country looks ahead to the future, we must also be more ambitious in our approach to science and technology.

Our local community plays an important role in the UK’s world-leading photonics sector, through the EPIC Centre in Paignton and Brixham.

Given the value it has in the manufacturing industry and in quantum photonics, I will continue to push for greater research and development investment in this important industry.

Although there is a light at the end of the Covid tunnel, with the roll out of the first vaccine and mass testing programmes set to ease the restrictions by Easter, our economic challenges are just beginning.

Difficult decisions on tax and public spending lay before us, but by supporting keystone sectors like tourism and hospitality, defending our high street, and developing sectors from fishing to photonics, the Government can set our economy on the road to recovery.