Steve Darling: Show your support for attractions by visiting them

I hope we all find the time over the next few weeks to visit Torbay's well-loved destinations

I hope we all find the time over the next few weeks to visit Torbay's well-loved destinations - Credit: Archant

With our continued determination to help safeguard the health of residents, we have been enhancing our response to Covid-19 in Torbay by improving our work with partner organisations through a Local Outbreak Management Plan.

Save Paignton Zoo

Save Paignton Zoo - Credit: Archant

This supports the roll-out of the national NHS test and trace service.

Partnership working is key in this, which is why our health trust, the police service, local schools, care homes, the voluntary sector and Torbay businesses are all involved.

We have a strong focus on prevention and early intervention to ensure high-risk locations, such as care homes, have measures in place to protect and reassure staff and clients.

Our Torbay Local Outbreak Engagement Board met for the first time on Thursday, July 9, bringing together representatives from key partner organisations.

Cllr Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council

Cllr Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council - Credit: Archant

As chair, I was extremely heartened by those who attended, not only by their contributions but also by their enthusiasm to make the plan work.

I cannot emphasise enough that we all have our part to play in continuing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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Across the Bay we have risen to the challenges that it has presented, pulling together to fight the virus through different approaches to working and home life.

However, we are not out of the woods yet. We need to continue to follow all Government guidance and, if required, engage with the test and trace procedures.

Before the Chancellor's statement on July 8, I made three wishes for the people of Torbay.

The first was for a bespoke furloughing scheme for our hospitality industry. The nearest we got to this was the £1,000 payment for each employee retained after being furloughed.

This is the weakest of his policies as it is paid irrespective of the financial strength of the business at present. I believe many employers will just pocket the £1,000 as they would have taken their staff back anyway.

This scheme would have been much more effective targeted at the hardest hit sectors and we still desperately need a bespoke hospitality furlough scheme for areas like Torbay.

I was pleased the Chancellor introduced a VAT cut on food, accommodation and attractions.

There has been a long campaign for a five per cent VAT rate on the tourist industry, comparable with Europe, and this should become a permanent feature for our offer in Torbay, rather than an emergency measure.

Regeneration of our town centres is a must.

We have secured the Paignton Future Highstreets Fund and the Torquay Town Deal but cheaper borrowing for councils to regenerate their areas will make the difference between whether some schemes are viable or not.

I was frustrated that this did not appear in the Chancellor's announced measures.

Last week, our former elected mayor Nick Bye arranged a visit to Paignton Zoo for all councillors.

It was great news that this very popular tourist attraction is now open and welcoming back visitors.

Paignton Zoo Environmental Park first opened to the public in 1923 to show the private menagerie of eccentric millionaire Herbert Whitley.

The zoo's remits of conservation, scientific research and education are rooted in those early years as Whitley strongly believed that it should be a place of learning, and not just for recreation.

The zoo now holds around 2,500 animals and has more than 400,000 visitors every year.

Often when I am with my wife's guide dog Pepsi, the animals will seem extremely curious about this exotic creature, a black Labrador and when going round with Pepsi, it is good to be an exhibit for the animals as well.

The closure of Living Coasts goes to show how fragile our attractions and businesses are.

As residents of Torbay, we need to do our bit to support our local attractions and hospitality venues so I hope we all find the time over the next few weeks to visit these well-loved destinations as they need to be at their busiest to remain financially viable as a key attractions of our Bay.