In response to this crisis, the Government have introduced one of the most generous packages of measures in the world and certainly the most generous in our nation’s history. What marks it out as exemplary is that the Government’s response in such difficult circumstances was an early recognition of the need to protect businesses and livelihoods in places such as North Cornwall.
As of early August, 13,000 of my constituents have been supported by the coronavirus job retention scheme, 5,800 local self-employed people have received more than £16 million of self-employment income support, 1,847 local businesses have received £54 million in bounce back loans, 1,327 local businesses, and 15 nurseries, will pay no business rates this year, and 4,626 local businesses have received grants of up to £25,000. That financial support has been invaluable for businesses and employees in my constituency, and we must now get back to supporting sustainable public finances. I believe that the decisions taken on planning legislation and licensing laws have also been crucial in helping to support businesses in North Cornwall. Those businesses were given the flexibility to open to their customers and adhere to social distancing regulations.
Let me stress how important it was to reopen the tourism industry for many people and businesses in North Cornwall. Re-opening was a difficult decision, for obvious reasons, but because the Government took time to wait, businesses had time to prepare and make themselves COVID-secure. As the virus receded, enough of them were able to open and help with tourism during the summer months. If it were not for the Treasury support put in place at the time, hundreds of businesses in my constituency could have folded.
Many of my constituents were understandably concerned about the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people coming to Cornwall during the summer and visiting during the pandemic, but most people have generally behaved respectfully. Thankfully, infection rates in Cornwall remain very low.
It is heartening to see how many businesses have responded to this crisis. One brilliant example of that in North Cornwall came from lobster and crab fishermen. Suddenly, dozens of boats had Instagram and Facebook accounts and websites, and they advertised their catches locally and eventually around the country. That demonstrated Cornish ingenuity in a crisis.
Since I closed my constituency office during lockdown, as of mid-August, we have opened nearly 7,000 cases. Those include supporting 309 local businesses that got in touch to inquire about support and 730 individuals who required guidance on specific COVID-related issues. I am fortunate that I have now been the MP for five years. The fact that nearly a quarter of my entire caseload has come in the past six months demonstrates to me how badly this crisis has affected many of my constituents.
Lastly, I pay tribute to all the good people of North Cornwall and to my constituency staff who have helped during the crisis.