Here’s to hoping we can welcome visitors back soon - and it won’t just be politicians!

Busy Exmouth beach

Busy Exmouth beach - Credit: Archant

The Commissioner's column with Alision Hernandez

Devon and Cornwall’s PCC Alison Hernandez

Devon and Cornwall’s PCC Alison Hernandez - Credit: Archant

Devon and Cornwall’s position as the UK’s favourite holiday destination has once again been in the headlines, as first Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced his intention to head here this summer, then Labour leader Keir Starmer said he would too.

Of course, there’s also the small matter of the G7 leaders’ summit which is due to be held in Carbis Bay. It should bring Prime Ministers and Presidents from around the world to the resort, near St Ives in Cornwall, in June.

I too, plan to keep it local and will take my regular break at Butlin’s in Minehead. So if the rules allow it the Westcountry will not be short of a politician or two this year!

Some people reacted with incredulity to these announcements, which is understandable given the severity of the current lockdown, but of course none of these bookings will be honoured if the regulations do not allow them.

I sincerely hope that overnight stays that are currently illegal will be possible this summer (and not just for politicians!). Quite frankly most of the country is in need of a break, especially after the relentlessly challenging period that has stressed working and family relationships. The requirement of many parents to juggle work and home schooling, for example, is extremely difficult - I know, I’ve been doing it.

But I also hope that we can open up again because the hospitality and tourism trades are so vital to our region’s economy.

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The fact that Cornwall was chosen for the G7 summit is not only because north Cornwall is stunning, its people are welcoming and its hotels and restaurants world class, it is also a recognition by the Government that more must be done to ‘level up’ the economy and to do more in regions outside the South East. Cornwall’s burgeoning industries in green technology and Devon’s knowledge economy will grow, but for now visitors are crucial to so many livelihoods.

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. You will remember that we were able to open to visitors last summer, and that was before many millions of people were vaccinated. The incredible vaccination programme has seen more than 13m people receive at least their first injection since then.

Tourism in a normal year is worth an incredible £6bn a year to Devon and Cornwall. The South West Tourism Covid-19 Impact Survey last week indicated that despite last summer’s relaxation of the regulations the region’s tourism sector lost more than half its annual revenue - £3.7bn - in 2020 because of coronavirus. I think we must do everything in our power to avoid another hit like that and give hope to our hoteliers, restauranteurs and pubs – many of which are small family firms employing local people and therefore doing so much to support other local businesses.

Policing and the partnerships supported by my office had an important role to play last summer in reassuring local communities and visitors. They helped us welcome people in while maintaining some of the lowest Covid-19 infection rates in the country.

My office supplied an additional £400,000 to Devon and Cornwall Police last year to help us cope with the spike in population. This paid for services like specialist cars to attend domestic abuse and mental health incidents, therefore reducing strain on neighbourhood teams.

We also provided £500,000 to work with local authorities on a Safer Summer Scheme that pioneered Covid-19 wardens to visitor hotspots. These wardens gave communities in resorts like St Ives and Torquay reassurance that there was a resource to help advise local residents and visitors of the need to maintain social distancing and to behave themselves.

I sincerely hope that when our Prime Minister addresses the nation on Monday (Feb 22) it will be to pave the way for a summer that will allow not only Kier, Matt, Angela, Justin, Joe, Sergio, Boris, Emmanuel and Shinzo to safely enjoy our wonderful part of the world but also the thousands of others who love to come here.

Until then, I have been repeating the Come Back Later message that police and partners shared in the first lockdown. I think high profile individuals with homes or family here have an additional responsibility to set an example by abiding by the rules.

Like the vast majority of our residents I will be spending this week exercising locally and only leaving the home for essential activities, but I am looking forward to better times in 2021.

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