In the past few weeks, it was disappointing and concerning to see COVID-19 cases rise in several areas across the country.
Gratifyingly, they remain relatively low in Wiltshire, but if the experience of other areas teaches us anything, it is that the price of keeping our businesses open is constant vigilance.
I was busy in Parliament around the unveiling of the Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan, the next phase in an adaptable plan to support jobs and troubled industries through the unprecedented challenges of the global pandemic.
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Thanks to our comprehensive and generous response in March, the economy stayed well placed for recovery. We saw three consecutive months of economic growth with millions of people coming off furlough and going back to work, and consumer spending rebounding.
But it is now clear the resurgence of the virus threatens that recovery, and the economy cannot yet return to exactly how it looked in early March.
I appreciate that some people feel frustrated that the brakes are being put on what was looking like a promising recovery. I share their disappointment, but the experts we employ to advise us are of the view these steps are necessary to prioritise public health and to save lives.
I take no pleasure in this, but the health of the population, and the long-term health of the economy do run in tandem.
As Salisbury businesses look ahead to Christmas, I hope the new packages of financial and job retention support on offer, coupled with our low case numbers will encourage them to plan for the best, even as the government prepares for the worst, as prepare we must.
I have received encouraging feedback from some of our local retailers, whose trade is holding up considerably better than they feared.
This is a very challenging time and there will be interventions that are genuinely needed, but it does our cause no favours if we start with the erroneous premise that Salisbury’s problems are somehow unique and not shared by other towns and cities with similar profiles in terms of demographics and retail offer.
Several retailers have told me that browsing has reduced but their most loyal regulars are continuing to look after them very well. We need to ensure this goodwill does not tail off over time, but is supplemented by constantly reminding people that it is down to them to safeguard the survival of their favourite shops.
The move to online shopping was already being felt well before this year, and the pandemic has arguably cemented and accelerated this trend. But, as one local business told me, plenty of local shops are moving with the times and do have websites, so people can shop online and still shop local.