Thursday, 8 April 2021

The Second Step on the Roadmap: The Opening of Shops and Pubs

This week the Prime Minister confirmed that the second step on the roadmap would be going ahead; this will begin on April 12th, which is this coming Monday. The first step of reopening schools and the continued success of our vaccine rollout have allowed us to meet the four tests that the Prime Minister previously outlined. 

Throughout the last five weeks, the government has made every effort to offer schools support in the form of tests and PPE to prevent infection and monitor the situation. There was some concern that the reopening of schools would lead to a rise in cases and would force us to delay this second step. However, thanks to a brilliant effort by teachers, students, and parents this has been avoided and numbers have continued to fall or remain stable at a low level across the country.

As I write this, we have now vaccinated over 31 million people, with an additional 5.5 million have had their second dose. The roll-out of the vaccine is a key route for us out of lockdown and the pandemic. The first priority was getting our young people back to school and help get their education back on track. However, now we have achieved this, we can begin to reopen parts of our retail and hospitality sectors and begin the process of undoing the untold damage caused by this pandemic.

The change next week will be a huge relief to many, who have been longing for the chance to see friends and family again for a drink in the pub or to go out to the shops. However, it is vital that we do not let ourselves get complacent and allow ourselves to let our guard down. The progress we have made up to this point has been brilliant, but costly, so we must all try to ensure that we preserve the benefits. 

From drawing examples of other countries around the world, we can see that the progress of an effective vaccine rollout can be undone by outside factors. For example, Dr Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer, gave the example of Chile to show this. While Chile have managed to vaccinate a large proportion of their population, they have not managed to see as significant a drop as other countries. While it is speculation at this point, this may be due to the impact of cases coming in from Brazil or other areas. As a result, it is vital we all work hard to protect the progress we have made so far. 

Nonetheless, while there are plenty of reasons to be cautious, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful too. The progress we have made up to this point should be celebrated. I am sure many, myself included, will be looking forward to a pint of beer or glass of wine in a Cornish pub garden over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Tackling Littering

One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important.

However, the blight of litter on our environment has come into sharp focus over the last year in Cornwall. We have all seen our favourite walks, beauty spots and green spaces suffer from dropped masks, plastic bottles or food wrappers. 

Last week the government launched two consultations that aim to strengthen some of the laws around the way we manage waste and to encourage companies to use less packaging and take more responsibility for recycling the packaging they do use.

It is vital that we stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that are being dumped every year. In the UK alone, we go through an estimated 28 billion drinks bottles and cans a year, with nearly 12 million tonnes of packaging placed on the market in 2019. As we strive to tackle climate change and build back greener from the pandemic, we need to come together for our planet across all of society to make a lasting difference.  

We have already made huge strides to tackle plastic pollution, including banning microbeads in rinse-off products, announcing a plastic packaging tax and prohibiting the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. But there is still a lot more to do to turn the tide on plastic. 

Our 5p plastic bag charge has shown just how effective small financial incentives can be in encouraging far-reaching behaviour change, with a 95% drop in supermarket sales and billions of harmful bags taken out of circulation.  

Through new powers in the new Environment Bill, manufacturers will take more responsibility for the packaging they produce, with the levying of fees not only encouraging more recycling but also greater recyclability. Much of our packaging is too difficult to recycle and we must ensure that more is captured and turned back into new products. 

We are also developing plans for a new deposit return scheme.  Many of us remember the old glass Corona bottles where you could return them and receive a 10 pence deposit.  The idea is to do something similar with plastic bottles which will attract a surcharge and people will be able to return them to collection machines or retailers to get a refund.

We want to bear down on the waste and carelessness that destroys our natural environment and kills marine life. With the G7 in Cornwall this year, it is important that we set a high standard for our international partners who will be visiting our region in June. From changing the way business works to increase recycling and helping households, we are on a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.