This week saw the political conference season draw to a close with the Prime Ministers speech to the Conservative Party Conference. It has been good to get back to holding these conferences properly again after eighteen months when we have all had to get used to virtual meetings online and webinars.
During the pandemic we all had to get used to having meetings on Zoom or other teleconferencing systems. It had some advantages which we are likely to keep and made it easier to get more people on a meeting quickly because they didn’t need to travel, so you could bring people in from around the country. However, we humans are social creatures and there is no substitute for meeting properly. At Conference, you have chance encounters, bump into old friends, have conversations and people can exchange their thoughts or ideas. In meetings, having an audience in a room makes a huge difference. You can read the room in a way that’s not possible online and discussion and debate flow better.
The big theme of the Conservative Conference has been how we Build Back Better as we emerge from this pandemic. The phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout means we have been able to emerge more quickly from the restrictions than most other countries and that, in turn, means that we have the fastest economic growth in the developed world. People have returned to pubs and restaurants with vigour to meet old friends, as normal, which has been a big boost for that sector. In Cornwall, the tourism sector has had an incredible busy, with a somewhat stressful summer, but the result has been a welcome boost to our local economy.
However, as the world emerges from the pandemic there has been some turbulence in international supply chains. The surge in demand for gas in Asia has driven up gas and energy prices worldwide, while a disruption to shipping routes over the past year means a shortage of some goods and, finally, labour shortages in many sectors of our economy is causing issues.
Nine months ago some economists were predicting that there would be 4 million unemployed by now. Thankfully that never transpired and instead we have 1 million job vacancies. The high demand for skilled workers is leading to a welcome, overdue correction in the labour market with wages rising for the lowest paid. However, we will never take risks with the security of our food supply chain and that is why we have also introduced some temporary visas to ensure that the skilled workers are available for the turkey industry and for food lorries in the run up to Christmas.
As I write this, the Prime Minister will be putting the finishing touches to his speech which he is due to deliver in a few hours’ time. I am expecting a big focus on the need to Build Back Better and greener after the pandemic. For DEFRA, that means making sure that the important of the environment and nature if factored into all our thinking in future policy. As a Cornish MP, I will also be watching closely to see what he has to say about the “levelling up” agenda so that places like Cornwall get the support they need to attract new industries and better paid jobs and to create opportunities for the next generation.