I was delighted to see last week that our cricket legend from Yeovil, Ian Botham, was appointed as our new trade envoy to Australia. The importance of these envoys is often understated; in many ways they serve as de facto ministers for the countries they cover, visiting more frequently than ministers, supporting British businesses, and developing relationships which can provide further insight for ministers and officials.
In all of this, I am sure Beefy will do a sterling job. Not many people love cricket as much as we do but in Australia Ian Botham will be a respected and revered name before he even touches down. I am sure he will be a great champion for local businesses and farmers here in Somerset. Not that much persuasion is needed - Australian High Commissioner to the UK George Brandis has already given the news plenty of fanfare and expressed his keenness to “welcoming Lord Botham down under”.
Over this past week there has been concern in the South West as COVID figures in Cornwall have led to the peninsula being designated an Enhanced Response Area. The main effect of this is the potential to reintroduce masks at schools in communal areas. Here in South Somerset our COVID rates are well below the national average, and I would be reluctant to support new measures whilst that is the case. As we look to get back to normal, we cannot have irrational fear holding people back when we know cases will be identified through testing and the vaccinated are well protected from serious outcomes.
I am also not a fan of centralised and therefore vulnerable data systems which is one of my concerns with the idea of vaccine passports that I will be raising again with Ministers. The NHS should provide confirmation of vaccination, or of having had the virus or a negative test, to anyone for their own use such as if needed for international travel but should do so to people’s own self-sovereign digital wallets or in paper form. That should in my view be the end of their centralised handling of related data.
With the emphasis on building back greener and cleaner from the pandemic I was pleased to see thousands of hectares of peatland will be restored with over £16 million in funding awarded through the first round of Natural England’s Peat Restoration Grants. South West Water will be restoring some of the UK’s most southerly blanket bogs on a total of 42 sites across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, including Bodmin Moor, Penwith, Dartmoor and Exmoor, aiming to restore approximately 2,634 hectares of peatland. Fans of Gardeners’ World will know how important that is and to use peat-free compost.
Finally, it is hugely important that armed forces veterans benefit from extra support including extra mental health services thanks to a further £2.7 million in funding. Here in Somerset, we have a proud history of supporting our armed forces, and it is important to remember that this support does not stop when they finish their service; we must always do our bit to help those who devote their lives to protecting ours.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about any of the above, or if I can be of any help, please do email email@example.com or call 01935 314321.