Supporting the rural economy in times of crisis
Up and down the country the hospitality industry is in turmoil, wondering what to do next.
The corona virus is also having a huge effect on local businesses and economies. In the summer months, moorland communities are hugely reliant on visitors to these beautiful areas of the country. B&Bs, pubs, local retailers. These all depend on tourists, and with C-19 spreading rapidly, people are cancelling holidays and bookings at a rate of knots; whether that’s for the Easter holidays, or the summer ones. Summer might seem a way off, but when the advice is for millions of people to avoid social contact for 12 weeks, the summer suddenly seems far closer than before.
Many pubs and hotels, particularly in rural areas, are now operating as takeaways; offering food and wine to be eaten outside their premises. That will of course help hugely in terms of keeping the business afloat; but there will still be job-losses. Waiting staff and bar staff – particularly those on temporary or freelance contracts – will no longer be needed, and publicans will have no choice but to let many of them go.
The same goes for many public-facing roles. Easter is a busy time of year for farms and houses that are open to the public, with lambs arriving and spring flowers carpeting the country. Many of these businesses will be unable to open to the public, and will therefore also have to cut down on staff.
And, looking forwards, events, shows and suchlike are already being cancelled – and many of these are big fundraisers and income streams for small businesses or clubs. Flower shows, county shows, charity shoot days – even point to points, all of which are now cancelled. These all provide valuable income both to the clubs and organisations who organise them, whether that’s agricultural societies or village committees, as well as to the trade-stand owners who sell their wares.
It might sound like it, but it isn’t all doom and gloom – or it shouldn’t be. The important thing to do is to encourage people to make the most of their local suppliers and businesses, whether that’s the pub or the farmer next door. In some areas farmers are teaming up to offer food deliveries; far better than relying on a big supermarket chain, which has probably run out of loo roll and milk anyway. The cows and chickens next door are far less likely to run dry, as are the local butchers, newsagents and village and farm shops. Perhaps now, more than ever, is a good time to focus on eating locally sourced and seasonal produce. After all, due with transport issues and restaurant closures, farmers and producers who sell nationally will be struggling.
We are lucky in the UK to have a strong rural economy, powered by local businesses and, of course, fieldsports. The moorlands bring in millions of pounds to the rural economy every year both directly, by spending money with local businesses, and through bringing visitors to the moor who, in turn, spend their own money in local pubs and hotels, as well as with local retailers and shops. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor and himself a Yorkshire MP, has promised to stand behind businesses both big and small, supporting lending to businesses and providing cash grants to businesses in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors, as well increasing the size of the cash grants which were promised to the UK’s 700,000 smallest businesses in the budget.
No-one knows what the tourism or hospitality industry will look like once the C-19 pandemic is over; or, indeed, when it might be over. But now, more than ever, is the time to support the moors and other rural areas. There will be light at the end of the tunnel, and we need to make sure that our moorland economies are still strong when we reach the other side.