Looking at the other challenges we face
It is so good to see Horsham and our surrounding villages gradually getting back closer towards normality. However it clearly isn’t the same and necessary changes to our behaviour and to the way shops and restaurants trade, may need to continue for some time while determined effort is devoted to vaccines and we work to avoid a ‘second spike’.
While many businesses have reopened, others such as beauty salons cannot yet and are desperate to do so.
Public Health experts are working with the industry to see how they can do so safely – and the continuing suppression of infection is a positive backdrop to this work.
Likewise while theatres and concert halls received significant targeted support this week this reflects the fact that these venues, which net hundreds of millions annually for the economy and act as a huge draw for tourism, may have a considerable wait yet before they can reopen,
While it is vital we ‘stay alert’, we also need to look beyond Covid to the many other challenges we face as a country: including the hugely important issue of climate change.
Last week I appeared before the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee for a hearing on Defence and the Environment.
As an ‘operational’ department with, by definition, ships, tanks and aircraft and an estate of some 115,000 buildings over half of which are over 50 years old, Defence accounts for around half of all Government emissions and our contribution to reducing environmental impact is hugely important.
Over the last ten years Defence has reduced measured carbon emissions under the ‘greening government commitments’ by over 40 per cent. But we need to go much further and are looking at how to do just that - including targeting a ten per cent fuel reduction. Our focus is doing so without impeding the vital job defence undertakes daily.
Some of many examples include changing the way we design ships to cut the ‘drag’ through the oceans, changing how aircraft are flown, increasing ‘synthetic’ training and working to deliver greener fuel options.
The other exciting area is how we better use the Defence Estate. The Estate is there for military training but it contains 169 SSSIs and our record as a custodian of these vital national assets, supported by our team of ecologists, is better than any similarly large landowner including those whose primary role is conservation. The Estate, covering nearly one per cent of the the UK, provides huge potential including for renewable energy, appropriately targeted extra tree cover and restored peat bogs.
There’s a huge amount to do but masses of opportunity.
Likewise more broadly as we face the real risk of increased unemployment as the huge Covid impact to the global economy works through in the UK and overseas, opportunities clearly exist to increase skills while helping to meet our world leading environmental targets of achieving a Net Zero economy by 2050: this represents a powerful opportunity to deliver long term benefits which we are determined to seize.
Jeremy Quin popped into Whispers in Billingshurst which welcomed back customers last weekend