LEADERS in Carmarthenshire want more people and businesses to buy local to strengthen the county’s economy and protect against future shocks – a move welcomed by one Llanelli farmer.
Executive board members have approved a draft Covid-19 economic impact and recovery plan, which drew on questionnaire responses from 574 businesses.
Many of them, at the time of responding in May, said they would struggle to operate for more than three months.
A worst-case scenario, said the report before the executive board, was that just under 1,000 jobs had already been lost and that the county faced a £500 million hit to the economy.
Ideas to re-boot the economy include promoting a buy local message and developing a local food strategy.
Farmer and machinery supplier, Aled Harries, of AR Harries, Llanelli, said: “I agree with that.”
Mr Harries said Wales could be more self-sufficient in food than people realised.
“A lot of it is down to educating the general public,” he said. “Education is where I can see councils having a role to play.”
He said customers were queueing in his yard for fresh produce during the early days of the lockdown, but that many had returned to their supermarket shopping habits.
Mr Harries also imports and repairs farm machinery.
“That side of the business struggled desperately,” he said.
“We could not get spare parts, and the self-employed boys who help with the repairs were worried about the (health) risk of coming in.”
Mr Harries said he feared unemployment could rise sharply when the UK Government furlough scheme ended at the end of October.
“There is going to be scarring to the economy for a long time,” he said.
The tourism and hospitality sector has been in hibernation for months, but bed and breakfast owner Karen Lee hopes that could change in two weeks’ time.
“We just want to be open,” said Mrs Lee, who runs Melin Pandy bed and breakfast in Newcastle Emlyn with her husband.
“We’re getting a bit fed up of not being able to do anything.
“We have got a grant from HMRC – we will survive.”
Mrs Lee said the odd key worker had stayed during the lockdown, and that she and her husband had done some DIY and deep-cleaned the four guest rooms.
“We think we could open about July 13 but the Welsh Government has not given a definite date,” she said.
“We’ve got masks and gloves and sanitiser (for guests) and we’re going to serve breakfast in the rooms.”
Timber haulier Stan Archer, of SJ Archer and Son, Llandovery, said his business had weathered the crisis better than many.
“We haven’t been as busy as normal in the last three months,” said Mr Archer.
“Our revenue and profitability are going to be down.
“I’m quite prepared to accept that in the long term.”
Mr Archer said he was scared at the outset that he may have to furlough two of the five-strong workforce but he has managed to keep everyone in a job.
Asked if business had improved in the last couple of weeks, he replied: “I don’t think there has been a drastic pick-up yet. But it hasn’t got any worse.”
Speaking at the executive board meeting on June 29, Plaid Cymru council leader Emlyn Dole said the authority would need to be imaginative, determined and flexible in its economic response to the coronavirus.
Referring to the report, Cllr Cefin Campbell, said: “The 127% increase (in people claiming unemployment-related benefits) suggests to me that we are going to have more poverty to deal with as a county.”
Some businesses, he said, were “going to the wall”.
He added: “Now we know what the challenges are, we have to go and tackle them.”
Cllr Glynog Davies welcomed the draft recovery plan, which executive board members approved, and said the council needed to offer leadership and direction.
Referring to the less affluent Amman Valley area, part of which he represents, Cllr Davies said: “Things were bad before this, but the pandemic has made things worse.”
A buying local report is being prepared separately – and individuals had a part to play, according to Cllr Mair Stephens.
“Most people listening to this today will do just that, and perhaps help stem the tide we are facing,” she said.