OVER the past few weeks, I’ve finally been able to spend my time out and about in my Stirling constituency, visiting local businesses that have only recently re-opened their doors following lockdown.

I’m doing so for three reasons: I want to promote local Stirling businesses as much as possible; I want to prove to folks still reticent about venturing out that businesses are taking the safety measures seriously; and it’s crucial that, as the local MP, I use this time to listen to what the concerns and needs are for particular sectors of our economy.

I was in Callander speaking to hospitality businesses about alterations to their premises so they could open safely. I was in Dunblane hearing from retail businesses about the measures they have taken to ensure people can stay safe while they browse.

And I was in Kippen, speaking to cafe owners about the measures they’ve taken to serve more people while maintaining a safe social distance (and I picked up some cracking local strawberries while I was at it!).

These measures aren’t just important in terms of keeping the spread of coronavirus at bay, but is vital in supporting economic recovery, too. Members of the public rightly want to know they’re in safe hands when they visit the local high street, and it remains the case that many people still just aren’t confident enough to go out yet.

Hospitality businesses, shops and other services have taken important steps to ensure they can open and operate while minimising the risk of spreading Covid-19 should an outbreak find its way into Stirling.

Where businesses have fallen short of public expectations, constituents have been quick to flag up such matters to me and others. For some businesses, it took time for them to realise just how busy or otherwise they were going to be. Getting staffing levels right is vital in the hospitality sector, and there’s the added strain of enforcing social distancing now too.

However, having seen many businesses in operation over the past few weeks, my message is this: if you can, go out and support our local economy. It is safe to do so, as long as we all follow the rules.

Last week, it was confirmed that the UK economy was officially in recession, following two consecutive quarters of negative growth. This was predicted by almost every economist as a result of effectively closing the economy for several months whilst we dealt with an unprecedented pandemic.

I have welcomed some of the measures the Chancellor announced earlier in the summer to help boost business, as far as they went.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme, giving diners up to half off the price of their sit-in food, is undoubtedly popular, and hospitality businesses have really seen it impact on the footfall over the door. However, the reality of it is that it’s only available Monday to Wednesday throughout August, and it only benefits restaurants.

Many businesses on our high streets are struggling right now, with fewer people willing to venture out to support them. The UK Government needs to devise a much longer-term, more strategic plan for supporting all sectors.

We also need to see better targeted support for industries that are open, but aren’t fully operational. If the Chancellor was serious about supporting these businesses, he would rethink his opposition to ending the furlough scheme in October no matter what – something recent analysis suggests could needlessly cost millions of jobs.

And limited companies also need to see equal treatment regarding supported wages. Many business owners and managers in the Stirling area, and across the UK, have not received the level of income support that their furloughed staff have, putting many people into real financial hardship.

AS we move forward to the next few phases of economic recovery within a new way of doing things, there are a lot of areas that the Chancellor needs to think about. No solution can be done on the cheap, but the cost of avoiding the problem will be far worse.

The Scottish Government cannot, presently, borrow on the international markets in the way the UK Government can on our behalf. So long as that is the constitutional reality, I will remain stuck in at Westminster to try to ensure that money is well spent.

The Chancellor received plaudits aplenty when he said nobody would be left behind, but the gloss has come off his schemes pretty fast and we’re far from out the woods yet.

As an example of priorities going in entirely the opposite direction, the stamp duty holiday on house purchases announced for England is to my mind a ruinous waste of the borrowing the Chancellor is so expensively undertaking on our behalf.

It is simply an unnecessary sop to the middle class, who don’t need it, and spurring not economic activity but just a churn of unproductive cash soaked up in inflated house values.

It is shortsighted and counterproductive, and it is right that it has only been partially passed on by the Scottish Government.

I supported the schemes as far as they went, but they needed refined and refocused as the pandemic evolved.

We need more support, and if the UK Government is serious then it needs refocused to better recognise limited companies, sole traders and seasonal businesses.