Tomorrow is an important day for those of us who live or work in Sussex, perhaps more this year than in recent years. My awareness of Sussex Day only occurred when a friend, Martin Ellis alerted me to his campaign to promote it in East Sussex early in 2014. Martin was keen to see the day extend from West Sussex where the modern focus had begun a few years earlier with the help of West Sussex County Council after a person called Ian Steedman suggested it in 2006. It was first celebrated in 2007 in West Sussex and 7 years later thanks to Martin it began to develop in East Sussex. The date is based on the history of St Richard in Chichester but this is not a religious event although of course people who are religious will no doubt be happy to celebrate it for that reason too. The Anniversary allows people to remind themselves and their colleagues of the Sussex Charter and while the whole piece is a bit too long to include here, the three main phrases can be summarised with “The people of Sussex will undertake responsibility for the general wellbeing of our neighbours, our wildlife and that through custom that we will support all local businesses.” Clearly most of us will agree with all of three of these themes, but the big challenge is to persuade the 16 Sussex MPs to adopt these elements so that they will work together on them, even if this means at times standing up against their political parties. Sadly on most occasions our MPs speak and vote as though their party priorities matter more than their neighbours or the content of the Sussex Charter but let us see what we can do to persuade them to adopt it during our current challenging period.
Before we focus on what our local MPs may say or do it is encouraging that a couple of people from outside Sussex have raised such matters for us. Last week a Conservative Peer called Michael Morris pointed out about the high quality wine suppliers in Sussex so this was a good start for promoting Sussex businesses in preparation for tomorrow. Then at the end of April a Labour Peer called Doreen Massey explained that charities feeling the effects of Covid-19 include the Fitzjohn’s foodbank in Lewes. “Volunteer numbers have had to be reduced due to social distancing, but there are constant requests for more help. They are managing vulnerable people, some with complex needs”. Clearly the need to raise these issues is significant and Maria Caulfield, the Lewes MP has not spoken since the 11th of March, although we know that she has spent time working as a Nurse in London.
Our local MPs who have raised issues include Caroline Lucas a Brighton MP who last Wednesday raised the question of “what plans the DFE has to publish guidance for schools on how to support children and young people’s mental health as a result of the covid-19 pandemic as those schools reopen in the coming months.” The response covered a number of matters including further support for children and teachers on mental health and wellbeing in response to COVID-19 which includes new training for teachers. A day earlier Gillian Keegan, the Chichester MP was asked about apprenticeships and her response included the promise that “We are looking to support employers of all sizes, and particularly smaller businesses such as childcare providers, to take on new apprentices this year. We will set out further details in due course. We will also ensure that there is sufficient funding to support small businesses wanting to take on an apprentice this year.” This response is clearly beneficial to Sussex which is primarily made up of small businesses so let us hope that in due course that information does emerge. Sadly on far too many occasions there have been promises for such ideas but then nothing seems to emerge in a way that makes sense for small businesses. A final comment on the issue of our wildlife came from another Peer but this was from Jenny Jones who is the Baroness of Moulsecoomb who stated a fortnight ago that “we need tough standards on safeguards for imported food. We cannot allow farmers—a valuable national resource—to be undermined and undercut by imports produced to lower environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.” It is certainly clear that many people in Sussex would be appalled if the American food legislation was to be imposed on our nation and this would surely be one matter that every Sussex MP would be willing to place on their agenda when it comes to differentiating from one of the themes that even the Conservative Party claimed would not happen only a few months ago!