This time last year, many of us had never heard of a coronavirus and probably only those with a background in science knew what one was or what it might do. Now, in stark contrast, things are very different and it will most likely be the coronavirus - or more specifically Covid 19 - which will be the thing we all most remember about 2020 in years to come. Not only has the pandemic created a turning-point in so many ways, but it has made life for all of us, at the very least, complicated and difficult; at worst, it has been a painful tragedy for those families who've lost loved ones.
But unexpectedly there have been some benefits as well: many of us have enjoyed spending more time with our families, taken longer, different country or coastal walks, tried a new hobby, adopted a dog or spent sunny times in our gardens, if we've been lucky enough to have them! And your local Liberal Democrats have been busy too, beavering away on a locally-based online survey - we polled just over 100 of you, randomly chosen - and have come up with some interesting responses to the dozen or so questions posed.
One of the most heartening was the strong appreciation you expressed for our NHS, as seen also by the weekly doorstep applause you gave with such obvious enthusiasm during lock-down! And as Liberal Democrats we were thrilled, of course, to learn that close on 80% of you would support 'a 1p in the £' increase in income tax to pay for that very same health service. This proposal has been amongst our party's key policies for many years, so it's good to know we're getting that right.
On the other hand, very few of you felt central government was doing a good job right now, with a large swathe of you giving it a ranking of only 1 on a scale of 5. However, local government did appreciably better although there is clearly still room for improvement, an issue which our Liberal Democrat colleagues at Somerset West & Taunton District Council are currently working hard to address, particularly with reference to access to green space and improving 'green transport' infrastructure in the form of footpaths and safe cycle routes to cut down road traffic, particularly at peak times.
Moving on to shopping habits, there was excellent support for our struggling local high streets, with 50% of you saying you'd like to return there to shop once our lives become more normal, post-pandemic. And one of the things you most clearly requested was appropriate free car-parking onsite to local high streets! In addition, many of you were very keen to mention various local, often independent, traders and businesses who had risen magnificently to the 'Covid challenge' and given their all, not only to remain in business, but support their local communities. We Liberal Democrats applaud them all!
That brings me neatly on to how many of you have appreciated our local Covid community action/help groups, which sprang-up pretty much overnight to support those most vulnerable in our community. Roughly twice as many of you volunteered to give a hand as people asking for help with shopping, collecting prescriptions, walking dogs &c. And here I feel it's only right to mention the very excellent 'Taunton Coronavirus Community Help' group, both founded and administered by Natalie Dyson, one of our much-valued local LibDem members!
And finally, to look forward rather than reflect on the present or the past, there was a generous 60% support also for the idea of a special award for our Frontline Service workers in a truly apocalyptic period in all our lives. In addition, 80-90% of you expressed interest in the creation of a state-of-the-art science and innovation 'development hub' here in Taunton to support scientists and other creative thinkers who will surely contribute positively to a far more hopeful future for us all, both locally and nationally.