Column by the leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Toby Savage.

You may have already seen our South Glos Council team out and about on high streets across the district over the past few weeks. We’re handing out reusable face coverings to those who need one or who haven’t yet got into the routine of taking one when they go to the shops. So far, we’ve given away 1,000 to shoppers on various local high streets. We’ve ordered more and will be back on our high streets handing them out from this weekend.

We hope that soon it will become second nature for us all to bring face coverings out with us. By doing this you are helping to protect yourself, other shoppers and staff in the places you visit. They became compulsory in shops, supermarkets and other enclosed public spaces in England from last Friday. This includes shopping centres, banks, building societies and post offices. The new rules mean you must wear a face covering before entering any shop and keep it on until you leave. Otherwise you could face a fine of up to £100.

Talking to shoppers and providing face coverings is, of course, just a small part of our drive to ensure local high streets thrive. We want to make shoppers feel as safe as possible and to support our traders to get back on their feet. So far, we’ve granted almost £14 million in grants plus more than £63 million in business rates relief to the retail, hospitality and leisure industries locally. As the local hospitality sector has re-opened, we’ve also relaxed licensing regulations to make it easier for pubs, cafes and restaurants to install outside seating areas. We’ve made more space for social distancing on pavements and streets so that going to a local high street is safer and more enjoyable.

While we’ve been out and about, we’ve really enjoyed talking to so many people. I’d like to say a huge thank you for the many encouraging messages we’ve received. It’s great seeing people return to our high streets, and businesses and shops re-opening once more. Let’s continue to support our local traders safely. And remember to bring that face covering with you!