Prime Minister Tony Blair today urged people to return to the countryside to save the nation’s tourism industry from collapse.
He said the tourist trade is in a "tragic" position because millions of people are steering clear of the countryside, even in areas unaffected by FMD.
The governments adverts urging a return to the countryside are having little effect because of the nightly scenes of cow and sheep burning on television news programmes.
Amd its very often at a local level that blockages remain. This is why tourism minister Janet Anderson was calling on local councils to follow the lead of areas like Suffolk and north Lincolnshire and reopen as many countryside trails as possible.
And Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, is to write to every local council urging them to take a "common-sense" view to reopening footpaths, particularly in disease-free areas.
In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce conference in London, Mr Blair said: "People should go to the countryside, but stay away from farmland.
"On my recent visits to some of the affected areas, I have had heart-rending accounts from hoteliers and others from the tourist trade of the impact on their businesses.
"What has struck me is that they emphasise that the thing they need most is not Government help but real custom."
[Hmm. Yes, that’s the long-term wish-list, but in the short-term, businesses need help to see them through to the long-term].
Tony Blair wants the public to take the lead by going to the countryside to show the world it was still open for business.
"No resource, no effort, no time is being spared in controlling and eradicating the disease."
He urged local authorities to take "a common sense view" of restrictions on access to footpaths imposed after the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth in February.
Cornwall county council is reported to be about to open rights of way in the county today, something that will please the hire operators on the Camel Trail.
But with Easter less than three weeks away, the PM knows he has to get to grips with FMD quickly if the UK tourist industry (and associated trades) was to be saved. He stressed that there was no trace of the disease in the majority of the UK and that many areas had suffered only isolated cases.
"The way this has been presented on television abroad, as if the whole country was out of bounds, is leading to cancellations that are totally unnecessary."
On the subject of compensation/support, the PM said: "There’s no point in rates holidays if you have no custom. We need to bring business back [to tourism concerns and shops]. Most of rural Britain is open for business. There’s masses for people to do in the countryside."