Meeting date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 11 November 2020
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, University and College Students (Support), Covid-19 Testing (Health and Social Care Workers), Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality), Urgent Question, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Housing Market (Islands)
- Portfolio Question Time
- University and College Students (Support)
- Covid-19 Testing (Health and Social Care Workers)
- Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality)
- Urgent Question
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Housing Market (Islands)
Covid-19 Support (Tourism and Hospitality)
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23299, in the name of Richard Leonard, on additional support for Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic.16:32
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
This week, we have all welcomed a message of hope. There is a prospect, at last, of a Covid-19 vaccine on the horizon that offers hope in place of fear. In Scotland, another fear still hangs over us—that of mass unemployment, business collapse, savings gone, rising debts and deepening depression. That is the fear that keeps people awake at night. It afflicts too many of Scotland’s businesses and working people and, in particular, too many of Scotland’s hospitality and tourism businesses and workers.
Those businesses face a huge drop in trade and demand and now also carry substantial debts, which include those to Government that arose from loans that were taken out in the first half of the year—in Scotland, that was almost 80,000 loans totalling £2.1 billion. We need to reschedule that debt repayment and write off some of that debt.
In the weeks to come, the Scottish national investment bank will finally open its doors. The new bank’s purpose must not just be to attract footloose, foreign direct investment, but to be there first and foremost for the indigenous business base at its time of need. That must be its priority.
To the commercial banks, we say, “Just as we were there for you to keep afloat jobs, and even entire banks, in the global financial crash, we now expect you to be there for us to help keep afloat jobs and businesses in the wider economy in the face of the crisis.”
Over the past six months, restaurants in the central belt have experienced the first lockdown, the lifting of restrictions with social distancing measures in place, the eat out to help out programme in August, which boosted demand for at least the first half of the week, the subsequent central belt circuit breaker, and now tier 3 restrictions. The imposition of rule after rule would be confusing even if it had been plotted from the start of the year, but it had not. In the words of the First Minister, it has been “ad hoc”.
Of course, we all recognise the unpredictability of current circumstances, but the Government’s response to each wave of the pandemic has been imposed without a clear exit strategy, leaving businesses and workers fearful of what might come next. Time after time, we have seen a complete failure to communicate, consult and share the evidence, and a complete failure to respect the business community and the workers who are affected. Businesses cannot be turned on and off like a tap, and they should not be treated as though they can. The restaurant owners whom I met in Glasgow recently explained how their bills do not stop, even though they are wholly or partially closed. Many of them shed half of their workforce in the first lockdown, and more have gone since. That is why we say that the case for additional support for those jobs, businesses and entire industries is unanswerable, and that is why we oppose the Scottish National Party amendment to our motion. The Scottish people are doing their bit, so the Scottish Government must do its bit as well.
This afternoon, Scottish Labour is calling for an immediate review of the level of hardship support and business grants that are currently available, and for additional support to be provided. Unions and business leaders must be involved in that process, and we will support the Tory amendment on that basis.
Additional grants should be conditional on the businesses that receive them respecting their workers, with standards such as those set out in the Unite hospitality charter: a real living wage; rest breaks; equal pay for young workers; transport after midnight; minimum-hours contracts; anti-sexual harassment policy; proper consultation on changes to rotas; 100 per cent tips to staff; and trade union recognition.
I have heard it said, and I read in the Scottish Government’s strategic framework document, that the Scottish Government
“will not be able to protect every business; and financial support cannot replace all lost income or save every job.”
Scottish hospitality alone employs more than 9 per cent of Scotland’s workforce, which is more than 250,000 workers. The industry is worth more than £10 billion to the Scottish economy, so I get that all that income cannot be replaced, but those businesses and workers want a Government that is on their side, is prepared to find additional support, and is prepared to back, not oppose, the Tied Pubs (Scotland) Bill, which would provide statutory protection for tied pub tenants at a time when they need it more than ever.
Today is a chance for the Parliament to come together, come in on the side of businesses that are under intense pressure, and show working people across Scotland that we want to defend jobs, are serious about a fair work Scotland, and are on their side when they need us most. Today is a chance to show that we are in partnership with the people, are doing our bit as a Parliament, and are prepared to back a message of hope for the future with action and practical support now.
That the Parliament recognises the need to protect the population from the COVID-19 pandemic; appreciates the damage that tighter restrictions are having on Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector; calls on the Scottish Government to provide additional support to these sectors by reviewing the eligibility for COVID business grants and hardship grants and increasing available funding so that no hospitality or tourism business faces closure or job losses as a result of the pandemic, and considers that there is a need to work with trade unions to ensure that ongoing government support is being used to protect and improve workers’ terms and conditions.16:39
There is surely no member who does not recognise the scale of the devastation that the virus has wreaked on Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector. Since March, when Covid struck and the lockdown began, the impact on individuals, businesses and lives has been devastating. I doubt that there is any member who has spent more time since March than me in engaging with and reaching out to people whose lives have been impacted in that way. [Interruption.] No, I will not take an intervention—I have just started.
I am absolutely determined to continue with that work, as are my parliamentary colleagues.
This week, we have heard good news on a potential vaccine. However, even with a vaccine, the impact of the virus will be measured in years, not months. Businesses in the sector—from leading visitor attractions to the smallest Highland pub—are now unsure whether they will survive to the spring. From the beginning, the Scottish Government has recognised the scale of the impact on businesses and the need to provide adequate support for business survival.
It has not been possible—as Richard Leonard appeared to imply that it should have been—for us to simply replicate every pound of revenue that businesses have lost. It is practical to aim to provide sufficient lifeline business support to help businesses survive, and that realistic target is the one that we have pursued. I am absolutely confident that businesses recognise that realistic objective and our determination to deliver. [Interruption.] No, I cannot give way. I must make progress, as I have very little time.
The Scottish Government has invested £2.3 billion in business support. The non-domestic rates-based retail, hospitality and leisure grant scheme, which is helping those businesses that are most affected, has allocated more than £1 billion. Larger hotels have been allocated £14 million, with £4 million provided to smaller bed and breakfast and self-catering businesses. [Interruption.] Tory members are muttering under their breath, as usual, but I assure them that that support has been truly appreciated by businesses. I know that, because I have been speaking to them.
Our pivotal enterprise resilience fund has provided funding for businesses with a rateable value in excess of £51,000. When I suggested that and my colleagues agreed that it should be provided, it was in recognition of the fact that many hotels have rateable values of more than £51,000 and that they would not have access to any grant finance. The scheme was provided in Scotland—it was not matched in England—and it met the gap for many family businesses and hotels that would not otherwise have navigated this difficult time.
However, more needs to be done. The task is not done, because the tunnel that we are in has proven to be longer than any of us hoped and, although there is some light at the end, we are not there yet.
The tourism recovery task force brought together 30 key stakeholders, including our trade unions, to consider how we can best ensure the sector’s survival. Its recommendations provide a framework for recovery, and they chime well with the valuable work that is being done by, for example, the Unite the Union’s hospitality and tourism rescue plan. I hope that, when it comes to voting, Scottish Labour will support our amendment’s reference to the good work that is being done by Unite.
We can work only with the levers that we have, and they are not enough.
You must conclude.
We will continue to provide urgent support to the tourism sector, which I care deeply about.
Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab) rose—
I have worked with people such as Jackie Baillie on numerous occasions, and I will continue to do so, even if I cannot take her intervention.
While you are at it, cabinet secretary, keep on the good side of the Presiding Officer, too. You did not move your amendment.
I move amendment S5M-23299.2, to leave out from “calls” to end and insert:
“acknowledges the significant contribution that tourism and hospitality makes, not only to the economy but to the health and wellbeing of workers, and to the cultural vibrancy of Scotland; notes the funding packages and job retention schemes offered by the Scottish and UK governments so far, but recognises that much more needs to be done to protect jobs and businesses into the future, including an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme beyond March 2021, noting that Scottish Government analysis shows an extension to June could save up to 61,000 jobs; welcomes the independent recommendations of the Tourism Recovery Task Force, and calls on the Scottish and UK governments to consider in full the recommendations, including ‘to progress alternative options for robust Testing Regimes’ for industry, and to provide ‘proportionate, fair financial compensation arrangements if further lockdowns are required’; notes the valuable work and representation of trades unions, including Unite the Union’s Hospitality and Tourism Rescue Plan, and asks the Scottish and UK governments to meet urgently with them to discuss proposals for the protection of workers’ pay and conditions during this difficult time, and, recognising the pressures facing the industry on a UK-wide basis, calls on all governments in the UK to work closely together with the sector, health experts and unions to ensure that jobs, workers conditions and businesses can be protected and strengthened as we work through and emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.”
I call Oliver Mundell. I gave Richard Leonard a little extra time, so I will compensate you as well, Mr Mundell.16:44
Scotland’s hospitality and tourism sector has been in crisis since the pandemic began. Although the vaccine brings hope to many, there is continued uncertainty for others with a long, cold, dark winter ahead. Thousands of jobs remain at risk, with a growing number of businesses teetering on the edge, having burned through financial reserves and the capacity to borrow.
Although the United Kingdom Government’s extension of furlough has been widely welcomed, and represents an unprecedented level of support, the question now is whether many of the businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector and its supply chain will be here in the spring in order to re-employ people.
That is why it is so important that the SNP Government stops picking fights with the UK Government and prioritises getting the money that it has already had out of the door, in order to protect jobs and businesses in every sector and region of Scotland. Time is of the essence. That is why we are supporting Labour’s motion, and feel that the SNP Government’s amendment is simply an attempt to distract attention from its failure to properly consult and engage with the sector, or to deliver on the funding schemes that it has pledged. Of course it can call for more resources from other Governments but, before doing so, it has to demonstrate a commitment to using the funds that it has already received, to back those vital jobs and businesses.
Turning to the Conservative amendment, I increasingly believe that a business advisory council is essential as we move forward, along with meaningful trade union engagement, because I have no doubt that poor consultation and the tick-box approach that have been adopted by the Government on the introduction of new measures are playing a significant role in creating unnecessary problems and flashpoints.
If the process were formalised and made more transparent, perhaps the Scottish Government would feel under more obligation to listen to those on the front line of the growing jobs and economic crisis in which we find ourselves, and perhaps it would be willing to explain the reasons for discounting some of the productive suggestions that have come forward.
Of course, the Scottish Government is right to say that new public health measures remain the priority. No one disputes that, not even those who are seeing their livelihoods put at risk. The question is how things are implemented, and whether the financial support that is being put in place reflects the pain and hardship that the SNP Government and, by association, the Parliament is asking those in the hospitality and tourism sector to absorb. As one leading hotelier said to me just last night, requests for additional support are not about greed; they are purely about survival. We cannot afford to let one of the mainstays of our economy, and the many jobs that it supports, be put at risk.
As I get through what is a short speech, I simply ask fellow MSPs: do we want to unite around a clear and simple motion, as is proposed, with a reasonable addition to highlight the importance of the wider supply chain and the need to engage with employers as well as unions, or do we want to allow a Government that has been slow to listen to rewrite the message that the debate sends?
If we believe that the hospitality and tourism sector and its supply chain are important, now, more than ever, they need to know that the Parliament has their back. Scotland is rightly proud of the outstanding businesses, attractions and opportunities on offer, and we must all do our bit to make sure that that vibrancy is protected for years to come.
I move amendment S5M-23299.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises that the supply chain for hospitality and tourism is also negatively affected and needs support, and calls on the Scottish Government to establish a coronavirus business restrictions advisory council to support Scottish jobs as well as protect public health.”16:48
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, and I am very pleased that the Labour Party has chosen to lodge a motion on the topic for debate.
As others have said, we are all painfully aware of the impact that the pandemic has had on the hospitality sector, on tourism and on the people who work in those businesses. A survey that I carried out in my constituency showed that 80 per cent of respondents who work in the sector are working fewer hours; half are extremely concerned about their income security and jobs; and a great many either are calling on the Government to support employers to pay the real living wage or are already looking for work elsewhere and do not see that they can have a future with decent prospects while working in the industry.
We need to take that reality very seriously. However, we also need to see it in context. The industry has a very long track record of endemic low wages and exploitative working conditions. We need to be realistic about the need to drive up standards. Those employers that have taken a responsible approach to issues such as the living wage should not become the ones that are tipped over the edge and lost.
When I first saw the motion, I was a bit surprised that it does not go into much detail about matters that Richard Leonard mentioned in his contribution. Those include the great work that Unite hospitality has done—not only in its charter but in the tourism and hospitality rescue plan that it has produced. Therefore, I lodged an amendment stating that, although some of those actions concern reserved matters, others clearly concern devolved ones that the Scottish Government could and should take forward. I hope that members will agree with the content of my proposed amendment, even though it was not selected for debate.
I worry about the intentions behind the Scottish Conservatives’ amendment and the possibilities that it suggests. The kind of advisory group that it calls for would end up simply becoming a lobby group against the public health measures that we know are necessary. If the question were how best to implement or to mitigate such measures, I could understand that. However, I am deeply concerned that such an advisory group carries the risk of becoming a lobby group within the Government against public health measures.
The Government’s amendment addresses some of the issues that I have mentioned, including the work of Unite hospitality. I might well have found myself voting for it had it not also asked us, uncritically, to welcome the recommendations of the industry’s task force. Far too many of the recommendations in the task force’s report were just reheated grievances from the Scottish Tourism Alliance. The report calls for the abolition of air passenger duty. Do we really think that that is the reason for the pandemic having had such an impact on tourism and hospitality? Of course not. The report also calls for the abolition of the transient visitor levy. That is not yet in force, and no local authority is even close to proposing its use. Such issues are therefore a distraction. The only mention of wages that I could find in the report was a call for a relaxation of the requirements for the living wage. Perhaps that is what we get when a task force has 36 members, only two of whom represent the workforce—the people who actually work in the industry.
I am afraid that I will be voting against the amendments, but I will support the motion. I hope that members across the chamber will support many of the issues that Scottish Greens raised in our proposed amendment, even though it is not being pressed to a vote.16:52
One of the joys of representing North East Fife is the fact that so many creative people have transformed the local tourism and hospitality offer. They include the operators of the Michelin-starred Peat Inn, Muddy Boots family farm at Balmalcolm, St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company at Anstruther, Lindores Abbey Distillery and many more businesses across the area. They are innovative people who have invested their money and their hearts into making their businesses a success.
I cannot name them all—indeed, I have deliberately left some out because they are really struggling and do not need the attention just now. I have helped many of them to get grants, and I am grateful for engagement from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism to make that happen.
However, despite such help, many businesses are now on the edge. It could be only a matter of weeks before they collapse. If they do so, we will have lost good businesses that make money, employ people and pay the taxes that in turn pay for our public services. However, we will have lost even more than that—the innovators and businesspeople who might not try again. Even if they do, it will take an age for them to get back up to the level of economic activity that we need. Therefore the clock is ticking.
Earlier this year, we invested so much to keep such businesses alive through grants, the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme. The UK Government has finally listened to pleas to extend the furlough scheme, but it needs to go further and extend it for even longer. I just do not believe that businesses will deliberately go into hibernation when they could be operating and earning a profit. We need more to be done on grants, to help the missing millions who have been excluded from financial support.
I assure Mr Rennie that I entirely agree with what he has said thus far. The Scottish Government is committed to providing further lifeline assistance to businesses. It recognises that that is necessary in addition to the furlough scheme. It is working as a matter of urgency, and with that aim as its top priority, on providing a fair package to achieve that objective.
Mr Rennie, you will get your time back.
That is encouraging to hear and I hope that that becomes a reality, but I think that the cabinet secretary will forgive the Parliament for wanting to put on a little bit more pressure to make that happen. That is why I will be supporting the Labour motion today and I am afraid that I will not be supporting the cabinet secretary’s amendment, because I think that we need to put a little bit more pressure on the Government to make this happen. I fear for these businesses and I think that, by voting for the Labour motion today, we will make sure that that emphasis is there.
I understand why the finance secretary has mirrored the Westminster packages of support; it is probably the best way of guaranteeing that Westminster covers the costs of those grants here. However, we need a review of the current grant schemes, as too many businesses are losing out. Businesses without premises were unable to get grants through the business rates scheme. Businesses that are not required to close but find that their activity is so restricted that they might as well close get the hardship fund, but that is less than a third of what is provided to businesses that are closed.
Passenger agents—local holiday booking agents—have stayed open throughout the pandemic because they have spent the past few months getting money back for their customers, not earning a single penny in the process. I understand that the Northern Ireland Government—I hope that the cabinet secretary is listening carefully to this—is looking at a scheme to fund that sector and I hope that the Scottish Government follows suit. We will be supporting the Labour motion and I hope that the Government goes that extra mile to make sure that the sector is supported.16:56
The Scottish Government has used Scotland’s hospitality sector as a scapegoat in this pandemic. Despite what the cabinet secretary said, the Government has failed to recognise the scale of the contribution that our third biggest employer makes to Scotland’s economy, providing over a quarter of a million jobs and adding £6.5 billion to our economy. Hospitality was the first sector pushed into lockdown and it will be the last to have the grip of that lockdown loosened. It has suffered a disproportionate level of job losses due to inadequate Government support and the imposition of continually changing restrictions that are rarely backed up by evidence from the Government and are often contradictory.
I will give one example of that inconsistency. On 23 October, the Government published its so-called Covid strategic framework. A few days later, it provided more detail on what that meant for hospitality at each level. For level 2, for example, it said that all pubs could remain open to serve soft drinks or alcohol with a main meal inside and that, outside, pubs could serve soft drinks or alcohol with or without a meal. We debated that framework and the First Minister answered questions on the imposition of the levels, yet the next day, the Government published regulations that closed all non-food pubs at level 2 upwards from last Monday, utterly contradicting the very framework that we had debated. No hint was given in those debates by the Government that it was even considering doing that.
I get why the Government took that decision—at the time, it looked as though legal closure was the only way to allow those pubs to claim support from the UK Government’s planned new closed job support scheme. However, on Saturday 31 October, that scheme was withdrawn and the existing job retention scheme was extended for a month; it has since been extended until March 2021 and, like all my Labour colleagues, I want that extension to continue beyond that period.
That extension to March means that the Government’s regulations to close wet pubs are no longer needed. Those pubs can access the furlough scheme, whether they are closed or open. I will happily give way and take an intervention from any Scottish National Party member who wants to get to their feet and tell the pubs in my region, many of which invested significantly in outside areas to meet previous Government restrictions, why the Government has not scrapped the regulations closing the pubs, which we know are no longer necessary and are completely unfair. Not a single SNP member has taken up that offer—[Interruption.]—I will take John Mason’s intervention.
Would the member accept that there has been a problem in pubs and in other places serving alcohol simply because people are getting together? We cannot have as many people getting together as we used to. Does he accept that point?
Mr Mason is in effect saying that the Government’s framework that said that those pubs could remain open was wrong. If that was the Government’s position, it should have said so in the first place instead of being dishonest in saying what the position was before passing regulations that closed pubs. How dare the cabinet secretary say that he is concerned about pub closures when it is his regulations that are closing pubs, contradicting what the Government said in the chamber just the day before? No wonder the sector has been forced into the unprecedented step of taking the Government to court as it fights to save the sector.
Today in Parliament, we have an opportunity to unite to support our hospitality and tourism industry. We can show that we are on the side of the sector in saving jobs and that we are on the side of the workers in protecting and improving their terms and conditions. No reasonable person could object to the terms of Labour’s motion, so it is disappointing that the Government is not prepared to show that support or that solidarity.
Let us be clear what voting for the SNP amendment means: it means voting to remove from Labour’s motion a clear commitment to additional support for the sector and voting against using that Government support to protect and strengthen the terms and conditions of workers. I have to say that the cabinet secretary does not need to lodge an amendment in Parliament to ask himself to meet the trade unions; he just needs to start doing his job properly.
No one disputes that our number 1 aim must be to control the virus. Covid-19 is first and foremost a health crisis that continues to take a terrible toll on our fellow citizens but, too often, when people raise perfectly legitimate questions, offer alternatives, ask to see the evidence for actions, point out inconsistencies—as I have done today—and highlight the economic crisis of Covid, they are unfairly dismissed, brushed aside and accused by the Government of being careless about public health.
That is what is happening to our hospitality sector, when it needs support and a recognition of the work that it does to support our economy.
Thank you. I gave you the extra time.17:01
I welcome the debate. I know that hospitality has been one of the hardest-hit sectors in the economy. Like every other member in the chamber, I have spoken to many organisations in my constituency, particularly those in the hospitality trade, that have expressed their frustration and anger about what has happened so far, as well as their welcome for that and their aspirations for the future. However, I will come back to constituents’ points in a moment.
It is clear that the impact of the coronavirus in Scotland has been profound. Sadly, my constituency has had the highest level of deaths per head in the country. The coronavirus is the biggest challenge that society has faced in our lifetimes, and the measures that we take to deal with it must reflect the magnitude of what we face. The steps that have been taken in Scotland to contain the virus are unprecedented, and they have changed life as we know it.
Although the current lockdown measures are essential right now, they have damaging consequences for our economy, living standards and physical and mental health. I welcomed the chancellor’s introduction of the furlough scheme in March, and I welcomed his recent decision to extend the scheme to March 2021. However, I believe that the delay in announcing the extension until the 11th hour will have cost jobs, as some employers had already taken the difficult decision to make people redundant because they expected the scheme to be withdrawn.
I welcome the chancellor’s indication that, as was the case in March, employers will be able to bring back people whom they have made redundant and include them in the furlough scheme, which might go some way towards addressing some of the job losses.
Dr Liz Cameron, the chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, made interesting comments on that point last week. She said:
“This announcement gives Scottish businesses a glimmer of hope that we may be able to survive and work through this crisis. What we cannot do is to continue with uncertainty which is impacting business confidence, employee motivation and our ability to plan and invest.”
She went on:
“However, the furlough scheme alone will not be enough to save businesses so the Chancellor must continue and expand his commitment to providing businesses with guaranteed grants support to help businesses recover.”
[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I will not take an intervention, as I have only four minutes.
I welcome the extension of the UK Government’s self-employment income support scheme and the confirmation that the level of grant will be 80 per cent of average trading profits for the period from November to January.
As I said, I want to highlight some constituents’ issues. I agree with Dr Cameron’s comments, and those views are shared by local hospitality businesses. Businesses still have fixed costs to cover, such as electricity, gas and insurance costs, among many others. If they cannot trade, all the funding mechanisms that have been provided thus far, including furlough, the wide number of Scottish Government grants, which include the hardship grant and the grant that is outlined in the strategic framework that has been available from 2 November for businesses that are required to close—it is worth between £2,000 and £3,000, depending on rateable value—the small business bonus, the additional 100 per cent relief from non-domestic rates for properties in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and the £10,000 and £25,000 grants, will have been provided in vain. If businesses do not have consistency in the future as regards UK Government policy, all the moneys that have been invested thus far to help them—especially those in the hospitality sector—will have been for nothing.
I agree with the strategic framework, and I believe that it is the right mechanism for the present situation, as I said last week. I can see that the Presiding Officer is telling me to wind up. Businesses need that stability. I welcome the debate. I also welcome the fact that the Governments have been working together, but if the UK Government does not want to do more, it should give this Parliament the funds and the powers to do so.
It is funny how winding up stretches to half a minute. “Wind up” means wind up on the spot.
I call Murdo Fraser. I know that he will do that.17:06
I will do what I am told.
We shall see.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this debate on support for Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector, the importance of which cannot be overstated. The sector is particularly important in rural parts of the country, including areas such as Perth and Kinross and Fife, which I represent. Tourism is the largest employer in Scotland overall, but the impact is much greater in rural communities.
The sector has had a rollercoaster ride over the past year. The initial restrictions in the spring caused a crisis in the sector, which was followed by hope in the summer, when restrictions were eased and many people took holidays at home rather than travelling abroad. There was a boom in tourism in many parts of the country, which was boosted by schemes such as Rishi Sunak’s eat out to help out scheme. Now, however, new restrictions are being introduced, and, in the past few weeks, I have heard too many deeply depressing stories of bookings being cancelled as a result of the introduction of new travel restrictions, and of individuals who have spent their lives building up a business who now fear for the future. Just yesterday, it was announced that Perth and Kinross and Fife will move from tier 2 to tier 3, which will involve the placing of new restrictions on travel and hospitality, thereby making an already serious situation even more difficult.
This is where the Scottish Government needs to step in. It needs to use the substantial resources that have been put at its disposal to provide more direct support for hospitality. I make it clear to the Scottish Government and to Scottish National Party back benchers that, at the start of last month, the additional funding from the UK Government to the Scottish Government was a guaranteed £6.5 billion. Since then, just over the past few weeks, that figure has gone up and an additional £1.7 billion of funding has been provided. According to what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance told the chamber just a few hours ago, that money has not been allocated. That means that hundreds of millions of pounds of money that is available to help the sector is sitting unallocated in the Scottish Government’s bank account. The Government needs to stop sitting on that money and start paying out to those in need, otherwise a health crisis will become a jobs catastrophe.
I want to highlight two specific sectors that need assistance. The first is the pubs sector, which Colin Smyth referred to. There are many pubs in the area that I represent that do not have outside space and do not serve food. Therefore, in effect, they had to close a few weeks ago, when restrictions were brought in. Despite that, they were able to access only precisely one half of the grant support that was available to those in the central belt—they could access £2,155, compared with the £4,310 that was available for pubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Scottish Government needs to address that issue and ensure that there is a level playing field.
The second sector that has been hard hit and has received very little support is the one that involves businesses in the wedding industry. Wedding venues have seen virtually their entire business for the year disappear. I have heard of weddings that were booked for the spring of this year, cancelled and rebooked for the autumn, then cancelled and rebooked again for spring 2021, and brides are now being contacted by venues and told that those dates cannot be guaranteed. It is a disaster for wedding venues, which are having to survive on zero income, with no certainty for the future and no ability to take forward bookings or deposits.
The cancellation of weddings has a wider, knock-on impact on all sorts of other businesses, such as taxi businesses, wedding dress suppliers, florists and those who are involved in marquee and catering hire. Gordon’s Cater Hire in Blairgowrie wrote to me this week raising concerns about the lack of a clear route out of the restrictions and the fact that the sector has not had specific support when it has been made available to others. Already, one company in the sector has been forced into liquidation this week, and there is a fear that others will follow unless more can be done to assist.
The Scottish Government has more money at its disposal and it needs to start using that money to support businesses that are on the brink of collapse. It needs to step up and start delivering.17:10
As everyone has recognised, the experience of lockdown and the pandemic restrictions have been particularly difficult for hospitality and tourism businesses. It has been a difficult year, although many got support packages that enabled them to survive through to July, when a short season started and gave the opportunity to create some income. Most businesses then spent hundreds of pounds on screens, sanitisers and signage and employed additional staff while reducing their capacity.
Tourism businesses, from self-catering to visitor attractions, invested to change the way that they operate and reduce the risk to visitors. Very little evidence has been provided that hospitality or tourism have been responsible for an increase in cases, and where that was seen to be the case in Aberdeen, there is a strong argument that it was due to the behaviour of individuals rather than the establishment. There is an argument that any irresponsible traders should be closed rather than the whole sector, the vast majority of which has provided safe environments for people, with businesses incurring expense at a very difficult time.
I will mention briefly the role of historical and cultural tourism. There has been a significant overall package for culture, but with few signs of reopening and with tiers introducing further restrictions for cultural tourism, the viability of our museums sector, which is the second-biggest driver for tourism visitors to Scotland, is at risk. The support packages have been welcomed, but they have been oversubscribed. The cultural sector needs to see a share of the additional business support that is coming to Scotland, in recognition of the pressures that the sector will face in the coming months.
Since 9 October, when the circuit breaker was announced, and with the subsequent introduction of the tier framework, the sector has faced a very difficult time. The delay in announcing the coronavirus restrictions fund and the extremely short timescale for businesses to close did not fully acknowledge the impact on the sector.
When the Welsh Government introduced a firebreak, it announced £300 million of business support, with £5,000 supports for hospitality businesses with rateable values below £51,000. I accept that it can be difficult to compare different approaches, but the support for equivalent businesses in Scotland was £2,875, and it is now either £2,000 or £3,000. That is still £2,000 less than the equivalent support that is being offered in Wales.
Hospitality businesses in tier 2 are not forced to close by law, but the measures that are in place so suppress them that they are in effect unable to operate. For those that do not have to close, the business restrictions grant is discretionary, and it is a lower level of support. There are businesses that are excluded from any support, and I call on the Scottish Government to provide local authorities with flexibility to provide support where it is needed.
This week, I received representations from a catering hire business that has received no support and is not being classed as a hospitality business, and from a recording studio and rehearsal rooms that is not able to access the business restrictions support even though it is virtually closed due to the household number restrictions. It is now clear that wholesale businesses, which qualified for the coronavirus restrictions hardship fund, are excluded from the new fund.
For those businesses that receive support, the levels risk being inadequate to compensate for closure or reduced business, and they risk permanent closures and job losses.
I know that the cabinet secretary regularly meets representatives of the hospitality and tourism sector, but they are too often reporting a lack of understanding of the impact of decisions. Some decisions appear to be arbitrary, such as the on-going ban on background music, and some show a lack of understanding of how the sector is structured. For example, the cap on the number of bars that can receive support diminishes the support that larger operators receive, although those operators are often the large employers. The restricted sale of alcohol presents significant difficulties for the profitability of hospitality, and some people argue that it is self-defeating and has led to an increase in house parties.
I visited a food bank in Fife last week, which reported an increase in referrals as people in the hospitality sector are made redundant. The extended furlough scheme came too late.
Hospitality jobs are often insecure, and workers are too easily regarded as dispensable. I support Unite the union’s tourism and hospitality rescue plan and I welcome members’ comments on it. The hospitality and tourism sector, which gives so much to Scotland, is facing a crisis, which requires a greater Government response.
We do not have much time, members; four-minute speeches, please.17:15
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I agree with a number of things in Labour’s motion. Labour is right to describe the balance that we all face if we want to protect people from Covid but not damage the economy. It seems to be like steering a ship in a storm through rocks: if we go too far one way, we hit the rocks of increased infections, swamped hospitals and potentially more deaths; if we go too far the other way, jobs and entire businesses could be lost.
I also agree that we should work with the trade unions, with the primary aim of protecting jobs. Terms and conditions should be maintained, too, although I fear that some reduction in hours is almost inevitable in some organisations. We should not lose sight of the need to improve terms and conditions, especially for the poorest paid and the people with the worst terms and conditions.
It is worth remembering that although some businesses, especially in tourism and hospitality, have been seriously affected by the pandemic, others have done relatively well and should not be using Covid as an excuse to push down their staff costs. Online suppliers, for example, are seeing an upturn in profit and have a chance to treat their workers better than before.
I have problems with some parts of the Labour motion. The suggestion that
“no hospitality or tourism business faces closure”
is unrealistic, sadly. We absolutely should seek to minimise closures, but I fear that some businesses will not survive the pandemic. The suggestion that there should be no job losses is also—sadly—unrealistic. Some jobs have already gone. However, I agree that we should seek to minimise job losses.
The next problem that I have with the motion is the call for
“the Scottish Government to provide additional support”.
I do not believe that the Scottish Government is sitting on a pot of available, uncommitted money. [Interruption.] No one is asking to intervene, although Conservative members are shouting.
Will the member give way?
I will be happy to give way to Murdo Fraser.
I am grateful to Mr Mason. It is clear that he was not in the chamber during finance questions earlier this afternoon, or he would have heard my question about that money to the finance secretary, Kate Forbes. She confirmed that the money is unallocated in the Scottish budget. It is sitting there, waiting to be spent.
Murdo Fraser plays with words, to some extent. [Interruption.] I accept that some of the money has not yet been spent, but someone has to pay for ScotRail over the next three or four months, someone has to compensate for the lack of tax coming in, someone has to look at whether local government needs more money—[Interruption.] I will not take a second intervention. The Conservatives are being disingenuous when they suggest that there is extra money sitting around.
Of course, the UK Government does not have extra money sitting around, either. It just borrows more and more and more. We can continue with increased borrowing in the short term, but in the long term we cannot continue borrowing at this level.
Apart from anything else, it is totally unfair to expect our children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces in future, when we are not contributing what we can afford today. Some individuals and some organisations have done fine during the pandemic and restrictions so far. Many of us have not seen a fall in our wages and salaries. Many of us have saved money because we could not go out for meals. Many people have saved money because they have not been commuting or paying for childcare, holidays and so on. There is room at least to consider raising taxes, as the Scottish Human Rights Commission suggested at the Finance and Constitution Committee today.
We need to look after as many workers and people in the hospitality sector as we can, but we also need to be hard headed and realistic—not something that Labour does well—and consider, not least, where the resources will come from to build the fairer society that we all want.17:19
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Last week, the South of Scotland Destination Alliance conducted a flash survey of the sector on the impact of the new tier system and the lockdown in England. The results are stark: 90 to 100 per cent of bookings are cancelled, and there is an estimated loss of over £1 million. Some £500,000 of that is directly due to our new Scottish tiers.
From hotels and restaurants to bingo halls and visitor attractions, time and money have been invested in making them Covid safe. That has meant reducing footfall and adjusting to new systems. However, redundancies are mounting up as businesses in the sector close their doors permanently or reduce their staff in an effort to survive.
Confusion is setting in. The new system of funding for businesses has yet to be announced, and that leaves no clear understanding of what support is now available, despite the UK Government’s making available an extra £1.7 billion to the Scottish Government.
Three weeks ago, the manager of Cringletie hotel, which is near Peebles, and other prominent hoteliers signed a letter to Nicola Sturgeon that called for changes to restrictions to protect jobs. The requests in that letter were ignored. As a result, Cringletie hotel has been forced to close its doors until at least Christmas. As the manager stated,
“there is not much point in staying open if we can’t welcome any guests.”
The Bay Waverley Castle hotel, which is a coach tour hotel that brings thousands of tourists from across Europe to Melrose every year, shut for good in the summer. For decades, visitors to that hotel have boosted the local Borders economy. Staff have lost their jobs; some have even lost their homes.
The Crieff Hydro group, which owns the Peebles Hydro, was faced with no other option than to let more than a quarter of its workforce go. That was some several hundred jobs in total.
Those closures and many others mean that laundries, food suppliers and ground maintenance businesses are also impacted. Companies such as Belhaven Trout Company have been refused support, but they form a key part of the tourism supply chain. For every hospitality and tourist venue that closes its doors, a supply chain of jobs is hit. Such businesses are essential for the hospitality and tourism sector’s recovery in Scotland, and we cannot afford to drive them out of business.
To put things in context, in 2018, there were 421,000 domestic and international overnight visits just to the Borders. That was a significant growth on the previous year, and it resulted in revenue of around £80 million. Eating out was the second most popular activity for those on domestic day trips. That was probably because the most popular activity was taking a long walk.
Let us be clear: the furlough scheme has been essential to survival during lockdown, but surely members can understand that the fixed costs of any business still accrue even when revenue disappears. Furlough alone is not a panacea.
The summer season has come and gone, Christmas is all but cancelled, and few businesses have any reserves left. If we are serious about protecting the hospitality and tourism sector, we need to let it operate. We need clear guidance that is not contradictory, and we need to allow residents to eat out locally in Covid-safe restaurants and enjoy a glass of wine. We need supply chains to be protected and supported when they have nobody to deliver to, and we need a proper testing system in our airports so that Scottish hotels and venues can welcome back overseas visitors—particularly those from Europe, who are our biggest customers. Above all, we need a Scottish Government that listens and engages with the sector.
The sector needs action, and it is not the UK Government that it is waiting for. Our colleagues at Westminster have made good on their promises of furlough and support. Now it is time for the SNP to step up as well.
I call Shona Robison, before we move to the closing speeches. Ms Robison, I think that you might need to flip your camera to the other direction.17:24
My apologies, Presiding Officer.
We are getting a nice picture of the vase on your table.
Apologies. I have done that so many times.
First, I thank all the businesses across Dundee for the incredible effort that they have made and are still making to suppress Covid in what are unquestionably very trying times. I hope that, through their effort and that of everyone in Dundee, we will see infection rates falling and will be able to lessen restrictions in the near future—something that is vital for our local businesses.
Help and advice are also vital for businesses at this time, and local authorities have, from what I have seen, been doing a very effective job to ensure that businesses can access the latest help and advice. Dundee City Council has a Covid-19 business support summary, which is updated when new funding or help becomes available. Clear communication such as that is essential to help businesses to plan clearly and to access the support that they need. Although the announcement that the UK Government’s retention scheme has been extended to the end of March is very welcome, the way in which it was communicated was not good, and many local businesses have told me that they found it difficult to get information. We need that to improve. Similarly, the UK Government’s business interruption loan scheme was also extended to the end of January next year, which again was welcome, but the communication could have been better.
As it set out in its strategic framework in response to the most recent restrictions, the Scottish Government has provided additional grants for businesses that were forced to close and hardship grants for those that remain open but are impacted by restrictions, which will cover every four weeks of restrictions. The motion also mentions the issue of eligibility and access for businesses to the Covid-19 restrictions fund on hardship grounds. Like many members, I have received a fair few inquiries from business owners in my constituency who are looking for guidance and clarity on the support that is available.
Last week, I asked the cabinet secretary what discussions the Scottish Government had had with local authorities and banks about the eligibility criteria for the Covid-19 restrictions fund, particularly in relation to the criterion that requires those who apply to have a business bank account to pay funds into if the application is successful. We know that, because of some of the delays, banks were not able to open accounts for those who did not have them. I was encouraged by the fact that the cabinet secretary acknowledged that the Government was aware of the issue and that it is working to address those concerns. Is the cabinet secretary able to give any update on the issue that would be helpful to those in my constituency who are affected?
Presiding Officer, I am very conscious of the time, so I will leave it there. I am in touch with local businesses in my constituency and know the difficulties that they are experiencing. We should come together to support them in any way that we can. I am pleased to support the Scottish Government’s amendment.
I thank Ms Robison for bringing her remarks to a close early. We move to the closing speeches.17:28
We have heard today of the degree to which the hospitality and tourism sectors and their supply chains have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, as well as individual stories of businesses brought to their knees throughout the crisis. Interventions such as the UK Government’s furlough scheme and its extension until the end of March, combined with sector-specific action such as the reduction in VAT, have clearly provided a lifeline. However, despite the size of the interventions to date, the hospitality and tourism sectors are at breaking point, and, as we move into the winter and more and more areas of Scotland move into tighter restrictions, there is no end in sight.
The first issue that we heard about today, which was highlighted by Richard Leonard, is that the SNP is not listening to businesses; therefore, there is a disconnect between the SNP Government’s interventions and the needs of the hospitality and tourism sectors. That is why we have repeatedly called for businesses to be at the heart of the decision-making process—[Interruption.] I have to make progress, as I have only four minutes. That is why we continue to propose a coronavirus job advisory council to ensure that businesses are fully consulted. That point is reflected in Oliver Mundell’s amendment.
The second issue, which was outlined by Murdo Fraser, is that the SNP Government has failed to act with urgency to support the hospitality and tourism sectors throughout the crisis. Too often, its interventions have taken too long to get to businesses in need, and, too often, the Government has had to change the criteria for support due to a backlash from business. That lack of urgency is symptomatic of its lack of engagement with businesses.
The third issue, which was mentioned by Oliver Mundell, Willie Rennie and Michelle Ballantyne, is that the Scottish Government must do more for the hospitality and tourism sectors and their supply chains. The recent £40 million package of support for the hospitality sector was welcome, but the sector has decried it as being not nearly enough. Some businesses have received no support at all. For example, travel agents, who have worked continually since March to help their customers to obtain refunds—often out of their own pockets—are receiving no support.
The food and drink wholesale sector, which services 5,000 convenience stores and 38,000 hospitality and tourism businesses as well as care homes and the public sector, is another example. Its turnover is at a meagre 30 per cent, stock is being discarded and redundancies have kicked in. Last week, the First Minister, in her response to my colleague Brian Whittle, assured wholesalers that they would get the financial support that they need, but it seems that they have been left out of the newly launched strategic framework business fund. I hope that the cabinet secretary will address that point in his closing speech, as those businesses desperately need a specific support package in order to save jobs.
The SNP Government is carrying a £500 million underspend from its recent autumn budget revision, which is in addition to the £1.7 billion injection from the UK Government that it has received in the past six weeks. The SNP has at its disposal the means to provide additional, sector-specific support to the tourism and hospitality sectors and their supply chains. That is why we will support Labour’s motion.
I urge the SNP to constructively take on board the points that have been raised today and to act faster, go further and listen closely to those business that are being deeply impacted by this crisis.17:32
In the limited time available, I will not be able to cover every point that has been raised over the course of the debate. However, let me say at the outset— because there seems to be a suggestion that the Government does not recognise this fact—that we recognise the importance of the tourism and hospitality sector to this country. Not only is it an important economic anchor in many parts of the country; it is an important part of the fabric and of the story of Scotland.
We also recognise that the current situation is hugely challenging for businesses across the board but for tourism and hospitality in particular. We have sought to respond to that, and I reject the suggestion that we have not. Right from the outset of the pandemic, we have sought to work hand in hand with tourism and hospitality through—
Will the minister give way?
No. Ordinarily I would, but I will not be taking any interventions because of the limited time that I have.
We have sought to work with the sector through the Scottish tourism emergency response group and the tourism recovery task force, whose membership is drawn from across the sector. I do not think that Patrick Harvie characterised the membership of that group fairly. Of course it contains representatives of employers, but it also contains representatives of the workforce through Prospect and Unite. It contains representation from local government and from public sector agencies as well. They all come together with the singular focus of ensuring that we sustain tourism and hospitality in Scotland.
Having mentioned Unite, I will mention in passing the Unite hospitality and tourism rescue plan. It was interesting that Richard Leonard mentioned the plan, but we see when we turn our attention to the motion that he laid before Parliament that it is not mentioned there. The amendment that we laid before Parliament does mention the plan and calls on the Government to meet the UK Government to discuss it.—[Interruption.]
I hear Mr Smyth saying that we do not need to call on ourselves to meet the unions. That is quite correct, but I do not need to be told that, as I meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress and its affiliates every week, and unions have been integral to informing the sectoral guidance that we have pulled together. However, today there is a chance for this Parliament to say to the UK Government that it should come to the table, too, and I regret that Parliament looks set to turn its face against doing precisely that.
I also want to talk about the tourism recovery task force, which published its recommendations in a report on 23 October. It is very much designed to ensure that we mitigate the impact of the virus and protect jobs but also ensure the long-term position of tourism and hospitality. I want to draw Parliament’s attention to one recommendation in the report, which is, again, reflected in our amendment. The report calls for an extension of the jobs retention scheme. I recognise and agree with the point that that alone will not sustain any sector but, of course, it has been a vital part of sustaining employment and, again, it is mentioned in the Unite recovery plan, too.
Today, Parliament has a chance to restate its position that the furlough scheme should be extended to save the 61,000 jobs that could be saved in the first half of next year if it is extended until the end of June. Again, I regret the fact that Parliament seems to be setting its face against doing that.
Lastly, I will focus on the Tory amendment. Frankly, it is unclear what is being sought. If the suggestion is that we are not engaging with businesses, I assure the Conservatives that that is not the case. Since the end of the summer recess alone, ministers have met business organisations more than 160 times. That does not include individual businesses that we meet on a daily basis—if any member wants the details of those meetings, we will be happy to provide them. Frankly, the idea that we are not engaging with business does not hold up, either.
This has been a short debate, but it has given us a chance to reflect the challenges before the sector and to reflect on what we have done, while recognising that there is more to be done. I assure the chamber that we will get on with the task at hand and will continue to support tourism and hospitality in Scotland not only to survive this current pandemic but to thrive and survive long into the future.17:37
The hospitality and tourism industry is on its knees. As Richard Leonard said, we have had lockdown and travel restrictions, then eat out to help out, localised restrictions, confusion over what was a cafe, announcements made with little notice, and now we have a five-tier framework.
I will start by thanking the cabinet secretary, although it will probably embarrass him. I am grateful to him for his regular engagement with hospitality businesses in my area, but I am just not sure that his understanding of the challenges are shared by his colleagues. For the record, we would have supported the Green amendment and, indeed, the SNP amendment, had they not removed the need for a review of the grants programme that the Scottish Government runs.
We are in favour of extending furlough and we are 100 per cent supportive of the Unite hospitality and tourism rescue plan. However, we want to get beyond warm words and simply blaming somebody else and saying that it is their problem. We need to do something here and now.
The cabinet secretary knows that there are problems with the existing grants. I will give the chamber some examples. The hotel support scheme of £14 million was welcome, but only 30 per cent of applicants got an award. It was vastly oversubscribed, and that unmet need remains. Hoteliers tell me that they are effectively closed but, because they have not been forced to close, they do not qualify for some grants. The coronavirus restriction funds and the hardship fund that has now been replaced by the strategic framework business fund are far too narrow in their criteria. Businesses without bank accounts are automatically rejected; bed-and-breakfast establishments in Scotland are not allowed any assistance from those grants, but those in England are allowed to access grants; supply chain companies are denied assistance unless they provide perishable goods, and it appears that wholesalers are left out of the new framework fund; and suppliers of cleaning and other catering products are denied any assistance, even though they provide important services and jobs in an industry that is all but closed. Restaurateurs say that the issue is not just about chefs and waiting staff. They are desperately worried that the current situation will destroy suppliers that help make Scotland a land of food and drink.
Restaurateurs also ask me for the evidence that supports the difference in restrictions. Why 6 pm closing in tier 3, but 8 pm in tier 2? Why no alcohol with food, when that is an important part of a restaurant’s viability? Further, if there is to be no alcohol, why can restaurants not stay open later?
Opening from 6 am is of relatively little use; having last orders at 4.30 pm means that it is essentially just a lunch time trade. Where is the evidence of transmission in restaurants? Will the Government publish it to help their understanding? Hospitality settings are safe places. They address all the requirements to ensure the safety and confidence of their customers and staff.
Businesses in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park tell me that their normal markets have disappeared due to the travel restrictions. Short breaks have evaporated. They are effectively in lockdown. They tell me that the extension of furlough was welcome, but for some it came just too late; they had already started the painful exercise of making long-serving staff redundant. I hope that the retrospective arrangements mean that some staff can be re-employed and furloughed. In the meantime, they face a long hard winter with substantial overheads and no income streams. They will struggle to survive without additional financial support over the next five months. Some have already closed their doors for good with the loss of thousands of jobs.
To give hospitality and tourism a chance, the Scottish Government must use the additional resources that it has from the UK Government—some £1 billion that is not yet allocated—to provide hospitality and tourism businesses with urgent financial assistance. It should start by having an urgent review of all financial support for the sector, it should expand the hotel support scheme, which was inadequate and oversubscribed, and it should extend the criteria in the new strategic framework business fund so that hotels, B and Bs, restaurants, supply chain companies, charitable enterprises and those without business bank accounts can benefit.
The cabinet secretary is smiling. He knows that he needs to do all that, to ensure that any scheme is open to businesses of different sizes as part of a tourism and hospitality strategy and to support the Unite hospitality and tourism rescue plan. He should get hospitality and tourism businesses around the table. He will get better solutions if he listens to them and understands the challenges that they face. That is what they want to happen.
We all want to defeat the virus, but we also need to sustain our economy. Hospitality and tourism businesses are on the brink of collapse with the loss of thousands of jobs. They need our support right now. The Scottish Government has the money to provide that. It needs to get on with the job before it is far too late.