It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Steve Brine. Without the Government’s support for tourism and hospitality, the economies of constituencies such as mine would have been hit harder than we ever imagined. The temporary 5% VAT rate supporting tourism and hospitality and leisure helped to keep staff on the payroll, beer, wine and, of course, cider flowing, and delicious meals sizzling and, crucially, gave the country a welcome dose of normality as they ventured out for the first time in months.
I recently spoke in a debate about tourism secured by my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby. Members from across the House called for the VAT cut to stay in place to support the industry through the tough winter months, and the Secretary of State heard our call. The tourism Minister, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, responded to the debate and made it clear that he understood the need for the measure to continue. A few weeks later, the Chancellor announced that the measure would stay in place until the end of March. This is a welcome move from a listening Government.
It is not just the businesses that we can see that have struggled through the pandemic. Local radio played a crucial role throughout the lockdown, keeping people company and letting listeners know about community support schemes and local services. DCMS responded with support for the community radio sector, providing financial help to help ensure the on-air lights stayed bright. Sadly, the loss of advertising revenue hit some smaller commercial radio stations harder than most, and Devon will lose one of its two independent local radio stations by the end of the year.
One of the major fixtures of any proper local radio station is hearing the results of sporting fixtures across the area. I recently visited Exmouth Town football club to meet the volunteers who put their heart and soul into their local club. They have worked tirelessly to ensure the club is safe for supporters and players, and I am pleased that the Premier League gave the club £4,000 to support those efforts. Sidmouth Town will also receive £2,000 to help the Vikings continue their battle on their pitch and across the south-west. However, local rugby is also in need. Sport England’s community emergency fund gave Topsham rugby club £9,000—a big boost for a club that punches well above its weight. However, further support is needed to secure a future for Devon sport—and sooner rather than later.
I am proud to have the mighty, and previously profitable, Exeter Chiefs based in my constituency. Sadly, the Chiefs are currently losing around £1 million a month because games are being played behind closed doors. They employ 200 staff and bring joy to thousands across the city and the south-west, and much further afield. The losses are hitting the club hard and they will need a helping hand over the coming months. I urge DCMS and the Treasury to draw up packages of support to help the Chiefs and many professional rugby union clubs survive the winter.
If we really want to achieve our goal of improving the health of our nation, what sort of message would the closure of sports clubs across the country send fans, supporters and future sporting stars? We must act now or it is game over.