It is always a great pleasure to follow my good friend, Grahame Morris.
We have all become accustomed to using the word “unprecedented” at an unprecedented rate. There has been an unprecedented Government response to genuinely unprecedented issues, but in these sectors, as well as the general case that needs to be made for our economy and society, there is a further case. Many of these organisations and activities have not just been impacted by coronavirus; they have been expressly forbidden from operating. For others, the fixed capacity nature of what they do means that they are neither able to continue, nor to remodel their business to operate with social distancing.
As a number of colleagues have said, we recognise that the value of these activities, arts and sports goes far beyond the economic. They are part of the joy of being alive—part of what makes our civilisation and gives us shared experiences. For many of them, if they go, they are gone forever; these are not sectors where some organisations may go, only to be replaced by others.
I welcome the Government’s support, including the sector-specific support such as “eat out to help out”, the temporary VAT reductions and the culture recovery fund. I also want to mention what local councils have been doing. In my council area, support has been given to the likes of Grayshott Concerts, the Phoenix theatre and Petersfield rugby club, but more is needed. I commend to Ministers the recent report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I know they have just responded to—but having responded to it does not preclude them from further referring to it for inspiration.
In the very brief time I have left, I want to talk about hospitality and tourism, which, as it happens, was my career before coming to this House. The sector is important to my constituency because of attractions such as Jane Austen’s house, Gilbert White’s house and the Watercress line heritage railway, as well as being at the gateway to the South Downs. The sector is also important to the country. It may surprise many people to hear that travel and tourism last year contributed more to UK GDP than it did to French GDP or Spanish GDP, and that this was the only European country in the top 10 for employment growth in travel and tourism in the five years coming up to this crisis, which has now hammered that growth. Although focus is rightly on the current crisis, we need to carry on focusing and building for the future, including by pressing on with the sector deal, focusing on skills and ensuring that the T-levels development carries on at pace.
I welcome the formation of UKHospitality as a strong voice for the sector. We now have to get the destination management and marketing organisations right; they are going to need a sustainable method of operating and being financed, which should start with central Government funding, but will have to move to a self-sustaining mechanism thereafter. We are also going to need national level marketing for our inbound tourism to give investors confidence. I welcome the drive for more hotel rooms, which I hope the Government will reaffirm. I also welcome the fact that there is a focus outside London, but we need to recognise that London is key to UK tourism. If it turns out that office accommodation is less in demand in the future, I would love it to be made as easy as possible to convert office space into hotel rooms.
Finally—I have totally run out of time—if there was one year to test out the staggering of school holidays to extend the season, it is 2021. It could be done for a single year on a pilot basis to see whether the practical difficulties and objections can be overcome.