Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:29 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 6:29 pm, 24th March 2021

For about half of the past 12 months, the brilliant hospitality industry in North East Fife has been forced to close its doors. Obviously that has had a profound impact, from the Ship Inn in Elie, to Kingsbarns Distillery, to our many fantastic and historic golf clubs, to wedding venues such as Kinkell Byre, to street food like the Cheesy Toast Shack in St Andrews. There has been support, for which I am grateful, but I have spent much of the past year arguing for the people and businesses who either missed out on support or for whom the support received has been inadequate. My casework team have done a brilliant job in navigating through the often complex support schemes of both the UK and Scottish Governments.

All being well, this will be the last time that I speak on hospitality before the businesses in North East Fife can open their doors again on 26 April. I, for one, cannot wait to finish our door-knocking sessions with an ice cream from Jannetta’s in St Andrews. But it will not all be plain sailing from that point. Social distancing requirements, limits on households and table service will be a reality for all these businesses. Even though in Scotland indoor hospitality is opening on the same day as outdoor, no alcohol can be sold indoors initially, so there is a disadvantage for premises that do not have outdoor seating.

The obstacles go further. Mainland Scotland moves back into level 3, but that will mean travel restrictions preventing anyone from entering or leaving a local authority area. When Fife was in level 3 last year, that presented a real difficulty for many hospitality businesses in the area. Indeed, I have previously spoken in this place about the Peat Inn, which is a Michelin-starred restaurant that attracts most of its business from outwith Fife—tourists who come to stay in bed-and-breakfasts and hotels. Under level 3, it was legally able to open, but business was so limited that it was forced to shut its doors again. The Scottish Government’s approach thus far has been that businesses that can legally open are not eligible for the grant support available to level 4 areas, and that has not changed in intervening months since last autumn as we now enter the spring. It was a real difficulty then and it is still a real difficulty now.

It is hard to justify that lack of support: first, because they are Government restrictions that are hampering business by preventing travel into the kingdom of Fife—as many others have said, the likelihood of seeing overseas visitors this year is fast diminishing—and secondly, because both the UK and Scottish taxpayers have now provided so much support to businesses around the country through the furlough scheme, rates relief, and the small grants administered by local authorities. The whole point of that support has been to get those businesses through what has been, in effect, three winter seasons in a row, as my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael said. Now, thanks to the public’s hard work in following lockdown restrictions, we are in a position where we can begin to recover, so let us not take the support away too early, or all the efforts over the last year will have been wasted. Now is the time to enable our businesses not just to survive but to thrive. Let us put recovery first.