The current situation with Covid-19 is one of the biggest challenges that we have faced in our lifetimes. Preservation of life has been our overriding objective since the start of this crisis; it is that simple. By staying at home and following the physical distancing guidance, the people of Scotland are doing everything that they can to protect our national health service and social care services, and to save lives.
However, the measures that we have taken, and are continuing to take, to deal with this crisis reflect its magnitude. We have had to implement restrictions on liberties that have had a very serious impact on our economy, and our tourism and hospitality sector has been devastated. I understand how difficult this is. Businesses have gone from anticipating another bumper tourism season this summer to seeing their income drop to zero almost overnight.
The Scottish and United Kingdom Governments have moved quickly to try to address the financial challenges that are faced by businesses affected by the current crisis, including those in the tourism and hospitality sector.
The Scottish Government has provided a package of support worth over £2.3 billion, going above and beyond UK Government consequentials. We have provided rates relief and developed grant schemes that are not available elsewhere in the UK, and we have met and listened to businesses to understand where gaps still exist.
Since the middle of March, I have spent much of my time taking part in calls with sectoral organisations and business owners to hear first-hand about the impact that the restrictions are having. Many of the people who have taken part in those calls have suffered the most severe impacts on their lives and their livelihoods.
I commend the work of organisations such as the Scottish Tourism Alliance and UK Hospitality in representing their sectors and providing a vital bridge between the Scottish Government and businesses. We have worked in partnership to ensure that the UK Government understands the pressures on the industry in Scotland. That work is not complete. Kate Forbes and I have written to the chancellor to request a discussion on how we can work together to further support the sector and alleviate some of the pressures on businesses, including through a review of VAT rates.
The UK Government must lead on a financial recovery plan for tourism in the UK with significant funding attached, and we will use those consequentials for the industry in Scotland.
From my numerous discussions with industry over the past weeks and months, I know that what the industry needs now is clarity on when it will be able to reopen and start on the long road back to sustainability and growth.
I fully understand the unique challenges that the uncertainty is creating. Businesses need to know what orders to place and when. They need to have the confidence to take bookings, while understanding the risks inherent in the continued presence of the virus. To take bookings, they need to be able to plan staff rotas and shifts and to restock. They need to be in a position of readiness to go once restrictions are lifted and to avoid any unnecessary delays. Some businesses may also wish to pre-purchase personal protective equipment.
Visitors need time to request annual leave and to make bookings. Notice, preparedness and readiness go hand in hand and are a key part of preparing for recovery.
The Scottish Government understands the exceptional and very challenging circumstances facing our tourism and hospitality sector. It is heavily dependent on seasonality, meaning that the already limited opportunities are narrowing by the day. Many businesses are facing key decisions about their futures, with all the implications for jobs and investment. It is an unenviable position by any measure.
I do not seek to underplay the impact that this crisis is having on all parts of Scotland’s economy, which is profound. However, those facts set the sector apart and that needs to be recognised. We have heard the messages clearly and we are not impervious to the sector’s calls for more clarity. Our responsibility is to balance the exceptional circumstances that the industry faces with the need to continue to take the right steps at the right time to protect life.
Covid-19 has not gone away; it remains a threat. However, I am keen to give additional clarity where possible and to provide an indicative date from which we hope that the sector can begin to operate. That date cannot be definitive. The science and health advice must be in the right place. The virus must have been suppressed, the test and protect system must be used effectively and our route map must be on course.
Given the vital interdependencies between the tourism and hospitality sector and wider sectors of the economy, including public transport, we must make holistic decisions about when to change restrictions. We cannot make changes for any sector in isolation. That is why we must be assured that the epidemic is suppressed to enable the more general opening up of our country that will come with the reopening of tourism and hospitality. In that way everyone—employees, tourists and customers—can be confident that it is safe to make this change.
Statutory reviews of the current restrictions are required on 18 June and 9 July. Those reviews must take place and their outcomes must show the necessary progress in our fight against the virus before tourism can resume. As things stand just now, our hope is that we will be able to give the go-ahead for a reopening of the sector at the review on 9 July. Assuming that that proves possible, some time would then be required for interconnected services such as transport to prepare.
On that basis—and on the clear understanding with the industry that nothing can be absolutely guaranteed at this stage and that we may need to change this date if the evidence requires it—we would encourage tourism and hospitality businesses to prepare, within appropriate safety guidelines, for reopening on 15 July.
For the reasons that I have set out, that timetable is by necessity both provisional and conditional. We very much hope that it can be met and that setting it out now, even with caveats, gives the sector greater clarity and some much-needed ability to plan ahead. I cannot stress enough how important it is that the time until then should be used to implement the changes that are necessary to satisfy regulations and to adapt to a new way of living.
I will say something about that new way of life, because things will not be the same as before. Covid-19 has changed that and safety must come first.
I can therefore also announce that we will soon be publishing guidance for the tourism and hospitality sector that will help businesses make the necessary changes. We have worked closely with the industry in this area and that will provide a key link between Government and the good work done across the sector to prepare guidelines and practical measures for safe reopening.
Things will look and feel different, and that is also a challenge for businesses. Workplaces will need to adapt and innovate to make best use of space and facilities within the guidelines. There will be a key role for the industry in building confidence in communities, which, understandably, may be hesitant to welcome back visitors.
Customers—we, the public—will also need to adapt to new ways of using the services, just as we have had to do throughout the crisis. I have confidence that everyone will, once again, rise to the challenge.
I accept that this is disruptive and difficult, but the measures are essential to ensure that workplaces are safe and compliant; in keeping with our fair work principles, they have been developed in partnership with trade unions and the appropriate regulatory bodies. That will give confidence to employers, employees, customers and the public that Scotland’s tourism and hospitality sector is prepared and ready once again to provide safe, reliable and enjoyable experiences.
I will make one final announcement before I finish. I highlight that I am setting up a Scottish tourism recovery task force to take forward strategic oversight of, and provision of advice on, recovery plans in response to the impact of Covid-19 on Scottish tourism and hospitality.
The task force will be responsible for ensuring that the tourism recovery plan is fully co-ordinated with wider Scottish Government and other recovery plans. It will also take into account wider actions that are being taken by the UK Government and other devolved Administrations, as well as international best practice including that of the European Union.
I will chair the task force along with the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn. I will announce the membership shortly—we are in the process of seeking to finalise that—and will publish a draft work plan for the group, which will include looking at recovery needs for the sector; working with the devolved Administrations and the UK Government on UK-level interventions; developing a domestic visitor marketing campaign; and, crucially, having clear public messaging on the safe recovery of tourism and the economic benefits for our communities. The task force will work closely with the sector, allowing us to identify the key actions that are necessary for a strong and safe recovery.
At the start of March, I was involved in the launch of Scotland’s new tourism strategy, taking us through to 2030. The strategy sought to make Scotland the world leader in 21st century tourism. That should still be our ambition. Scotland has a wealth of assets and a wonderful reputation as a welcoming country. The Covid-19 crisis has been devastating for the industry, but we must look to rebuild the sector and begin welcoming visitors once again.
We recognise that, in order to achieve that, businesses must be ready to go when safe to do so, to avoid any unnecessary delay, which would inflict yet more reputational and financial harm. Today’s additional clarity on when that may happen will help avoid that and assist businesses to be ready to reopen.
Under the guidance of the new tourism task force, and with the incredible dedication and hard work of the thousands who work in tourism and hospitality in the public and private sectors, I believe that we can make a safe and strong recovery.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
I welcome the first Covid-19 statement giving an update for the tourism industry and the launch of the task force. We must restart the engines of our economy while controlling and managing flare-up of the virus. Some parts of the tourism industry are ready to reopen; others are not. Additional clarity is needed to bring everyone on the journey, leaving nobody behind.
Self-caterers have been knocked back time and again by the Scottish National Party Government during the pandemic. There has been a lack of funding for the sector since the start of lockdown and its initial ineligibility in the criteria for support grants was unfair and damaging.
Self-catering units are, undoubtedly, the most appropriate forms of accommodation that could open safely, as the majority of such units have no shared facilities and represent the least risk.
That is evident from the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers survey that was published yesterday. Some 75 per cent of self-caterers say that they could open safely in phase 2 if travel restrictions are eased and robust cleaning guidance is provided.
Some 42 per cent of respondents said that the SNP Government’s support for self-catering has been either poor or very poor. It is concerning that almost half of businesses are either somewhat or very pessimistic about the future. I have two points to raise with the cabinet secretary.
Will the Scottish Government enable certain parts of the tourism economy to open sooner than has been mentioned in today’s statement? Secondly, what evaluation has the Scottish Government made—
Presiding Officer, I was having a little difficulty in making out every word that Ms Hamilton said, which might be because of a problem with the sound system. I therefore apologise if I do not answer all the points that she raised.
I point out that my colleagues and I are working round the clock to provide financial support to businesses. That is intended not to restore lost revenue, which would be impossible, but to provide a bridge to mitigate the hardship that they are suffering and to get them through this period. We are straining every sinew to do that, and we are doing so round the clock. We are determined to do our very best.
I am bound to point out that, in the case of some forms of support, what we are providing is over and above the levels that our colleagues and friends down south have provided. For example, the pivotal enterprise resilience fund—PERF—provides an element of grant support for businesses, including those in tourism and hospitality, with a rateable value of more than £51,000, which does not happen down south. Every single business that has received vital support from that fund—of which there are a great many—has done so because we recognise that they are vital to tourism around the country, especially in rural towns, and that they are important businesses.
Therefore, I absolutely refute the suggestions that the Tories have made. I find it a bit disappointing that, at a time when we are trying to work constructively with the UK Government, that should be the apparent course that the Scottish Conservatives have decided to take.
The sector will welcome today’s announcement of a proposed date for reopening, because it has been hit very hard by this period. I have several questions for the cabinet secretary
When will we get more detail on when the guidance will be published? It is not clear whether the proposal is for a blanket reopening or a phased one that would recognise the existence of different types of risks in different types of accommodation. Further, it is not clear how extensive the relaxation will be. Will it include campsite facilities, and does the reference to hospitality also include bars, restaurants and cafes? Is the Government considering a regional or zonal approach, which might help to restrict the spread of the virus?
The supply chain has also suffered, and I am getting reports that many businesses have been turned down for the PERF support that the cabinet secretary mentioned. When will we know how that money has been awarded and who has benefited from it?
Given that a date for reopening the sector has now been announced, when can people start to book accommodation with confidence, and what security will they have when they do so?
Finally, there is a need for financial support, and I support the calls for the UK Government to step in and support the UK economy. However, will priority be given to tourism and hospitality in the forthcoming Scottish budget in the autumn, which would recognise its importance to the Scottish economy?
The Scottish Government has been working closely with the industry and has also involved the relevant trade unions in order to devise guidance, which we have now completed. We have put that to the relevant health officials and are aiming to publish it on 18 June. That would provide a sufficient period for preparations to be made, such as adapting premises for social distancing, ordering in PPE and instructing staff in the safe operation of their work.
On funding packages, we are working hard with the enterprise agencies to administer the pivotal enterprise, creative and tourism hardship funds. Lots of businesses have already benefited from those, and lots more will benefit yet. That is still work in progress, but once it has been completed we will publish the results, in keeping with what we can make public about individual businesses. I would expect the full details to be published.
In addition, our local authorities have been working hard to administer the rates-based grants scheme. I know that many businesses have also availed themselves of the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme—CBILS—offered by the UK Government. All of that work is in hand.
I think that I have covered several of Ms Baker’s questions, but I will come back to her if I have omitted any.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of tourism’s vital contribution to the economy and the wellbeing of people in my constituency of Stirling. Alyn Smith MP and I have been undertaking a series of discussions with tourism-related businesses. Many of those businesses are deeply anxious and concerned about what the future might hold. In effect, seasonal operators are facing three winters in a row.
Can the cabinet secretary therefore tell me what priority the Scottish Government is giving to the provision of additional assistance and what urgent discussions it has had with the UK Government in that regard? Businesses desperately need to know that further grant assistance will be forthcoming.
I am well aware that Mr Crawford represents a constituency that contains some of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland, including the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park—the park that he shares, in political terms, with Jackie Baillie, from whom I expect we will hear later. Therefore, it is absolutely vital to Mr Crawford and his constituents that we do our best to help those businesses financially.
We have done a great deal and I know that the support has been welcome where it has been received. I hope that it will serve the purpose of providing that bridge across this period. However, it is not yet enough. That is why Kate Forbes wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday outlining the need for consideration of further support.
I believe that that further support must be provided. I do not believe that it is yet possible to specify precisely how that support will lie, but it is well known that many tourism businesses in Scotland, which are dependent on making most of their money between May and October, will need help to get through to next spring. That is an incontrovertible fact. That fact then dictates the level of support that will be required to prevent those businesses from going to the wall and prevent us from losing the benefit of the skills of the chefs, the staff and the workforce involved and ceasing to be the vibrant, successful and attractive nation that so many people in the world enjoy visiting.
Cabinet secretary, the tourism industry will be delighted that a date for reopening has now been given. However, we know that there will be huge challenges for people in travelling to their chosen destinations. Travel on trains and buses is hugely constrained and places are probably less than 15 per cent of what would normally be available.
Even more worrying is travel to the islands, where ferry capacity will be hopelessly inadequate to allow tourists to travel in decent numbers. How can the cabinet secretary reassure the industry that people will be able to safely travel to enjoy a holiday in July?
I am pleased that there is some support from the Conservative Party for the measures that we have announced today and the conditional indicative date of 15 July. I share the member’s concerns that public transport will, of necessity, be constrained because of the requirement to comply with social distancing. The need for that measure is a view that is shared across these islands.
The fact that we have made this announcement today—and that I am working with my colleagues Michael Matheson and Paul Wheelhouse—means that we can use this time to make the necessary practical arrangements to do our very best to meet the challenges that Mr Chapman has described, which are very real challenges. They cannot be magicked away so we must simply work hard with all the relevant bodies, including CalMac Ferries, to do the very best that is possible in a very short space of time. That work will be absolutely critical over the coming days and weeks.
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement. We need to do two things—we need to help businesses and to create demand at the same time. On the latter point, will the cabinet secretary consider formally requesting the UK Government and, if required, the European Commission, to allow a suspension of value added tax for the tourism and hospitality sector for at least a year to facilitate it getting back on its feet?
There is a strong case for a suspension or reduction of VAT. In fact, I raised that with the UK Government just yesterday in one of a series of calls that I have had with Nigel Huddleston, the UK tourism minister. I have to say that he is a very constructive person to deal with on a factual basis, and he understands the damage to tourism. I understand that he has made 15 asks of the chancellor and that he is going to share those asks and the answers with us, or so he said yesterday in our phone call. It will be interesting to see both those documents. I hope that we continue to have an open and constructive dialogue and that, in these exceptional times, we consider VAT reduction, as other countries including Germany and possibly Ireland have done.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that some unspent funds remain from the rates-based grants schemes that he referred to. Will the Government consider allowing councils to retain those unallocated resources from the property grant schemes and use them for a flexible local discretionary grant scheme similar to the scheme that is up and running in local authorities in England? That would allow councils to support businesses that have so far lost out on grants, particularly in the hospitality sector.
As I understand it, it is not yet possible to determine to what extent there will be an underspend of the grant funds, although I hope that that will be clear shortly. However, it is right that money that is intended to provide mitigation of financial hardship for businesses in tourism should be used for that. Whether it is bed and breakfasts, hotels, visitor attractions, coach companies, which provide a vital service, or wholesalers, who provide a vital service to the on sector, all of them should have access to some kind of financial bridge in the current period. Any spare money that is available should be used primarily for those purposes.
Many of my constituents who own caravans on sites or mobile caravans have contacted me to ask whether they can start using them. Those people argue that they would not mix with other households and would adhere to all the Covid-19 health advice. Can the cabinet secretary say when that might be possible?
How can MSPs and the tourism industry support building of confidence in communities so that they are ready to welcome back tourists when the time is right?
That case has been well made by businesses and individual owners of static or fixed-unit caravans on caravan sites for precisely the reasons that the member states. They have a strong case, but the issue is with travelling to and from caravan sites. We have suggested a date of 15 July, because that is when we anticipate that the general travel restrictions can be lifted. Only at that point can accommodation be opened up, whether it is hotels, self-catering accommodation, caravans or B and Bs. We recognise that, for some self-catering accommodation and fixed-unit caravans, it is perhaps easier to comply with social distancing rules than it is for other types of accommodation, but the need for general travel restrictions to be lifted trumps those particular concerns and means that all accommodation providers should aim towards 15 July as the date for opening.
On the second point, there is a need for a marketing campaign. Many members of the public are worried about people coming into their areas, particularly in parts of Scotland that have been perceived as not being affected by the virus. To assuage those fears, it is vital that the Scottish Government has a marketing campaign. That will aim to put those fears to rest, to say that safety is paramount and to explain all the work that we have been doing in respect of the overarching guidance that we aim to publish on 18 June. All that work is being done and it will be published—I hope that it will be effective.
I thank the cabinet secretary for his statement and I welcome the provisional and conditional nature of the progress that has been outlined.
The cabinet secretary will be aware that CalMac Ferries has been operating its essential lifeline timetable with significant restraints, at 17 per cent of passenger capacity and 91 per cent of car deck capacity. A shoulder timetable would take four weeks to turn around in a transition to a full timetable, which we are some way off—[
.] Can the cabinet secretary assure our resident island population that the understandable wish to restart the—[
.]—will not in any way disadvantage those who are relying on the existing essential lifeline timetable service?
I apologise to Mr Finnie, as I did not catch the last sentence.
We can provide that assurance. Obviously, the ferry service is vital for residents, just as it is a vital means for tourists to visit our islands, and we are working very hard to make sure that both groups can be accommodated.
Mike Rumbles has made a very fair point. We have engaged with the self-catering sector, particularly Fiona Campbell, throughout, and the point has been made by many, including by Mr Rumbles now, and he is right. It is in some ways easier to protect, and to comply with the Covid guidance and rules, in a self-catering establishment than in certain hotel accommodation.
But—and this is the “but”—the reason why all accommodation providers will be able to open on 15 July, subject to the science being with us, is that, for people to travel to and from a hotel or self-catering unit from elsewhere in Scotland or the UK, the travel cannot be enabled until that phase of tackling the virus. That reason—lifting the general travel restrictions—governs the timing of the decision that we have made. I recognise that Mr Rumbles has made a fair point that some accommodation providers will find it easier to comply with social distancing than others, but none of them will be entitled to operate and provide accommodation unless they can all comply with it.
I thank the cabinet secretary for our very helpful discussions with tourism and hospitality businesses in my constituency. Sadly, as many as 1,200 permanent jobs and 800 seasonal jobs may be lost in the national park. Will the cabinet secretary ensure that both Governments work together to ensure that we will have a reshaped job retention scheme in place beyond October? Will he also ensure that someone from the Loch Lomond area is on his task force?
I stayed in Loch Lomond for a while, so that might work. [
.] That was not the answer that Jackie Baillie was expecting.
I assure Jackie Baillie that yesterday I raised that point with Nigel Huddleston and suggested that a limited refined partial furlough may be required for many businesses to survive until next spring. He agreed in principle that the problem needs to be looked at. There was support from the Welsh Administration, I think, for that argument.
We will give very careful and due consideration to the membership of the task force, as Jackie Baillie would expect.
Any dates for the resumption of tourism will, on the islands, be dependent not merely on ferry capacity but on the public health advice on whether ferries should be used. My constituents have—to their great credit and also great sacrifice, in many cases—stayed away from the ferry for months. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that their needs will now have to be given consideration when tourism makes its very welcome return.
That consideration will be part of the work that we will do. I am acutely conscious of the importance of the ferries to the islands. We have engaged regularly with the Outer Hebrides tourism organisations, as Dr Allan knows, and with many others on the islands. Having holidayed in his constituency myself most years in the past six years, I can testify to the great experience that one always has there, particularly the ferry journey, which is hugely enjoyable. However, it has to be a service for his constituents as well as for visitors.
Given that tourism accounts for more than 7 per cent of Scottish employment and 5 per cent of our gross domestic product, can the cabinet secretary clarify, for Scottish and other travellers, and travel agents here and abroad, which major tourist sites, attractions and conference centres will be allowed to open on 15 July? What conditions will their opening be subject to if the general reopening date changes?
The fact that we are making the announcement today, 10 June, preparatory to resumption on the indicative date of 15 July, means that there is quite a long lead-in time for us to do that work. That is partly why the First Minister and the Cabinet have agreed the approach that I have set out today, given the exceptional circumstances, in which the tourism sector has basically lost all its revenue.
To prepare, VisitScotland will marshal its resources to make sure that the information to which Gordon Lindhurst refers is disseminated widely. As well as visitor attractions, all accommodation providers, restaurants and pubs will be able to reopen on 15 July. The main element that will be postponed is events—the coming together of people in large, mass gatherings—which will happen in phase 4 and not on 15 July. As Gordon Lindhurst rightly says, we therefore have an opportunity to make clear what the offering will be for people who want to come to Scotland on that date, and we will avail ourselves of the time that we have to ensure that that information is widely disseminated.
My colleague Roseanna Cunningham is looking urgently at the issue of financial support, for which there is a strong case. In England, that case has been accepted. There are strong animal welfare considerations to bear in mind. The Highland Wildlife Park, which I have visited several times with my family, has a wide and attractive collection of different animals, including a very aggressive tiger. We need to think about the animal welfare considerations, as well as the need to reopen.
I stress that our judgment, as part of our cautious approach in Scotland, is that it is not yet right to open all visitor attractions and to have people from all over the country travelling to enjoy them. As I mentioned earlier, that is the predominant reason why reopening cannot happen sooner.
I believe that the lead-in time, the preparation that can now take place and what I hope will be a positive response from my colleague in relation to financial support will provide sufficient assurance to Highland Wildlife Park and other zoological attractions in Scotland for them to continue.
Stuart McMillan has championed the issue for several years, and I will give it due consideration. Recently, I had an excellent exchange with representatives of ports and harbours around the country, and a separate one with representatives of the cruise liner sector, which is another important part of the economy. I assured them that, when it is safe to do so, we will welcome them back to Scotland.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The Parliament is about to debate a very important issue, and I am sure that all parties in the chamber will unite in anti-racism.
At 10 to 3 this afternoon, we were notified of a change in the wording of one of the amendments to the motion; subsequently, it has been changed again.
As I understand it from my reading of the amendment, it is only a technical rather than a substantial change, but I ask for your guidance on the matter. That took place only minutes before the debate was due to take place, and it could potentially have had a big impact on members’ approach and how they would vote.
Thank you. It would have been helpful if I had had a little notice of the member’s point of order, but I understand that it has just happened.
The Presiding Officer made a ruling on the matter. It was a technical change—a manuscript change—and the Presiding Officer took the view that it was acceptable. That is not always the best way to proceed, but it was acceptable in this instance. I hope that that settles the matter.