I agree that the restrictions will continue to have a devastating impact on our hospitality and tourism sectors, but they are, of course, vital in suppressing virus transmission. As our efforts to tackle the virus progress, we will continue to build on our very constructive dialogue with the industry and listen to its concerns as we move towards recovery. Indeed, that was one of the key recommendations from the tourism recovery task force report.
I welcome the long-called-for announcement last December of the Scottish Government’s funding package for the tourism and hospitality industry, which is to include a sorely needed outdoor tourism restart fund. Outdoor and marine tourism businesses along the Firth of Clyde in my West Scotland region desperately need sustained support to recover and rebuild their services, such as for the functioning and renovation of their piers. What progress are the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government looking to make in co-operating with tourism bodies on producing detailed funding criteria and a roll-out plan that will help marine businesses, such as those in my region, to remain viable in the long term, especially given the challenges that they face in an on-going lockdown?
We are working very closely with stakeholders, including the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Sail Scotland. We are working with marine tourism interests; I have met representatives and will continue to do so. To answer the member’s question, we are engaging actively with the marine tourism sector. I absolutely agree that it is an extremely important, growing and varied part of the tourism offering in Scotland, and it is hugely attractive to many throughout the world. I undertake that we will continue that work and do our very best to support the sector through the Covid crisis.
I made it clear that I felt that the furlough should be extended from October, and it was, to April.
I fear that the furlough, as we heard in the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee this morning, does not offer sufficient support to hotels and major employers in particular. I think that the case for extending the VAT relief period is very strong. I will be putting those points to Mr Huddleston in our next meeting, which I believe will be on 28 January.
Marine tourism misses out because boats do not have rateable values. I understand that some funding has been announced, and that is welcome, but it has not yet opened. Discretionary funding that is available to local authorities is also failing to meet those desperate needs. Those businesses cannot wait any longer. They will fail if they do not get funding immediately. What can the cabinet secretary do to give them immediate help, so those marine businesses—
Of course it is absolutely correct to say that many businesses are facing real financial pressure. That is why we have sought to provide support for many sectors, including marine tourism, that face real difficulties. For some areas of activity, such as taxi driving and the coach sector, there have been supports, such as the hotel fund and the pivotal enterprise fund, that I do not think have been replicated in England. We have gone an extra mile for some.
However, I absolutely accept that the speed of dispatch of funds is extremely important. Frankly, my officials and I are working every day and sometimes at night in order to finalise the schemes and work with industry to get the money out to the people who need it. That is the absolute priority.