Tourism (Scottish Borders and Midlothian Councils)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2021.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

6. I know that that was directed at me. [Laughter.] You kept putting it off and I kept putting it on, but there we go. Now I know why.

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with Scottish Borders and Midlothian councils concerning the impacts on tourism in their areas as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5O-05103)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am somewhat reluctant to interrupt that exchange.

VisitScotland engages regularly with local authorities and has recently met with Midlothian Council to discuss the Covid response and recovery. It also engages with Scottish Borders Council weekly.

We engage through our enterprise agencies, along with VisitScotland, to continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on the sector. The data will inform the five-year investment plan that is being developed as part of our response to the tourism recovery task force recommendations.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

As the cabinet secretary is aware, my constituency of Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale covers both local authority areas and has many outdoor tourist attractions. For example, we have horse riding schools, mountain biking and gardens such as Dawyck botanic garden and Kailzie Gardens—all closed. Will the cabinet secretary consider early opening of such outdoor attractions, which are relatively safe?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Yes, of course we are considering all those matters very carefully. We are aware of the value of participating in outdoor activity, including exercise, and that consideration is obviously relevant to the decisions that have to be taken by the Cabinet overall. Christine Grahame has made a very good point, as well as delivering a brief gazetteer and almanac of the attractions in her constituency.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

The largest market for tourism businesses in the Borders and Midlothian is the rest of the United Kingdom, especially the north of England. In the past year, there have been more stringent travel restrictions between Scotland and England than between the different parts of Scotland. If the Government continues that approach as we ease out of lockdown, what additional support will it provide to businesses in the south of Scotland that, by definition, are more adversely affected by those restrictions?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We try to treat all businesses with parity of esteem and to be consistent in providing lifeline support. That has been, I think, the correct principle to apply throughout. Colin Smyth has made a very fair point that businesses in the Borders area, and in Dumfries and Galloway, have a particular reliance on the market of visitors who come from England. That is absolutely understood. In fact, I discussed the issue this morning in a call with representatives of the Scottish weddings sector—which is, of course, concentrated in Gretna—including Alasdair Houston, who made those points very crisply and effectively.

We are acutely aware of the importance of the issue. We all wish to see a reopening of the market and to welcome again our good friends from England—our nearest neighbours—to continue to enjoy Scottish hospitality and custom, just as soon as we can safely do so.