Leaving the EU: Tourism and the Creative Industries — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Media) 3:27 pm, 17th April 2018

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I thank Christine Jardine for securing this important debate. As she said, tourism and the creative industries play a hugely significant part in the UK and Scottish economies. She is right to point out that Brexit could have hugely damaging consequences for both those sectors. It is incumbent on the UK Government to ensure that tourism and our creative industries are not damaged by Brexit.

My hon. Friend Pete Wishart, who made an excellent speech, hit the nail on the head when he said the creative industries are like no other. They are fired by imagination, talent and invention, and they exist to be appreciated, enjoyed and transferred across audiences, without regard to frontiers or borders. I fear that he was right when he said that leaving the European Union will be an absolute disaster for our creative and tourism industries. As has been said often in the debate, my hon. Friend speaks not just from a wealth of political experience but as someone who enjoyed a highly successful career as a musician in two of Scotland’s finest bands—Runrig and Big Country—although his credentials are perhaps now in question as he is a member of MP4, along with Kevin Brennan. I suggest to both of them that they may want to get their European tour in sooner rather than later.

My hon. Friend and I, and indeed all SNP Members, desperately want Scotland to remain the inclusive, tolerant, outward-looking country that it is, and we are firmly of the opinion that that can best be done by protecting and maintaining our existing relationship with Europe. The free movement of people within the European Union—we have heard much about that today, including in the good contribution from Chris Evans—enriches the cultural life of everyone, not just in Scotland or the United Kingdom, but across the European continent. Anything that threatens that is, in my opinion, to be deeply regretted and is a backward and retrograde step.

Scotland’s creative community has benefited enormously from four decades of support and collaboration with our European partners. As well as culturally enriching us and bringing the welcome free movement of people, it has brought access to the European funding from which Scottish cultural and creative organisations have benefited over the past 40 years. It is entirely understandable that fear of losing access to that enormous pool of talent and vital pool of EU funding is causing huge concern in the creative sector. With restrictions likely to be placed on the free movement of people, including artists and performers, when asked before the EU referendum in 2016, 96% of members of the Creative Industries Federation stated that their preference was for the UK to remain in the European Union.

The latest figures released by the federation show that the concerns felt two years ago about Brexit are as strong as ever. In the most recent report, published in January, 80% of respondents said that they were not confident that Britain will maintain its leading global reputation post-Brexit—indeed, 21% said that a “no deal” outcome would make them consider moving part or all of their business out of the UK, and 40% said that a “no deal” outcome would be harmful to their ability to export. Grave concerns about the ability to continue to attract the best and brightest to work in the UK post-Brexit were laid out at the end of last year, with three quarters of firms surveyed saying that they employed EU nationals. A remarkable two-thirds of those firms believed that they could not currently fill those posts with UK workers. Indeed, almost 60% of companies in the Creative Industries Federation survey said that they were already facing a skills shortage, even with current access to EU workers.

Those findings are not isolated examples of the grave concerns in the industry about Brexit. The significant skills shortages in the UK creative industries was also highlighted in a report by UK Music. As Mrs Hodgson highlighted, when UK Music asked its members what impact the UK leaving the EU would have on them, only 2% thought that Brexit would have a positive impact on their chances of work, whereas 50% feared that leaving the EU would have a negative impact. Such findings are repeated across the sector. Equity, the trade union that represents more than 42,000 performers and creative workers, conducted a survey that showed that 46% of UK bids for European funding are accepted, making the UK second only to Germany. It also showed that the UK receives 24% of all European Research Council grants. The message coming loud and clear from our creative sector is that the UK benefits from being a full member of the European Union. There is consensus across our creative industries that Brexit will be very bad for business, and I urge the Government to listen, engage fully, and act on the well-founded concerns and well-documented reality facing our creative sector as we approach Brexit.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West skilfully and rightly highlighted the link between tourism and the creative industries, and specifically the Edinburgh International Festival which, as she rightly said, is a gateway to the rest of Scotland and the UK, as hundreds of thousands of visitors disperse from Edinburgh to every corner of the country. Along with others, their presence has a massive impact on our hospitality sector. David Duguid spoke about tourism in his constituency, which has 46 miles of coastline. I do not want to get into a debate or argument about whose coastline is bigger, but the coastline of Argyll and Bute is longer than the coastline of France. We know what we are talking about when it comes to having a coastline; we know what it is to have an important tourist industry.

Like much of Scotland, my constituency relies heavily on tourism, not just for the visitor pound, but for employment. We have some of the most breathtaking and unspoiled scenery anywhere in the world, and we are investing heavily in whisky tourism because massive numbers of European visitors come to Argyll and Bute every year to visit our vast range of distilleries. Indeed, whisky tourism is so great, and the whisky industry booming to such an extent, that no fewer than a dozen distilleries have opened across Scotland in the last few years and no fewer than 40 are in various stages of planning and construction, and hoping to come on stream in the next couple of decades. As we speak, tourism is booming. We in Argyll and Bute need those tourists to come, but I fear that Brexit will do nothing to help, and indeed will be hugely detrimental.

Just this week there was another significant investment in whisky tourism. That is welcome, but let us remember that there is hardly an hotel in Scotland that does not rely on the hard work of our EU nationals. Although it is not a patch on Argyll and Bute, Perth and North Perthshire is also a particularly beautiful part of the world, and my hon. Friend will be aware of the contribution made by the tourism industry and our highly valued EU nationals to the economy of his constituency. I commend him on his passionate defence of the digital single market, and I agree that the Prime Minister’s seeming delight at abandoning that vehicle for investment, harmonisation, collaboration and market development was bewildering to anyone who has ever engaged with the creative industries. I share the concerns of Mr Vaizey about leaving the digital single market, and I sincerely hope that his voice will be heard by those on his side of the House.

The UK’s creative and cultural industries have benefited greatly—economically, creatively, and culturally—from being part of the European Union for the past 40 years. Nothing will improve the arrangements that we currently enjoy as a member of the EU, and the Government must redouble their efforts to ensure that this world-class sector is not destroyed by Brexit. It is glaringly obvious that remaining a member of the single market at the very least is the best way to do that, so that this country is still able to attract and keep the creative talent that is vital to allow people in that industry to work, perform and exhibit in this country, free from unnecessary barriers. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation for why leaving the single market could ever be good for the creative industries.