Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:40 pm on 9th November 2020.

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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) 6:40 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Live events are obviously very important across North East Fife. Although nightclubs are thin on the ground, unlike in Newcastle upon Tyne North, North East Fife is the home of golf, and we look forward to welcoming the Open back to St Andrews in 2022 for its 150th occasion. However, I want to limit my remarks to weddings because, as many Members have already said, I have also been contacted by venues that are a key contributor to the local economy.

Kinkell Byre is a wedding and events venue that has been operating in its old farmsteading as a venue since 2003. It normally holds about 80 events a year, the majority of which are weddings. It is a small business with two full-time staff and three part-time, but it contributes substantially to the local economy because every wedding means revenue for not only Kinkell Byre, but a huge range of local suppliers, from photography and music to catering. It means 100 guests staying in North East Fife for two or three days, each of them spending in other locations on food and accommodation. Samantha from Kinkell Byre told me:

“The coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for us to operate in any capacity. Our revenue has been reduced to virtually zero while costs still need to be paid to keep the business afloat for the upkeep of the old buildings, wages, insurance, marketing and professional services. We have tried to launch new ventures such as farmers’
markets and beer gardens but…have been prevented from going ahead by the local Environmental Health”.

She told me that the Government support so far has been “amazing”, and I recognise that support, too. However, she also says:

“under the current guidelines we cannot operate or generate any revenue and the business will not survive much longer…we have the space and the capacity to do events safely but with larger numbers than the current guidelines permit…The limit should be linked to the capacity of the venue.”

The guidelines are different in Scotland, where there is currently a maximum cap of 20 guests, but when England comes out of lockdown there will likely be a similar cap. To get through the pandemic, the UK and Scottish Governments have had to take on a great swathe of extra powers, but we need to ensure that they are exercised in the best way possible.

Not only Kinkell Byre is affected, but the hotels and B&Bs where the guests stay and the suppliers that I mentioned earlier. I want to mention one supplier: Amy, a small business owner whose florist business is largely focused on flowers for weddings. She moved to online only, giving up her shop, but remains hugely impacted by the restrictions. People are moving their weddings to next year or even 2022, and she is losing business as a result. She says we should change the restrictions and make them more sensitive to venue size. That surely is a way forward, alongside comprehensive testing, tracing and isolating. Amy highlighted that, to make matters worse, there is the looming threat of a no-deal Brexit, which would mean an 8% tariff on imported flowers, and there is simply not enough supply of flowers in the UK to meet the demand. If the Government do not agree a trade deal, that really will push her business over the edge.

If the Government will not change the restrictions, or cannot, they need to provide further financial support to enable these businesses to survive through until March. The furlough has been extended, but, for a business like Samantha’s, wages are a pretty minor cost in the scheme of things. Business grants were available over six months ago and are unlikely to have lasted in bank accounts until now. North East Fife would be nothing without those businesses. We often hear that small, locally owned businesses are the backbone of the local economy, but in North East Fife they are the face of the economy, too. They are what we encounter when we travel throughout the Kingdom.