It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate Catherine McKinnell on securing this debate.
The restaurants, pubs, hotels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, attractions and other businesses that make up hospitality are a vital part of North West Norfolk’s economy, contributing around £500 million a year and making up about a fifth of the jobs, and 2019 was a record year for that sector. Of course, last year it was a record in the opposite direction. That collapse in demand and the redundancies have hit younger people disproportionately. In these challenging times, the Crown Inn, the Rose and Crown and other premises have adapted by selling takeaway meals, but not being able to sell alcohol in closed containers with those meals is unfair and is having a damaging impact. The rules should be changed. Where there are issues, enforcement should be taken rather than this blanket approach.
These businesses are at the heart of our community. We have only to look at venues such as Bank House, the Anvil Inn and many others that, unable to open, have offered their premises as vaccination centres. Given their importance, my constituents are grateful for the support that the Government put in place to help them bounce back. That has provided a lifeline, but I have been contacted by many businesses that signed the petition and which say that the new lockdown gravely threatens their future after months when they have been unable to open properly and unable to trade. The one-off grants of up to £9,000 are very welcome, but many employers have taken on considerable debt and have to cover national insurance costs for staff who are furloughed. Those businesses tell me that more help is required. It would be tragic, as others have said, if the benefits of the support to date are lost if firms are unable to hang on until the vaccination programme has had the impact that we all hope for.
In July my right hon. Friend the Chancellor responded to calls that many others and I supported to cut VAT to 5%, but the tier restrictions and national lockdown mean that businesses have not had the benefit from the cut, as had been expected, so the cost to the Treasury has been lower. I support the sector’s calls, and I hope the Chancellor will look favourably on continuing that reduction until the end of the year. Extending that and the business rates holiday will help firms to survive and be there when the reopening comes. We all look forward to that reopening as the vaccination programme rolls out to the most at-risk groups. People crave normality: meeting for a meal, going to the theatre and having a pint in a pub. We want those places to be there, so we need a road map to get there.
Finally, we need further action to help the sector. One opportunity is through the Government’s new tourism zones. Norfolk and Suffolk have developed a strong case with a proposal to be the most sustainable place for tourism in the country, with a strong skills offer for young people. The hospitality sector is crucial to our economy and our wellbeing. I urge the Government to continue their unprecedented support and ensure it is well placed to help drive the economic recovery.