The hon. Gentleman is right that the impact of this for businesses is not just financial—although how important that is—but emotional and mental. However, hope is on the horizon with the rollout of the vaccine. I place on record my thanks to all those who are working so hard to get this vaccine into the arms of people up and down the country. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel. We know that this pandemic will come to an end in the coming months.
It is vital that we ensure that all those businesses in the tourism sector can not only reopen, but be in a position to make the most of the coming months, because there is huge pent-up demand for holidays and for days and nights out. It is not just about the economic recovery; it is about the social, emotional and mental recovery of our country as well—being able to do all those things that we have missed for the last year.
The tourism sector will be vital in helping our country achieve that because, as much as we want to see the travel industry also recovering, and people taking overseas holidays, the reality is that it will probably be some time before that happens. UK residents may be nervous of booking overseas trips. I also think it will take a while for that part of the industry to recover, so the opportunity for staycation holidays next summer will be huge. It is very important that our businesses can make the most of that.
The challenge that many of those businesses are facing is working capital. Although they may be able to open, unless they have the working capital to invest, buy stock, take on staff and make themselves ready to take advantage of the coming months, they will not be able to lead our recovery in the way we would like. There are a few things that it will be very important for us to look at doing to ensure that those businesses can open their doors and be in a place to make the most of the coming months.
First, we should look to extend the business rates holiday, which has been hugely welcome. If we expect those businesses to start to pay full business rates in April, just as they will possibly be able to start to reopen, it will put a huge strain on their cash flow and their working capital. There is a very good case to be made for extending the business rates holiday for the next year, or at least another six months, to enable those businesses to build up some working capital.
The VAT cut has also been hugely welcomed by the sector. Again, if we expect businesses to start paying VAT just as they are looking to reopen, it will limit their ability to make the most of the months ahead. I would like to see VAT on tourism and hospitality cut permanently, but at the very least there is a case for extending the VAT cut for another six months to enable those businesses to build up the working capital they will need to make the most of the opportunities this year.
Thirdly, we should looking at extending the repayment terms for the loans that the Government have backed. Many business people took them out months ago, in May or June, and they will have to start repaying them just when they need that cash to invest in enabling their businesses to reopen.
We need to look at extending those three things to ensure that businesses do not just survive through the coming weeks, but are then able to make the very most of the opportunity that the coming months will present to them. As we do so, there is an opportunity to use this moment; I use the term advisedly, because one of the Labour Front Bench team used it in a slightly different way, but we should not waste this crisis.
This crisis has brought the tourism and hospitality industry more into focus. People are much more aware of its importance in our country, and that cannot be a bad thing. We need to look at what we can do to make the most of the recovery from this crisis, so that we have a thriving tourism industry—particularly domestic tourism—for many years to come.
There are a few things we should look at doing. First, I would like to see us make the very most of the tourism sector deal; it is very welcome, but it can be beefed up. There is more that can be done, and maybe as part of that deal we need to look at some sort of tourism recovery fund to invest in the sector. We need to come forward with the tourism zones, and I would like to make the case to the Minister that Cornwall, or at least the south-west, should be one of the first areas to get that recognition and the support that goes with it.
Secondly, we need to better market UK tourism, both internationally and within the UK market. There is a case for more support to invest in destination marketing organisations; they have had a really tough time, but they will be absolutely crucial to the future of the sector.
Thirdly, we must ensure that the sector has the workforce it needs; with our ending of the free movement of people, which I absolutely agree with and accept, we need to promote jobs within the sector as good career opportunities. I would make the case for bringing forward the T-level in catering and hospitality as soon as possible, to ensure that the sector has staff with the skills that they will need.
To sum up, there is no doubt that our domestic tourism industry has had a tough time and been hugely affected over the past year, but it is in a good position, with Government support, to recover quickly and to play a crucial role in helping our nation recover from this pandemic. I also believe it will be absolutely essential to the Government’s achieving their ambitions for their levelling-up agenda that our tourism sector recovers as quickly as possible. I ask the Government, through the Minister, to look again at what we can do to continue to support the sector through the coming months, to ensure that it is in the best possible place to lead our recovery.