Hospitality Sector: Fiscal Support — [Hannah Bardell in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 31 January 2024.

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Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession) 9:30, 31 January 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered fiscal support for the hospitality sector.

We always say that it is a pleasure to see you in your place, Ms Bardell, and it is this morning; thank you for looking after us. I thank colleagues from all points of the compass for their support on a subject that is close to my heart: fiscal and other support for the hospitality sector—by which I mean on-trade pubs, restaurants, cafés, hotels, and bed and breakfasts. I am grateful to the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish and UK hospitality organisations, Castle Leisure Group, Greene King, and several dozen businesses in rural and urban Stirlingshire for helping me to prepare for the debate. I also thank Paul Anderson and Matt Gower from my office, as well as the House of Commons Library, which has produced a number of useful briefings that I commend to colleagues.

This issue is not easy, but I will be up front with colleagues. Am I looking for special treatment for the hospitality sector? Yes, I am: these businesses need and deserve it. They need it because of the unprecedented economic times that we are living through, and they deserve it because they are a part of not just our economy, but our society; they are community hubs at a time when we face an epidemic of post-covid loneliness, and they contribute to our sense of place and keep our high streets busy. As well as urban Stirling, I represent a number of rural communities, which turn into dormitories once the pub goes. That is not a sustainable future for those communities. Hospitality businesses promote social mobility. How many of us—myself included—had a first job waiting tables, pulling pints or doing dishes? Hospitality provides flexible employment that keeps a lot of people engaged in the workplace who might otherwise not find jobs that suit them. These are good, sustainable jobs, and great careers.

Hospitality businesses are also significant for the economy. The stats are vital: the beer and pub sector accounts for 936,000 jobs and contributes £26 billion to the UK economy; in Scotland, it accounts for 62,000 jobs and £1.8 billion in tax receipts. According to UKHospitality, the wider hospitality sector employs 3.5 million people in one form or another, and generates £54 billion in tax receipts. These businesses are at the sharp end of an economic crisis that is not of their making. They are at the sharp end of the post-covid slump, an energy cost spike and insurance cost rises. They face labour shortages and costs due to Brexit. Now, I do not blame Brexit for everything, but it has made everything worse, and we need to deal with its consequences, which hospitality businesses are living with right now. They also have lower footfall, because in the cost of living crisis everybody is cutting back on discretionary spend. They are dealing with a perfect storm, and they need more help.

During covid, we proved that we can act fast, as we did with the VAT cut and eat out to help out, with all its issues; we demonstrated that we could move fast when a demonstrated emergency was under way. For our hospitality businesses, there is still an emergency under way. I am supportive of the Scottish Government, although I am not part of it; I am clearly in opposition here, though I hope I am a constructive Opposition Member. I am bringing some ideas to the Minister, and look forward to his response. I am also not a part of Stirling Council. I am aware that budgets in all places are under real pressure, but I am calling for support because I am dread afeard that, unless we act, a number of these good, sustainable businesses will not make it through to the better times, when they do come, and that all those revenues and social benefits will be lost. Across my constituency, there are a number of great businesses, but they need help to make it through. It is up to all of us, in all our places, to put the badges to one side and work together to support these crucial organisations.

What am I calling for? I will be brief to allow colleagues to speak. First, if hon. Members remember only two words from me today, they should be “cut VAT.” I would cut VAT on food, soft drinks and alcohol to 5%. Of course, that is a big ask. I know the fiscal situation for the UK, Scotland and local government, but cutting VAT would be a clean and immediately effective way of supporting those businesses’ bottom line. It would be directly linked to turnover, so if a business is not doing much business, it will not get that much benefit, and if it is, it will. It would not require any complex architecture or bureaucracy and would not need much to administer. It would be an effective way to boost growth and help these businesses survive.

In other countries, a VAT cut would not be unusual. VAT on accommodation is 10% in Austria, 6% in Belgium and 9% in Cyprus. VAT on restaurants is 13% in Croatia, 5% in Hungary and 10% in Italy. Of course, it is not quite like for like, but the UK is taxing this sector far more than other European countries do, and I think we need to boost and celebrate it, not tax the bejesus out of it from all parts of Government.

Speaking of which, we need business rates reform. To be clear, I was glad that the UK Government temporarily cut business rates in England. I called for the Scottish Government to pass that on, and I regret that they did not, but let us remember that it was just a one-year suspension and the actual problem is that business rates are not fit for purpose in any of our countries. That outdated system is creating perverse incentives for a lot of good businesses. Of course, local government needs to be supported, but we need to find a better way to do that. Tom Arthur, the Scottish Minister, has been proactive in engaging with business across Stirling and elsewhere. He acknowledges the problem—but business rates are crippling a lot of businesses, and we need urgent reform in all our countries.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point about business rates reform. I have just pulled up the Midweek Herald, in which a pub that closed fairly recently, the Honiton Inn, is advertised at £395,000, but before the advert says anything about the pub, it says, “Business rates may apply”. Does he agree that business rates on pubs are deterring new tenants from taking over?

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

I do agree, and they are also deterring growth in existing businesses. A number of business owners in Stirling have told me that once they invested in refurbishing their pub or doing it up after covid, they got hit with a higher rates bill—so that was a disincentive to investment. The system is broken, and I commend to colleagues the House of Commons Library research that compares how other countries do this stuff. I am conscious that there is not an easy answer. It is easy for me to call for reform, which is pressing, but I do not necessarily have a preferred way to do that.

Hospitality businesses have been hit by energy costs. They are big energy users, in terms of heating and cooling, and have been hit by eye-watering uncapped price rises from the energy companies, many of which are making substantial profits. I do not begrudge companies making profits—I celebrate that—but if they are doing it in a way that shuts down big chunks of another industry, we need stronger regulation. The UK energy market is deeply broken and is not working for an awful lot of business consumers. In the meantime, I think we could look seriously at business rate rebates for energy users.

It will not surprise colleagues that a number of stakeholders are keen on a cut to duty for cider, beer and spirits. That is a way of supporting brewers and distillers. I am not hostile to that, but I think the best way to support the hospitality sector is a VAT cut. That would be a tide that raises everybody’s boat, although there is some evidence that previous cuts have not been passed on to the wider sector.

We also need to do things to rebalance the playing field between the on and off-trade sales. The Scottish Government have tried to do that with minimum unit pricing. I do not want us to turn into a nation—however “nation” is defined—of people who drink alone in front of the TV. Pubs, restaurants and cafés provide a social environment for the consumption of alcohol; they are socially inclusive, open to all and regulated constructively —whereas the other market is tending in the other direction.

There are a number of things we can do to help this sector, which is vital not just because of the social and economic aspects, but because it helps define who we are as a community. We all need to work together to make that happen. I think a VAT cut for the hospitality sector would be deeply popular. I appreciate that the Chancellor and the Minister do not have an easy task in the Budget ahead of us, but that would be a constructive way to boost growth and help these businesses through the tough times, because the emergency is not over. If the Chancellor introduces any of those measures, I will be the first to applaud, because these businesses are too important to all our communities.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Order. I remind Members that they should bob if they want to be called. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to be brief to let colleagues in, but seven Back Benchers are looking to catch my eye. I will not impose a time limit, but I ask colleagues to try to keep to about five or six minutes.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 9:39, 31 January 2024

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I am delighted to take part in this debate, and I very much congratulate Alyn Smith on securing it. I am delighted to see the Minister in his place to respond; along with my hon. Friend Paul Scully, there have never been two greater champions in Government for the tourism and hospitality sector. I am delighted that the Minister is now in the Treasury, because I am sure that he can be a champion there for this very important sector—not putting any pressure on him at all!

I represent a constituency that is one of the most dependent on the tourism and hospitality sector in the whole country. For example, it is estimated that around 60% of all jobs in the town of Newquay rely on it, and that one in three households across Cornwall derive at least some of their income from hospitality throughout the year. The subject is therefore so very important to us in St Austell and Newquay. We have some amazing hospitality businesses, from St Austell Brewery—which was established in 1851 and is, I believe, the biggest family-owned brewery in the country; it produces amazing beers, like Tribute and Proper Job, has been around for nearly 170 years, and employs hundreds of people in my constituency and well over 1,500 people in the wider region—right through to an American diner in St Austell called Rocky’s, which opened last week. I was delighted to be there on the opening night, and I wish the people there well in starting up a hospitality business in these very challenging times.

We have amazing hotels like The Headland in Newquay, with which the Minister is familiar, the Watergate Bay Hotel in Watergate Bay, and Scarlet in Mawgan Porth. On the south coast, we have the Carlyon Bay Hotel, which Mr Speaker very much enjoys, and Fowey Hall in Fowey, in which I know many hon. Members have stayed. They all play a vital part in the economy and the communities that I have the pleasure of representing.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Member for giving way as he extends his conducted tour around his constituency; I congratulate him on so doing. Does he agree that we all, Government especially, need to ensure that the magnificence of areas like his, and like mine on the north coast of Northern Ireland, are promoted nationally and internationally, in order to maximise the benefits for all our constituents?

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I absolutely agree. We need to get international tourists who come to this country out of London. Too many never venture past London. I know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has worked on that, and we have certainly seen some benefits of more international visitors coming to Cornwall and enjoying all that we have to offer.

I will never forget the moment, shortly after the lockdown was announced, that I read a report that said that my constituency of Newquay was predicted to be the hardest hit by the lockdown. Those days were deeply worrying for me. I had business owner after business owner on the phone asking, “What am I going to do? This will literally devastate my business.”

There was a sense of relief a few days later when the then Chancellor—the now Prime Minister—announced the package of support that would be put in place, particularly the furlough scheme but also the targeted support for the hospitality sector. My phone lit up with the people who had rung me in the preceding days; they were so relieved that the Government were stepping in. That demonstrates that this Government understand the importance of the hospitality sector. They provided more support to the hospitality sector than to any other part of our economy during the pandemic, and I know hundreds of businesses in my constituency who are so grateful for it. It is sometimes very easy to forget that support, but it shows the importance that the Government place on the sector.

However, as we have heard, many of those businesses are finding times equally challenging right now. The challenges are different; they are mainly to do with rising costs rather than with demand being taken away. Those could be energy costs, costs in the supply chain or rising wages. I absolutely support the increase in the national living wage, but we need to appreciate that there is pressure on businesses to meet that increased wage. There is therefore a need for the Government to look at what further support they can provide to this sector, not just to get it through the current challenges, but for the long term.

I would ask two things in closing—both of which have already been said, but I will add my voice. There is a case to be made for cutting VAT. I would go for a 10% cut in the VAT rate for hospitality. We have shown that that works. I know there were concerns about how much the cut that was put in place during the pandemic was passed on; I think about 70% of businesses passed on at least some of that cut, but we need to work with the sector to ensure that if VAT is cut, all of the cut is passed on to the customer.

Business rates also need to be looked at. The rise of 6.7% is out of step. I urge the Government to look to the October rate for inflation when increasing business rates. We need more fundamental reform of business rates for the hospitality sector in order to reduce the burden of that tax.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy

I recognise much of what my hon. Friend says about his constituency in the description of my constituency as the largest resort area of Wales. The difference in Wales, of course, is that the Welsh Government have not passed on the full business rates cut that has been enjoyed in England. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be the first and most sensible measure that could be put in place to help tourism and hospitality businesses in Wales?

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

My hon. Friend makes a sensible and important point; I agree.

I hope the Minister senses the cross-party support for this important sector and takes away a clear message to the Treasury to look at what more can be done to support the sector in the upcoming Budget.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 9:47, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. The hospitality sector is at the sharp end of all market sensitivities and feels every economic challenge acutely. Although it is used to seasonal highs and lows, when covid hit, the sector’s resilience became dependent on intervention. Whether businesses were supplying food, drink or accommodation or operating as a wider part of the tourism sector, the covid and post-covid shocks served their blows on hospitality. There are also the issues of the cost of living—whether that is seen through reduced customer disposable income or increased energy costs—and diversion of shipping in the middle east; each part has a story to tell about the sector.

Indeed, Brexit produced serious challenges in labour supply, and the new visa rules are also creating pressure. Last year, 8,500 visas were provided for the sector, and that is not to mention the dependants who come with health workers and so on, and the students; that also takes its toll. I ask the Government to think again. Although I welcome higher income and a rise in the minimum wage to address the wage disparity in this sector, we must recognise that it needs cushioning and that the sector needs support.

In York, we face the additional challenge of flooding. The floods have an impact. There is usually poor reporting describing York as being like Venice, but I can assure everyone that York is open and functioning. Today, because of the resilience measures that have been put in place, only a small cluster of hospitality outlets are impacted by flooding. However, they have received no business rate suspension—they must receive that, and I ask the Minister to look at that issue—and the Bellwin scheme cannot be triggered for a small area. Those businesses have costs associated with flooding, so that needs to be addressed.

Turning to other fiscal challenges and solutions, we would welcome a reform of business rates. I have long debated in this place how disadvantage and disincentives impact on the sector. Frankly, the Government have demonstrated a sticking-plaster approach during my time here. I am glad that Labour is listening and that it will bring in reform of business rates, but I plead that it puts those reforms in its manifesto so that everyone can be clear about that.

The hospitality sector and other businesses in York have talked about a profit-related tax to make it a fairer system in the long term; I urge the Minister to look at that.

The sector’s turnover in York is worth £1.16 billion annually and is ranked 16th highest in the country. For a relatively small, concentrated area it employs 16,500 people across 1,283 venues to date. However, there is a 5.4% vacancy rate—484 jobs—so we need to consider the impact that is having on the sector’s ability to stay open full time and welcome people into their establishments. I recognise how York has weathered this stormy time and I recognise its resilience. People enjoy coming to the incredible city of York and taking advantage of the offer that we have, but that should not be taken for granted. Ensuring that resilience measures and fiscal reforms are put in place is important for the long term for the hospitality sector in York.

I note that the overseas sponsorship programme has offset some of the vacancy issues, not least for chefs, and we need to ensure that the labour shortages are tackled. I ask the Government to look again at the impact that withdrawing from such schemes will have.

A focus of my work looks at how we can increase the family offer in York. We really need to broaden the base of people wanting to come and use our city for a broader interest. I certainly welcome those interested in talking about the family coming to York because that will also build greater resilience for the longer term.

I know that the Minister understands the sector well, given his previous roles. Indeed, he could come on a whistlestop tour round the city with me. I urge him, as we come up to the next fiscal event, to allow an extension, a quick win, on the covid loans. Businesses could make further investment to grow their businesses if they could pay their loans back over a longer period. That would be a quick and easy win for the Government.

On VAT, I concur with the remarks made earlier. Hospitality Association York has also made the case to me that a drop in VAT would very much assist the sector and provide an economic stimulus. We all want to see that benefit passed on to consumers and customers who use the sector. I want the work that Hospitality Association York is doing in growing the skills and talents in the sector and building for the long term to be recognised and supported.

Finally, as York becomes a world heritage site and York Central is developed for the future, we have great opportunities for investment beyond the walls as well. Up in Acomb we see many independent businesses now providing great opportunities. Right now we are in the heart of the most challenging season for our sector. Despite the ice trail coming up this weekend, the Viking festival over the half-term period and the residents’ festival that we have just had, we need action from the Treasury to ensure that the hospitality sector is sustainable now and in future.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Before I call the next speaker, I ask Members to stick to five-minute speeches because I want to try to call everybody and give equality to all.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 9:53, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell.

UK hospitality is an integral part of our national economy and this debate would be incomplete if we did not consider the impact of tourism. It is worth £127 billion to our economy—9% of GDP—and hospitality alone is worth £56 billion, with 2.5 million people working in it and 233,000 businesses directly related to it. I started my career waitering in Royal Hospital and in the Queen’s Gallery. I also served in a cocktail bar in rural Dorset—one can imagine how successful that was. It is a perfect way of entering the working environment, placing service at the centre of its values and making sure that people across this country can enjoy the fine local produce that we produce in this country.

However, hospitality has been deeply impacted by the pandemic, lockdowns, the tightening of belts, and of course the strikes. Those attending the UKHospitality event yesterday will have heard time and again how many such businesses throughout the country have been impacted by rail strikes, costing them hundreds of millions of pounds each year. There needs to be an answer to that; perhaps the Minister will remark on it.

In the course of the past four years, an industry, a sector, that has been routinely hit by lockdowns, pandemics and strikes has had a great deal of help from the Government, whether it was the eat out to help out scheme or the campaign that I led by getting Conservative colleagues from across Parliament to support a reduction in VAT—temporary though it may have been—to 5%, in parity with what our European friends and neighbours had done. The results of that cut to 5% were enormously successful. Businesses across the country are still calling out for the reinstatement of that reduction, which is why I think that Alyn Smith, who has done so well to call this debate, will find that there is very little opposition when it comes to reducing VAT. That 5% rate proved that it was possible to create a sustainable business model for the tourism and hospitality sector to thrive, to give it the resilience to weather certain shocks and to maintain confidence in the sector overall. We also looked at how we could change licensing rules. We have taken a far more European approach in allowing businesses to operate outside, on pavements, which has been enormously successful in places like mine and across south Devon.

However, the challenges remain. The challenges for the whole sector are that there are labour shortages, VAT is still high, energy costs are still hitting those operating in the sector and business rates need to be reviewed; I have already mentioned strikes. I would like to make one point about labour. Each of our constituencies will have hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants that are absolutely suffering over the idea of labour shortages, so I would like to make this point to any colleague here and anyone watching this debate at home. Within the terms of the UK-Australia free trade agreement there is something called the working holiday visa, for anyone between the ages of 18 and 35. People will be able to come over here for three years without any visa requirement, starting in July. No businesses seem to be talking about that, and it is our job as Members of Parliament to go back to our local businesses and tell them about it, because it will make a real and significant difference to their labour shortages, if they are able to prepare for it and capitalise on it when it comes in, this July.

In that difficult moment during the pandemic, it worked to reduce VAT to 5%, to give businesses that headroom—to continue not to have high tax bills, and to be able to supply their customers and pass on some of those savings. Where we are different from Europe is that although Europe has lower VAT rates it also has quite high tourism taxes. We must have a discrepancy for that, and my proposal to the Government is, I hope, a little simpler. It is that we reduce VAT by 10%. I know it is easy for Back Benchers to say, “We need a 10% reduction in VAT—you figure out the cost,” but let us do it on a sliding scale over the next five years, during which we reduce VAT by two percentage points each year, so that we get down to a level that is fair and acceptable to a sector that has gone through so much.

As has been said about business rates, we do need to ensure that things are passed on. It is disappointing, when we have been generous in government, that we have not seen the devolved Administrations passing that generosity on. The hon. Member for Stirling said that he was disappointed by his own Government’s actions in this area.

We must also end the train strikes. They are having an impact, whether people are in London or any other city, or even in rural areas such as south Devon. We must get to a point at which we are looking to deal with the strikes and stop that unbelievably catastrophic stranglehold on our tourism and hospitality sectors.

Finally, Ms Bardell, whether you are staying at the Berry Head Hotel and drinking Salcombe beer or Hunts cider, or still on dry January and enjoying Luscombe’s drinks at the Pigs Nose, the Barrel House, the Durant Arms, the George, the Queens Arms, the Kings Arms or the New Inn Morleigh, or just visiting Gara Rock and eating at the Crab Shell, the Seahorse or Rockfish, it is important to remember that they are all a great deal closer than any of those fine establishments in Cornwall and you can reach them far more easily.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 9:58, 31 January 2024

I will see whether I can follow that! I am grateful to serve under your guidance, Ms Bardell. Alyn Smith has done this place a great service by introducing this hugely significant issue.

One of the privileges of living among the lakes and dales of Westmorland is that we get to share our breathtaking landscapes with the world. We are a world heritage site and are Britain’s biggest visitor destination after London. We are the place where 20 million people each year come to spend their leisure time, actively or passively absorbing creation in the raw. Those 20 million visitors create a tourism and hospitality economy with a value getting on for £4 billion a year. With 60,000 people working in it, the sector is Cumbria’s biggest employer—across the UK it is the fourth biggest—yet it is so often overlooked. Because its interests are never closely tied to a single Department, it tends to fall between the gaps, and so do its interests.

This is a time when we cannot afford to overlook our tourism and hospitality sector or ignore its voice. Although domestic visitor numbers have not been bad over the past year or so, those visitors are not spending as much as they used to, on the whole, because of the obvious impact of the cost of living crisis. To put it bluntly, as people are now paying £400 a month more on mortgage payments thanks to the 2022 Budget, they do not have spare money to spend in the pubs and restaurants of the Lake district. There is a real need to support our hospitality and tourism economy in Cumbria through prudent and effective measures.

VAT rates for hospitality are significantly higher in this country than in the rest of Europe. The nature of tourism and hospitality is that our competitors are overseas, so this unfair playing field is a self-imposed penalty on our economy. Even a small reduction in VAT to 12.5% for tourism and hospitality would give the Treasury a net fiscal gain of £4.6 billion over 10 years. The Government are desperately thrashing around for even the merest whiff of a Brexit benefit, and here is one staring us in the face. The question is: will the Government do it? How about looking at a tax-free shopping scheme for international visitors? According to UKinbound, launching a new VAT reclaim scheme would generate £4.4 billion over two years for the UK economy, with a net benefit to the Treasury of £1.3 billion.

To support our visitors, to continue to be an attractive destination and to ensure we are fair to our local communities, we also need funding for our local infrastructure. The fact is that our councils, our health service and our police service are not fairly funded to take account of the impact of our huge visitor numbers. Some 85% of our visitors come by car, adding to the wear and tear on our roads, yet it is local people who have to bear the brunt through council tax. The Government should amend their funding formula to end that unfairness. There would be no need for any talk of tourism taxes if the Government funded us properly.

One thing the Government did that we are very grateful for, as we campaigned for it for many years, was allowing our councils to double the council tax on second homes. Indeed, I think I mentioned it in my maiden speech. Yet the Government’s lack of urgency and failure to get their act together has meant that councils are not allowed to do so until 2025, even though it was expected to happen this April. That will cost Westmorland and Furness Council £10 million and will hit our spending power and our local communities. I add my voice to those that say that business rates, temporary cuts and short-term reductions are all welcome, but they do not help our businesses to plan in the long term. There needs to be radical, long-term action, and it needs to happen now.

We have talked about several parts of the hospitality industry, including our pubs, which are so important. For many lakes and dales villages, the pub is the only community asset left. It has been a pleasure to work alongside the community in Orton recently to try to ensure a long-term future for the George hotel. We want our communities to have more power to retain their pubs, and we need to support publicans by reducing their costs and their taxes, so that their pubs can continue to be the hub and the centre of our local communities.

I mentioned that 85% of our visitors come by car. It does not need to be that way. If we introduced the possibility of a passing loop at Burneside to the Lakes line to Windermere, we would effectively double the capacity of that line and could bring so many more people to the lakes by rail.

The No. 1 issue that businesses throughout Cumbria face in hospitality and tourism is that our workforce is far too small. I am told by 63% of hospitality businesses in Cumbria that they are operating below capacity because they do not have a big enough workforce to meet demand. There are two fundamental reasons for that.

First, the Government have failed to act to counter the collapse of the long-term rented market into Airbnb properties. We have seen an eviction—a Lakeland clearance—of local people who could work not just in hospitality and tourism but in care, education, health and other sectors. The Government promised to bring in a separate category of planning use for short-term lets, but they have failed to do so and have let my community down in the process.

Secondly, our visa rules are ludicrous, short-sighted and impractical. We need to put chefs on the long-term shortage occupation list. Some 80% of the workforce living in the Lake district are already working in hospitality and tourism. We have lakes, yes, but no overwhelming reservoir of untapped talent. What we need is homes for local people, a local workforce and a visa scheme that allows us to bring in the people we need to serve our 20 million visitors.

I really hope that the Minister will listen and bring in the action we need. All we ask is that he back a sector that will boost our economy to the tune of billions, if we only have the ambition to listen to and back our local businesses.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East 10:05, 31 January 2024

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Ms Bardell, and am pleased to see the Minister in his place. I am passionate about tourism, not just because I represent the best seaside resort in the country, but because my first job when my party was in opposition was as shadow tourism Minister. I am pleased that we are having this debate today.

Bournemouth is a vibrant, family-friendly seaside resort. We have three pillars to our economy: financial services, thanks to J.P. Morgan; creative industries, thanks to our fantastic Bournemouth universities; and tourism. Since the arrival of the railway in the 1870s, our part of the world has developed into one of the UK’s leading destinations for domestic and international tourists.

From the Bournemouth International Centre, with which parliamentarians will be familiar from conferences, to the Russell-Cotes museum, the Bournemouth symphony orchestra and AFC Bournemouth, who are doing so well in the premier league and are still in the FA cup, there are so many reasons to visit. Bournemouth is proud to host the National Coastal Tourism Academy, which I hope the Minister will visit. It also has miles of spacious, sandy beaches, from Studland to Hengistbury Head, which is ranked among the 25 best in the world and the fifth best in Europe. All those things have helped Bournemouth to become one of the most popular, family-friendly resorts in the country, and they are complemented by the vibrant night-time economy, with pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs attracting thousands in the evening.

There is no doubt that hospitality plays a vital part in the local economy. A quarter of all visitors to Dorset come to Bournemouth. Tourism is a critical component of Bournemouth’s prosperity: it represents 15% of the local economy, with a contribution of more than £500 million. It supports more than 15,000 jobs, both directly and through the supply chain.

As other hon. Members have mentioned, the impact of covid was colossal, and the hospitality sector’s economic output dropped by 90%. The furlough scheme was welcome; nevertheless, 10% of the hospitality industry closed, never to recover. What saved many businesses in the hospitality sector was reducing VAT to 5% for food, drink, accommodation and attractions. The Government made it clear that that was always going to be temporary, with a planned gradual increase to 12.5% and then back to 20%. The hospitality industry, particularly in Bournemouth, is starting to recover—no thanks to the local council, which wants to ditch the local air festival, our flagship tourism event, and to abandon the blue flag schemes and build on car parks.

Numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels, but solid, permanent recovery will not be achieved if VAT stays at 20%. Today, licensed premises continue to shut at an alarming rate; indeed, more are closing than opening. VAT has gone up and down over the past few decades. In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash, the UK maintained a VAT rate lower than in many other European states, at around 17.5%. After the crash, when VAT was slashed across Europe to encourage spending and stimulate economies, it was raised to 20% here.

My simple but critical call to action today is “Please listen to the hospitality sector, which is screaming out that VAT is too high, as more and more businesses are seriously impacted and unable to handle the increased costs of food, fuel and pay. Minister, please, please reconsider the decision to raise VAT back to 20%. Otherwise, you will face ever more business closures and you will subsequently raise less tax for the Exchequer.” The maths is very simple. Cutting VAT will mean more hospitality businesses staying open and thriving. That will lead to an increase in corporation tax income, because if their profits are higher, they will pay more tax.

I end by simply saying that Bournemouth illustrates the importance of hospitality: it gives a place a sense of identity and personality and helps bind a community together. Let’s support our hospitality sector. Let’s reduce VAT to 10%.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 10:10, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Bardell. I congratulate Alyn Smith on securing the debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. I remember his visit to Bath; in Bath, we consider him a friend.

My Bath constituency has a thriving hospitality sector that caters to local people and to visitors from all over the world. However, our businesses have had to deal with Brexit, covid and now high and rising costs. Bath’s visitor numbers are recovering from the pandemic, yet many of our cultural attractions and hospitality venues are still struggling, with fewer visitors and increasing costs.

The difficulties that the sector faces are widespread. A survey by the Night Time Industries Association revealed a staggering 40% increase in total operating costs last year because of rent increases, energy costs, inflation and business rates. Businesses are trying to manage increasing costs while keeping prices affordable for customers, and it is smaller, independent hospitality venues that bear the brunt. Our high street is kept vibrant by the variety of pubs, restaurants and other businesses to choose from, but without financial assistance from the Government, only large chain companies are insulated from the cost rises.

The hospitality industry employs 3.5 million people nationally and contributes more than £50 billion in tax receipts to the Treasury. By employment, it is the UK’s fourth largest sector. Many owners fear that they may have to close permanently in the coming year; many others have already shut their doors. In Bath we are still reeling from the closure of Moles, a small music venue that was loved and known across the UK for nurturing young and up and coming musical talent. Last year, 3,000 hospitality businesses closed. Among UK businesses that filed for administration in 2023, the third-highest sector was the hospitality industry, which accounted for more than 10%. The figures have nearly doubled in two years and owners are afraid that they could continue to rise, so it is important that the Government take note. Every single closure means the loss of people’s livelihoods and of valuable community institutions.

Many businesses in my constituency have expressed disappointment that the Government decided to remove energy bill support. One pub’s energy bill went up by £35,000. If the energy bill support scheme that was in place until April last year had continued, that bill would have been reduced to £5,000. The Chancellor’s decision to replace the scheme has meant that the pub now receives only £3,000. Under Liberal Democrat proposals, small and medium-sized businesses would have been offered Government grants covering 80% of the increase in their energy bills for one year, giving small hospitality businesses the stability that they need to get through these difficult times.

It is impossible to talk about energy without discussing the role of the green transition. The Government must accelerate the review of electricity market arrangements so that households and businesses alike can benefit from lower-cost renewables. That should involve decoupling electricity from wholesale gas prices. Renewables are now the cheapest source of energy, but their price is artificially linked to expensive natural gas. The Federation of Small Businesses has suggested a help-to-green scheme, which would provide direct financial support and advice to companies. That would include a grant to allow small businesses to invest in energy efficiency or microgeneration. The independent review of net zero also championed that idea. Have the Government looked at that?

The Government must provide the temporary help that small businesses need now, as well as long-term solutions to stabilise rising costs. We must act now to protect all the well-loved businesses in our constituencies from difficult times in future.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 10:14, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I congratulate Alyn Smith on securing a very important debate.

The tourism and hospitality sector in Essex is valued at just over £3.5 billion, and supports over 60,000 jobs. In the debate thus far, we have heard about the enormous contribution made by the sector across the United Kingdom. With the spring Budget approaching, it would be remiss of me not to make my representations to the Minister and His Majesty’s Treasury; I want to press the Treasury, and outline why further fiscal measures are needed in support of the hospitality sector and wider areas.

Across Essex, but specifically in my constituency, there is a strong case for lowering the tax burden on hospitality. We have already heard that is also the case for other parts of the country. We all have fantastic businesses in our constituencies; mine specifically has Colchester Zoo, the Langford Museum of Power, the Tiptree Tea Rooms—which most colleagues will know about—and many other venues, including a lot of hospitality and wedding venues, which did receive support from the Government throughout the pandemic. I pay tribute to those businesses because they have not only been resilient during the pandemic, but learned to adapt so that they can continue to grow and diversify.

Leisure businesses and attractions clearly suffer from volatility in the economy, and it is important that we do everything possible to support them, hence my modest call—and the collective modest call—for changes to the tax regime that we know would make the difference between businesses closing and surviving.

But although this is about surviving, it is also about thriving and growing; we already know about the impact on retail in our town centres and we have seen pressures in our local communities, but we need the sector to be vibrant and thriving. Central to that—and I make no apology to the Minister for saying that this is what we need—is a better labour market strategy. We have heard about labour shortages throughout this debate. I have been consistent, in my time not just in Parliament but in Government, in saying that I do not think it is right to associate or link our trade deals with automatic visas and some of the schemes proposed; I think we should have a better labour market strategy. We have to invest in the sector, grow the talent and pay people properly. We have a real epidemic of low wages in hospitality, and that is simply not good enough.

I would welcome the Government considering the whole issue of business rates, and I have also made representations on this previously. The freeze in the small business rates multiplier has been welcome, and I think it is vital, but we need a strategic, longer-term approach so that businesses can plan ahead, invest in the bricks and mortar of the properties they buy or lease, and look at how they can grow. With that, the 75% rates relief is welcome, but when reliefs of that size are removed, it clearly places seismic pressures on cashflows. We have to look at the sector from a basic day-to-day perspective and think about what this means for cash flows. Hospitality businesses operate with very tight margins, and they are having to absorb so many costs that they automatically pass on to their customers. I know that the Minister and the Treasury have heard me speak about this issue before, but we really need to look at it.

The case for reducing VAT has been made very clearly and I support it; we have seen so many issues around VAT levels, and their impact on hospitality and tourism. I absolutely support the case made by Tim Farron for reducing VAT on shopping and tourism; there is really big argument for that. VAT is complex and we need to do much more to simplify our tax system, as the Minister has heard me say many times. We need a tax system that supports tourism and hospitality.

I am a great believer in encouraging overseas visitors to our amazing country—more so than perhaps other countries in the world. In Essex, we are always open for business, and one of our prized assets is of course Stansted airport. I praise its 24% growth in passenger numbers last year to nearly 28 million. It has massive and exciting expansion plans—I have also always supported expansion at Heathrow airport—and should be commended for supporting employment and apprenticeships. We need our airports to attract more tourism not just to Essex but to Britain; this is about the health and wellbeing of our country. I am therefore making the case to the Minister and pressing the Government yet again to re-examine their approach to tax-free shopping for overseas visitors, and to duty free at arrivals and air passenger duty—there is a long-standing argument in that regard. The case for tax-free shopping has been made many times in this Chamber and the main Chamber, and it will bring in huge dividends.

It is important to reflect, with the spring Budget coming up—that is why we are having this debate and everyone is making representations. I genuinely believe in making changes, as they could result in another £4 billion into our economy on the shopping side of things, but the principle of cutting tax and reducing the tax burden is also one of the most effective ways in which we can grow and support the hospitality sector, and that means more growth and more sustainability.

I urge the Minister and the Chancellor to take the maximalist approach—using the fiscal levers at their disposal to really support these businesses across all constituencies of the United Kingdom. They are the backbone of our economy and many of our communities, so of course we want them to thrive and grow.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

We now come to Front-Bench speakers, who have around 10 minutes each, which should allow the sponsoring Member to sum up at the end.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:20, 31 January 2024

It is an honour and a privilege to see you up there in the Chair, Ms Bardell. Like so many colleagues, I started working in the food and hospitality industry. I was a shelf-stacker in Tesco, a caddie on the Old Course in St Andrews, and I worked in a cocktail bar. I have to say, cocktail bars do rather better in Glasgow than it sounds like they do in other parts of these islands.

Like many of my colleagues, I spend a lot of time visiting local businesses. Indeed, I was delighted recently to host the First Minister Humza Yousaf at the excellent Unorthodox Roasters in Kinross, where I chaired a roundtable discussion with business owners in the hospitality trade from across Ochil and South Perthshire. It was a listening exercise for the First Minister, with regional entrepreneurs updating him on their successes and their struggles. We were joined by an award-winning ice creamer, Stephen Sloper, from Penny Licks in Tillicoultry; those from Unorthodox Roasters themselves; Alex from the Glenturret distillery; and my friends from Café Rhubarb in Dollar.

Everyone, from the owners of a wee Syrian café in Alloa called Syriana—who arrived as asylum seekers and are now embedded in their community—to Scotland’s oldest distillery, kept telling us variations of the same story: times are beyond tough; and costs are so high that they are simply unsustainable in the long term. One business owner said

“the big issue which is strangling us is gas and electricity costs.”

That is a common refrain. The Westminster Government and the Prime Minister set out their solution: drill for more oil and gas in the North sea. Remember, that was the oil and gas that, during the independence referendum 10 years ago, they told us was worthless and about to run out. Due to disastrous decision making by successive Labour and Tory Governments, North sea energy is sold back to us at world market prices. This will not make energy cheaper for people in Scotland. Clean renewables are the future. To the glaikit Tory MSP who demanded to know what we would do when renewables ran out, the key is in the name—they are renewable.

The hospitality sector needs help now. Westminster has the levers to control VAT, and as we have heard from Members all around this room, it is important to get VAT down. The UK Government refuse to take measures to limit energy prices, so let them instead give the businesses in our communities a break by lowering VAT. We have been out and about talking to businesses in Alloa this past week to get a sense of the difference that a VAT reduction would make. Alison Turner, from the Ladybird Tea Room, said that this reduction would be “an enormous help”. Craig, the owner of the Royal Oak in Alloa, said,

“When the previous VAT reduction happened, it was amazing. It made such a difference.”

The owners we spoke to had little faith that Westminster would act to help.

In his latest toe-curling party political broadcast, I noticed that the Prime Minister briefly stopped attacking asylum seekers in order to pose in front of a massive sign reading, “TAX CUTS”. We might think, “Oh, good! A chance to relieve the burden on those hardest pressed in these difficult times.” No, of course not. He wants to cut taxes for the wealthy so that their families can benefit from inheritance tax cuts. Earlier this morning, we discovered that the Labour leadership now wants bankers—[Interruption.]

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Order. If Members at the back would like to make an intervention and have it on the record, I am sure we would all be very interested. If they do not, perhaps they could keep their comments quiet so that the rest of us can hear Mr Nicolson deliver his speech.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

On a point of order, Ms Bardell. This is Westminster Hall; this is not “Just a Minute”, but if it was “Just a Minute”, that contribution would probably have been a deviation.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I say kindly to the right hon. Gentleman that whether in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber, that is not a matter for the Chair; that is a matter of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

And that would certainly have been repetition; we all know the rules of “Just a Minute”—in fact, some of us have even been invited to be on it. If I may continue, I was about to highlight the new Labour policy of allowing bankers to keep tens of millions in bonuses.

The one subject that everybody in the hospitality sector wants to talk about is Brexit, and what a disaster it has been. The Gleneagles Hotel in my constituency is world famous, but it cannot get enough staff post-Brexit and so cannot operate at full capacity. Harvesters cannot get enough people to pick fruit and other crops. A cheese manufacturer in my constituency fears that they will have to lay off staff because one of their ingredient suppliers in France does not want to do the mountains of post-Brexit paperwork; it is simply not cost-effective.

The Glenturret distillery has stopped exporting to several European Union countries because the post-Brexit labelling rules are too cumbersome and expensive. It has told me that it sometimes now takes longer to get whisky to Paris than to Japan. This is the Tories’ Brexit dividend. And what of Labour? Well, it is now up to its oxters in Brexit Kool-Aid, too. The Labour leader tells us there is “no case” for rejoining the EU. Try telling that to young Scottish voters or to businesses in my constituency.

I am glad that this debate has been brought forward by my SNP friend and colleague, my hon. Friend Alyn Smith. I am glad that Humza Yousaf spent so much time with entrepreneurs in my constituency. I thank all the businesses in Alloa and elsewhere for giving me their thoughts so that I could bring them here to the Westminster Parliament. The Minister, a friend of mine from our days on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is an expert in this field. He cares deeply about it, is knowledgeable about it and was passionately anti-Brexit; he warned wisely and accurately of its dangers, and I know that he will be listening carefully.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

It will be no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I kind of agree with him on the whole Brexit situation but, being practical in consideration of where we are now, would he press the Minister to consider the UK reaching out to other European countries for youth mobility visa schemes? We have arrangements with a number of countries around the world, but to badly paraphrase “Father Ted”, their populations are small and far away. The only European country we have such a scheme with is Andorra. We could have arrangements with Poland, Spain and France, which could open up a source of labour for both his community and mine.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. I lament the days when the Lib Dems were with us as an anti-Brexit party. That ship has sailed, and we are the only party now that is anti-Brexit and wants Scotland to rejoin as an independent country.

I fear that negotiations with the European Union are going to be tough on any accommodation whatsoever— I mean, Westminster has few friends in Brussels these days. I have great faith in the Minister on this particular issue, though I doubt his pro-Brexit Labour and Tory colleagues—trembling before the power of Mr Murdoch and his press baron Brexit chums—are much in a mood to listen with such an open mind.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 10:28, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in Chair, Ms Bardell. I begin by congratulating Alyn Smith on securing this debate on fiscal support for the hospitality sector. I am pleased to be able to respond on behalf of the Opposition. We have heard Members from across the House speaking passionately about the importance of the hospitality sector, in the jobs it brings to local economies, the vitality it brings to our high streets and the enjoyment it brings to all our lives. My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell in particular spoke about the importance of Government policy to the many hospitality venues in her constituency. Not only does the sector provide 3% of the UK’s economic output and billions in tax revenues for the Treasury; it is a central part of our social lives. That is why our constituents value the hospitality sector so greatly and are so keen to support it.

This debate has been an opportunity not only to speak about the policy but to recognise the sector’s central role in British life, including the way that it underpins high streets as places that communities take pride in. Because of time constraints, I will resist the temptation to mention all the cafés, pubs and other venues in my constituency, although I congratulate other Members on their valiant efforts to do so— I particularly commend Anthony Mangnall for getting so many references into his speech.

In my constituency of Ealing North, it is hard to imagine Pitshanger Lane without Cinnamon café, where I first went with my grandparents many years ago. I thank the café for its excellent coffee and sandwiches, which keep me sustained and happy whenever I pop in as a customer. A few hundred yards away is the Duke of Kent, which is a gem of a pub that I am glad to be able to enjoy, but a couple of miles away is one of my favourite pubs, the Black Horse, which sadly closed just over a year ago. It is such a deep shame to see it boarded up whenever I walk or drive past. It is a sad reminder of the struggle that many hospitality venues face and of the real loss that local communities can feel when they close.

Our analysis shows that we have lost over 6,000 pubs from our high streets since 2010. Many hospitality venues are finding it harder and harder to succeed, because of high inflation, staff shortages, rising rents and the burden of business rates. At the same time, their customers have less money to spend on enjoying what pubs, cafés and restaurants have to offer, because their wages have flatlined, while taxes and the cost of living climb relentlessly.

Many hospitality businesses may have been hopeful when they heard about the Government’s 2019 manifesto promise of a fundamental review of the business rates system. However, the fundamental review never materialised, and trade groups representing businesses on the high street have expressed their disappointment. In March last year, the Federation of Small Businesses stated that

“the 2019 Manifesto commitment to hold a fundamental downward review of business rates has not happened…these changes do not amount to the fundamental overhaul the system needs”.

Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium said that the Government’s rates review report

“falls far short of the truly fundamental reform that is needed and was promised in the government’s 2019 manifesto.”

In the absence of fundamental action from this Government, Labour is committed to scrapping the current system of business rates and replacing it with a new approach that is fit for the current economy. As the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, has set out, if Labour were in government, we would scrap and replace business rates, and shift the burden away from hospitality and retail businesses on the high street, which continue to shoulder a heavy burden compared with those that operate primarily in the digital economy. Our new system would incentivise investment, promote entrepreneurship and reward businesses that move into empty premises. It would help the hospitality sector to thrive once again. Our plans for business rates form just one part of our five-point plan to reverse years of decline and revitalise local high streets, alongside our commitments to stem rampant energy bills, stamp out late payments, revamp empty shops and tackle antisocial behaviour.

Before the next general election, we expect another Budget, so I would be grateful if the Minister explained what representations he has had from the hospitality sector ahead of the Budget in March and what proposals he is considering to support hospitality this year. I am sure that many businesses will be interested in the Minister’s response. In this year’s general election, the Opposition will offer the change that businesses need: a Government that are ready to work hand in hand with businesses, get the economy growing and do everything we can to support the hospitality sector to thrive.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 10:34, 31 January 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Ms Bardell. I congratulate Alyn Smith on securing the debate, and thank everybody who has contributed. Everyone contributed in a very constructive manner—until a few minutes ago. Many hon. Members graciously commented on my previous role. As tourism Minister, I had the real pleasure of visiting the vast majority of their constituencies, and it has been fantastic to have a tour of the UK today. We have heard about the fantastic hospitality, tourism and leisure offerings in everybody’s constituencies, including some absolute gems that make us very proud of this industry.

The hospitality and leisure sector is formidable. Definitions can sometimes be difficult; sometimes when people use the term “hospitality”, they are just talking about pubs, bars and restaurant, but we are thinking more broadly about the tourism, hospitality and leisure offering. To respond to James Murray, I can say that we engage with the sector all the time. Just yesterday, many of us attended the UKHospitality reception, at which the formidable Kate Nicolls articulated the sector’s asks very well. We hear them all the time, and we are always listening to ideas.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The Minister mentioned a range of hospitality businesses. Will the Government please look at ensuring the survival of struggling businesses such as small music venues, which will close if they do not get the support they need?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

In this debate we have heard an ongoing request for simplification in recognition of these challenging times—we did, of course, spend £350 billion on the pandemic—and a series of requests for additional relief here, there and everywhere. Everybody recognises—the Welsh and Scottish Governments are also struggling with this—that financial times are tight and that every single one of those requests comes at a cost: either other people would pay more tax or spending would be reduced somewhere else.

We absolutely hear the requests, but as my hon. Friend Steve Double pointed out, over the past few years—certainly during the pandemic—the Government have recognised how vital the sector is and have been absolutely committed to it. It rightly received the immense support that it needed during the pandemic, including through the culture recovery fund to help music and heritage. So many sectors contribute to our tourism and hospitality offering. If we had not made those interventions during the pandemic, many businesses that are here today would otherwise not be. Ongoing asks during the period of recovery, when we need to start paying back that £350 billion, are very difficult because there would be massive consequences for taxpayers and the whole of the economy. I understand the challenges, but I think everybody recognises that every one of those asks comes at a cost.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

We obviously have to be careful with the nation’s finances and act within the envelope available to us, but what does the Minister make of the fact that UKinbound, Cumbria Tourism and others say that a variation of VAT levels would be of net benefit to the Treasury? Has he analysed those assessments? I am sure he has met those outfits personally.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I suspect I could spend the whole of this debate answering Members’ questions rather than going through my speech, much to the chagrin of my officials. Again, I understand the request. Many hon. Members pointed out that I was the one making these requests to the Treasury not so very long ago, for all the reasons they outlined, but we all recognise that we have to find the balance.

The point about dynamic modelling is really important. I will come on to VAT in a moment, but we must recognise that one of the biggest challenges of all requests for VAT relief is whether it will be passed on. There is not a 100% fantastic record of that happening in the hospitality and tourism sector or across the board, for understandable reasons. Cash flow was key during the pandemic, so not everybody was able to pass on the VAT reductions. When it comes to future requests for VAT reductions, we must be absolutely confident that they will be passed on, and that applies to multiple sectors.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. My right hon. Friend Priti Patel mentioned the forthcoming Budget. Is there anything the Minister can tease us with? Can we look forward to anything in the Budget to support the hospitality industry?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I do love it when former Ministers try to tempt me in that way, knowing full well what the answer will be. What I can say is that we are listening.

I have gone off script for the past few minutes to try to respond to hon. Members, who have spoken eloquently and with real consideration of the challenges with their asks. There are no easy answers, given the challenging financial services. I and the other Treasury Ministers, and certainly the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, are always listening. We are always open to listening to evidence-based information. In that context, I cannot make any hints or promises about what may be in the upcoming Budget, but I can say that the view and opinion of the hospitality sector, especially as embodied by talented people such as Kate Nicholls at UKHospitality, and many others right across the UK, is valued. The sector used to be incredibly fragmented, and therefore did not have the voice it has now. Now, the sector comes in with credible, decent asks that need to be assessed with evidence. The voice of the hospitality sector has never been stronger in Government. I applaud all the lobbyists and groups for doing that.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham

The Minister mentioned UKHospitality and Kate Nicholls and the way they have come together. Clearly, there are problems with labour markets in the hospitality sector, and there have been for many years—it is not a new phenomenon. What are the barriers to UKHospitality and the Treasury working together to create a labour market strategy for the hospitality sector?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Again, these are ongoing conversations across multiple Government Departments. In my former capacity as tourism Minister, I certainly had extensive conversations. There were sub-working groups at UKHospitality identifying areas for further work. That has had some impact, including through apprenticeship schemes. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight this issue. We have debated Brexit, which probably goes slightly beyond the current remit, although I understand the impact—and, by the way, the opportunities that come from that. My right hon. Friend is right that we need to focus on the domestic skills agenda. The hospitality and leisure sector contributes to one in five new jobs, so it is absolutely pivotal to that.

If hon. Members will forgive me, I will try to get through some of my speech—and not try your patience too much, Ms Bardell—because I am not even on page 1 yet.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Just to clarify, the Minister has a little bit of flexibility. Given the extent of the debate and the number of questions, he is free to go over the 10 minutes and answer everyone’s questions—as he would like.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I will make sure I leave a minute or two at the end for the hon. Member for Stirling to conclude—I may have shot myself in the foot there by giving everybody the opportunity to ask all the awkward questions they now have.

Like many hon. Members, my first job was in the hospitality and leisure sector, with a travel agent. I then had the very difficult choice at the age of 22 between taking a job for Arthur Andersen and becoming a Club 18-30 rep. I wonder if my life might have been considerably different if I had taken that slightly different path. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham is right: jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector help people with numeracy skills, self-confidence and interpersonal skills, which can stay with them for life.

We need to recognise that this sector is not just about part-time jobs for students or young people; we should not forget that there are also valuable, often very high-paying, long-term careers in the sector. The sector has evolved and changed, and is now a major contributor to the UK economy, with £140 billion of economic activity. There are masses of opportunities there, but the reputation and image of the sector is sometimes one of its inhibitors. I am therefore a huge champion of the sector for all the reasons we have outlined.

We have had quite a lot of debate today about the various support measures, including business rate relief. It is worth remembering that the Government provided £16 billion of business rate relief in England through the pandemic. In addition, we launched the temporary 50% retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme at the 2021 Budget. That was built on in the 2022 autumn statement, and the Government announced further tax cuts to the sector in last year’s autumn statement—about £4.3 billion over the next five years—and extended the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme at 75% up to a cash cap of £110,000 per business for 2024-25.

As has been recognised, the Labour Government in Wales and the SNP Government in Scotland were not able to extend those reliefs. I recognise that everybody realises there are considerable financial pressures, but with the greatest respect to my opposite numbers, who have been somewhat critical, I do think this is important and it is something I will play up very heavily: we have done things in England, where we have controlled the levers, that have not been done in Wales and Scotland.

Overall, this tax cut is worth about £2.4 billion for around 230,000 retail, hospitality and leisure properties to continue support for our vital high streets and protect so many small shops and businesses. The Government have also decided to freeze the small business multiplier for the fourth consecutive year. That will protect over a million rate payers and 90% of all properties from a multiplier increase.

For example, as a result of the changes, the average independent pub will receive about £11,800 of relief off their final business rates bill in 2024-25. Combined with the small business multiplier being frozen, they will benefit to the tune of about £12,800 of support. I repeat: that is not the level of support that they would get in Scotland or Wales.

A few points were raised about other areas, and I remind hon. Members that reliefs are also available for improvements in property. If there is an incremental rateable value because of improvements, that will not be included for the first year where eligible. I also remind hon. Members about the changes in alcohol duty and the Brexit pubs guarantee, which are designed to support the pubs sector and to help it operate on a level playing field with supermarkets.

My right hon. Friend Priti Patel made many points about skills and jobs. I will not repeat what I said, because I think I have made the point that we are very aware of the importance of that sector and the role we have in developing skills and opportunities.

Cutting VAT was mentioned by nearly everybody, and I want to be clear on this point. As we all know, VAT is a major contributor to the nation’s finances, which we then spend on our vital public services. It is forecast to raise about £173 billion in 2023-24. Since we left the EU, we have been taking advantage of multiple reliefs. I believe that if we were to rank ourselves against all other EU countries for the total number of reliefs we are able to exercise through VAT, we would be about second or third. We have been taking advantage of leaving by reducing reliefs and making real differences where and when we can.

The VAT cut for tourism and hospitality that we made during the pandemic came at a significant cost of more than £8 billion. Reintroducing it would come at a considerable cost. That was just one element of the support for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector during the pandemic, but it was a really important part of it.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I thank the Minister for that response; it is very helpful to get an understanding of what the costs would be around VAT. Was any modelling done of what would have happened if we had not made that cut and what the impact would have been in terms of lost businesses and rising unemployment numbers? Could those models be produced or published, so that we can make that comparison in Parliament?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Various pieces of internal and external analysis have been released. We all know anecdotally from experiences in our constituencies that it literally did save businesses around the country. As I said, the Treasury keep tax policy under review all the time—that is a mantra, but it is true. The message I want to get across to colleagues today is that this will not be an easy choice. I understand the asks and we understand the impact, and there are various points of modelling, but it would not be an easy option. I repeat the caution that pass-through is vital when it comes to VAT relief. That did not happen wholly last time, but I understand why, as some of it was cash flow.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

Everybody understands the passion with which the Minister is pushing this. I do hope, as I teased last time, that he is having private conversations with the Treasury and making the mathematical case very clear. A business that closes does not pay any VAT at all. A business that thrives because VAT has been reduced somewhat can then pay more corporation tax. That is the mathematical formula that we would like to see, which I think has been presented by UKHospitality, and which justifies reducing VAT to 10% in the hospitality sector.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

My right hon. Friend makes a logical point. I assure him that I am listening, but I am not making any promises.

I will refer to a couple of other areas that hon. Members mentioned. I appreciate the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Stirling. He recognised that there are things that the sector is requesting and looking for that Scotland, Wales and other countries are not able to deliver. That does not mean that any of us are not sympathetic; it is about the balance of the support package that we need to deliver. Like many today, he commented on both business rates and VAT.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay has one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country, but also, as he said, one of those that is most reliant on this sector. He raised a variety of points, and he and I have had ongoing conversations about this subject, because he is such a champion of it. His point about the ongoing efforts to make sure that we get more inbound tourists outside London is pivotal. There are various opportunities and measures: VisitEngland, VisitBritain, VisitScotland, VisitWales, Discover Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland all do a fantastic job of helping to support and enable that tourism, plus there is a key role for our transport system.

My hon. Friend is right, however, that about 50% of all inbound tourism spend is within the M25. That is great, and we are not saying that that should be less; we are saying that we want it to be “London plus”. That is a key part of the tourism strategy, and I assure my hon. Friend that we are talking about this on an ongoing basis with DCMS and the Tourism Minister.

Rachael Maskell highlighted issues in her fantastic constituency, which I have had the pleasure of visiting on multiple occasions. She highlighted the importance of heritage in the tourism and hospitality ecosystem, and also mentioned flooding. She may or may not be aware that there are opportunities for businesses that are severely impacted by flooding under what is called a “material change in circumstances”. Working with the valuation office, there are opportunities to see, on a case-by-case basis, whether some relief is available. She might want to see whether some of the businesses impacted could consider that, as well as other support measures that we have provided for those impacted by flooding.

My hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall raised multiple points. He highlighted the upside of some of the trade deals that we are doing, so his constituency is now probably going to be flooded by Australian barmen and barwomen over the next few years. That is not necessarily a bad thing; I wonder whether they are better cocktail waiters and waitresses than he was.

My hon. Friend also raised the important point that, although the headline rates of VAT in some of our European friends’ countries may be lower, there is often a sting in the tail of quite considerable—startlingly high, in some cases—tourism tax, sometimes at a very local level. There is not a huge amount of evidence to suggest that that works either. There is always a balance, and although something may look like a beneficial tax rate system, one only has to scratch beneath the surface to find that there is something a bit more to it.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

The Minister is giving a comprehensive answer to all the points raised in the debate. I re-emphasise the point that, if he is worried about the £8 billion figure that was quoted as a cost for when we reduce VAT by 15%, he could get around that not only by using UKHospitality’s data, but by tiering it and doing a 2% reduction over a five-year period. I hope that would at least comfort the bean counters in the Treasury and reassure UKHospitality that we are going in the right direction.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am yet to see the beans being counted, although I am sure that it happens somewhere. My hon. Friend is building on a very clear message that I have received from right hon. and hon. Members today.

Tim Farron and I have had ongoing conversations over multiple years. I do not doubt his passion and support for the sector, or how important the sector is for his constituents. He was right to raise the issue of holiday lettings. I understand that he is disappointed with some of the measures that we have brought in, although some of those measures will make a real difference, including the ability to charge more for some rental properties. All I can say is that we are well aware of some of the additional lobbying for proposed changes and, again, that we are always open to further ideas.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Although we need labour from outside, we also need to be able to grow our own talent domestically; that is the specific thing that will make a difference. The real problem is the collapse of residential properties for long-term occupation. The answer to that is a separate category of planning use for short-term lets and a separate category for second homes. Will his Government choose to do either of those things? They promised to do at least the first one.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are listening. Some measures are being put in place that local authorities will have powers to implement, but I understand that a lot of people are not happy with the situation. I completely understand the challenges at a local level, particularly when it comes to employment and the unaffordable cost of housing in many parts of the country, as many Members have mentioned.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

In my speech I mentioned the extension of covid loans for businesses that have those loans. What is the Treasury’s view on extending them so that investment can be made in those businesses elsewhere?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I cannot comment on any further changes, but there has been some flexibility with covid loans, as we have announced. This is important. Of course, we want those covid loans to be paid back, but that needs to be done over a period of time that is sustainable for businesses. This is in the context of the overall support, including the comments that I made about business rates relief and other things for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector. We are aware that the sector was hit so hard by the pandemic and is still in the process of recovering—it is recovering remarkably strongly, but it is not out of the danger zone yet.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Order. Before the Minister gives way, I just say that I gave him extra flexibility so that he could answer everybody’s queries and questions, but I want to give an opportunity to respond to the sponsoring Member, Alyn Smith. So please keep the intervention short.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

On the housing issue, one thing that the Treasury could do is level the tax playing field on the tax breaks between short-term holiday lets and residential properties. That would make a significant difference and would really help. Perhaps the Minister will take that message back.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my hon. Friend and others for their input today. I will briefly comment on a couple of more items before I close, Ms Bardell. Wera Hobhouse, which is another beautiful constituency that I visit frequently, raised a range of issues, including the importance of the environment in the tourism eco-system and environmentally sensitive tourism. I think we will respectfully disagree on the efforts being made by the Government on decarbonising and so on. I think we have a very proud record. I recognise that there is a debate in this area, but her broader points about the contribution of tourism to the environment and the importance of sustainability are important.

John Nicolson raised a range of issues, and I will present to him the challenge that I also presented to my opposite number, the hon. Member for Ealing North. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire made a comment about tax cuts just for the rich and wealthy, but that is so far from reality that I will have to respectfully disagree with him. If he does not believe that we are giving tax cuts to everybody—as I said, the national insurance cuts that we made were for 27 million people— I will present him with the same challenge: let us look at his pay packet for this month and see whether the contribution is lower than December’s. If he does not believe that it is lower, with respect, why does he not give that money to charity or back to the Government? It is important that we recognise that the national insurance cuts are meaningful for 27 million people, including many people on low incomes. That is far from the characterisation of saying that these are tax cuts for the wealthy. We have a laser focus on making sure that the low-paid benefit from such tax cuts.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I am sure the Minister will have heard me: I specifically referred to cuts in inheritance tax. That is what I raised in my speech. If he would like to tell us that that is a red herring and that no such cuts are intended, I would be delighted to hear it.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No such cuts have been made. As I said, the hon. Member’s point was speculation and that is not anything I can comment on today.

Ms Bardell, thank you for your patience. I thank everyone for their contributions. All points have been taken on board, and I thank hon. Members for their passion for the sector.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession) 10:59, 31 January 2024

In the time available, I will just thank colleagues for a very constructive debate with a number of good ideas. I think the Minister gets it. He has proven that he understands the sector and that he is passionate about it, but I would stress the cross-party urgency. Whether we are talking about a VAT cut to 5% or 10%, there is unity for a cut. Businesses that go under do not pay any tax at all. They do not employ anybody and will leave gaping holes in our communities. I think the Minister takes that point. He knows he has an opportunity in the Budget coming up. If the Chancellor brings forward measures to support the hospitality sector, nobody will applaud louder than I will, because this is urgent and there is a need for all of us to work together on this point.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered fiscal support for the hospitality sector.