The Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing said the tourism sector had been severely affected by Covid-19 and that, in response, the Scottish Government had provided business grant support to mitigate this impact but this was “not yet complete” and there was still more to do. He touched upon the “positive developments” in recent weeks with the news that tourism and hospitality will open on 15th July and self-catering from 3rd July, as well as the publication of guidance for the sectors. The Cabinet Secretary also highlighted the new Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce which will meet for the first time this afternoon.
UK Government Support
The Convener Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP) inquired about what long-term measures the UK Government could take to support the Scottish tourism industry, such as a cut in VAT, and also flagged issues on insurance cover for tourism businesses. The Cabinet Secretary replied that the Scottish Government had raised the issue of a VAT cut with the UK Government and that he was engaged in constructive and amicable discussions on this and other issues. He welcomed the recent extension of the furlough scheme to October 2020 but called for it to be extended further and said he feared for jobs in the tourism sector if it was not. He also mentioned discussions between the Scottish Government and the Association of British Insurers and wanted the UK Government to apply pressure on insurers to “do the right thing”.
Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab) thought that the tourism and hospitality guidance was “flexible” in nature and asked whether it was sufficiently robust. The Cabinet Secretary put on record his appreciation for the industry in their help in producing the guidance and said that there was specific guidance available for specific types of premises.
Scottish Government Business Grants
Claire Baker expressed concern at businesses not receiving access to the Pivotal Enterprise Resource Fund, and the fact that there was no detailed list of those who had received funds, while Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con) and Beatrice Wishart (Shetland) (Lib Dem) highlighted difficulties from B&B operators accessing support from hardship funds.
Beatrice Wishart sought information on what should be done if a guest in self-catering accommodation developed Covid-19 symptoms while on holiday. The Cabinet Secretary said he believed it was possible for the affected guest to get a test arranged and, if that test was positive, the guest “should go home” and preferably in a private vehicle. Following that, the business owner should then engage in a thorough cleaning of the premises. He also noted his discussions with ferry operators to provide an isolation area for affected individuals.
A number of MSPs on the Committee highlighted concerns about ferry capacity, including the impact of the 2m rule on social distancing. Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP) mentioned the difficulties faced by coach tour operators in accessing business support, while Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con) highlighted representations he had received from the coach industry on school transportation. In response to the latter, the Cabinet Secretary pointed out that was the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson.
In response to questions from Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green) and Stuart McMillan on the extension of the furlough scheme, the Cabinet Secretary emphasised the importance of encouraging staycations to boost the tourism sector in Scotland and provide a further economic lifeline to businesses that had previously relied on Scottish and UK Government funds to tide them over. In response to Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP), the Cabinet Secretary said many people would be “champing at the bit” to visit a self-catering property or caravan and that many in the tourism sector had already experienced a “surge in demand” for bookings.
Claire Baker drew attention to the prospect of receiving overseas visitors, touching on the arrangements for ‘air bridges’ with other countries. The Cabinet Secretary said the Scottish Government were liaising with the UK Government on this matter but that he wanted to be in a position to welcome overseas visitors back to Scotland when safe to do so.
Patrick Harvie touched on concerns about low pay and poor working conditions in the tourism and hospitality sector and referenced the recommendation on conditionality contained in the Higgins Report that business support should be conditional on driving up standards.
Stuart McMillan engaged the Cabinet Secretary in a discussion about Visit Scotland’s Themed Years and whether the Year of Coasts and Waters could be extended into 2021. The Cabinet Secretary explained that the Themed Years last for two years.