Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston has urged SNP ministers to use millions of pounds of unspent Covid cash to support struggling tourism businesses across the Highlands and Islands.
The Shadow Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise made the call after it was revealed that tens of millions of pounds of funding provided by the UK Government to the Scottish Government to manage the Covid pandemic remained unspent or unaccounted for.
Researchers from the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) were unable to identify where around £134 million - of the £4.6 billion in funding provided by the UK Government to the SNP Government to manage the Covid pandemic so far this year - had been spent.
Scottish Conservative MSP Mr Halcro Johnston said: “Tourism and hospitality is vital to the Highlands and Islands, and this is a region which is so dependent on these sectors for local jobs and livelihoods. If even a fraction of that money was put into our local economy - and not left sitting in SNP government coffers in Edinburgh - that could make a real difference to many local businesses which still face so many challenges."
“The Scottish Government has to understand that few parts of our economy have suffered as much as hospitality and tourism since the pandemic broke. Businesses are still struggling, some have been unable to open and too many have been left teetering on the brink."
“International travel remains effectively closed and that means that many high-spending tourists who would normally come here from abroad have been absent, with all the implications that has for cash-flow and financial sustainability.”
Mr Halcro Johnston’s comments have been echoed by leading members of the Scottish tourism sector including Fiona Campbell of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers who called on the Government to “help us before it’s too late”, while Gordon Morrison of Scottish Visitor Attractions has said “We are in real danger of some of our country’s most iconic attractions closing for good.”
Mr Halcro Johnston added: “In a normal year tourism is worth £1bn to the Highlands and Islands. We need urgent action – not just more promises - from SNP ministers if we are to be able to look forward to a similar contribution in the future.”
Analysis by the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) identified that of the over £4.6 billion in funding provided by the UK Government to the SNP Government to manage the Covid pandemic so far this year, under £4.5 billion had been committed to spending or tax reliefs. However, SPICe were unable to identify where or if the missing £134 million had been directly committed to spending.
In a blog analysis post on 28 June 2021, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre estimated that of the £4.6 billion given by the UK Government to the Scottish Government in 2021/22 so far for managing the Covid-19 pandemic:
- £1.749 billion is being spent on health and social care
- £1.189 billion on local government, including business support
- £472 million on transport
- £445 million on other costs
- £773 million for which a cost is not specified, of this:
- They estimate that £539 million is made up of rates relief.
- They also estimate that £100 million will be spent on public sector pay changes.
- SPICe say that these two policies “largely but not fully” account for this spending.
There is £134 million that the Scottish Parliament Information Centre cannot account for.
(SPICe Blog, 28 June 2021, link).
The Scottish Tourism Alliance called on the SNP Government to continue to provide financial support for businesses that rely on international visitors. Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance welcomed the indicative date of 9 August for the removal of all restrictions but said: ‘This however does not detract from the importance of getting the international market moving as soon as it is safe to do so and businesses which remain significantly impacted by the loss of our international visitors must continue to receive financial support until such time as they are able to trade viably.’ (Scottish Tourism Alliance, 22 June 2021, link)
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said that businesses are ‘racking up further debt every time they open the doors.’ Paul Waterson of the SLTA said: ‘With increased staff costs to provide table service and fewer tables because of social distancing rules, most business continue to operate at a loss, racking up further debt every time they open the doors… We need to be able to open without restrictions as soon as we can… For those still unable to open because of their size or the entertainment they provide, such as late-night premises and nightclubs, the situation is even more serious. So we continue to call for further financial aid to ensure the survival of the licensed hospitality industry as it plays its part in rebuilding the economy.’ (Scottish Licensed Trade Association, 23 June 2021, link)
UK Hospitality Scotland called out the SNP Government for failing to support businesses. UK Hospitality Scotland Executive Director, Leon Thompson, said: ‘The indicative date of 9 August for a further move to normality will seem a long time away for many businesses struggling with debt and restrictions are likely to still remain at that point. What was completely absent from the First Minister’s statement was anything on business support. This is vital to ensure that businesses - which have already held on so long and are now at breaking point - can survive.’ (UK Hospitality, 22 June 2021, link)
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association claim the travel industry in Scotland has been ‘sacrificed’ by the SNP Government. Joanne Dooey, SPAA president, said: ‘Despite a world-beating vaccination programme and easily accessible albeit expensive testing, we’re further behind at opening up travel than we were 12 months ago when we had no rapid testing and no vaccination… We’ve challenged the First Minister to come and meet us so we can explain why we feel that our businesses and the wonderful people we employ seem to be being sacrificed.’ (STV News, 23 June 2021, link)
Fiona Campbell (The Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers) said: “On behalf of my sector, and the others who have produced this deeply concerning data, I want to send a very clear message to those in power: help us before it’s too late”
Gordon Morrison (Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions): “Without governmental intervention to help their survival and recovery, we are in real danger of some of our country’s most iconic attractions closing for good. These are not only the jewels of our £12billion tourism industry, they are integral to our culture, heritage and communities.”
Victoria Brooks (Wild Scotland): “we need the Scottish Government to step up and support these important sectors to ensure survival”
Alan Rankin (Sail Scotland): “Boat operators missed out on previous grants as they did not qualify under schemes requiring business rated premises.”
(The Herald, 16 June 2021, link).