Published in the Stirling Observer, 17 June 2020.
I think we can now say that the sacrifices we have all made, as a Country, to suppress the spread of this dreadful coronavirus strain has resulted in a sustained drop in its rate of infection. However, clearly, we are not over this yet, and there is certainly no room for complacency. Otherwise we might find ourselves in the same position we were just a few weeks ago, with a peak in the number of cases as well as more tragic deaths.
With a hope to the future and the further easing of restrictions, we have a provisional date for the re-opening of the Tourism industry in Scotland of 15 July. Of course, this is subject to confirmation but if we all continue to stick by the rules and the spread of the virus continues to decline, many tourism and hospitality related businesses should be able to operate again. However, physical distancing measures must still apply to keep people safe. This will continue to present a huge challenge to many tourism and hospitality operators.
Alyn Smith MP and I have spent the last few weeks engaged in video conferences with many local business leaders. People from every corner of the Constituency, working in every sector of our local economy. It is widely accepted that we cannot simply return to the way things were before March. For example, there will still be a requirement for members of the public to maintain physical distance from each other – which will almost certainly affect capacity to operate in workplaces, shops and other venues.
The one message that is ringing loud and clear from businesses is the need for certainty over the further support that they are going to need to see them through this period. This is true for much business’s right across the economy but in particular for the tourism and hospitably sector. Most tourism and other hospitality businesses in the Stirling area, while operating all year round, make the majority of their money during the busy summer months. These businesses have closed down entirely during the first part of lockdown. Moreover, the phased return to operating and physical distancing requirements will mean that they will be very limited in their day-to-day operations when they do re-open.
It is clear that many tourism related businesses – particularly small and medium-size operators, who form the backbone of the Stirling and wider Scottish economy – have essentially missed that crucial May-October trade.
I have raised this on numerous occasions in the Scottish Parliament, as well as in Committee and described the situation these businesses are finding themselves in as being like three consecutive winters. They need tailored grant support to see them through to next spring and they need it soon.
However, the reality of the current devolved settlement is that Scotland simply not allowed, under the current fiscal rules to borrow the money, needed to offer this support. That is why Scottish Finance Secretary, continues to press the UK Treasury on this. Short of Scotland having reasonable new responsibilities to borrow in the current emergency we face; the Treasury must commit this funding to the Scottish Government. Our local businesses need confirmation that this support is coming and very soon. The truth is we do act fast we will see a tidal wave of bankruptcy, increased unemployment, debt and poverty. We must avoid this situation at all costs.
The challenges facing people during this crisis are evolving. My team, alongside Alyn Smith MP’s team, are here to help in any way we can.