Tourism industry needs a year of Government funding to survive - Tim Farron

It is a humbling honour to represent a part of Britain as breathtakingly beautiful as the South Lakes. Our communities here are as strong as the landscape is beautiful.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt strongly in the tourism industry.

As is being seen across the border in Yorkshire, hundreds of volunteers, many facing severe hardship themselves, are involved in serving their neighbours in their hour of need.

We may need to stay a safe distance apart, but our communities have never been closer.

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I am proud of our people, and I am determined that they should be financially stable and secure at the end of all this. In normal times, we are one of Europe’s biggest visitor destinations.

Richmondshire in North Yorkshire is expected to suffer badly economically in the crisis.

Last year alone, we received 16 million visitors.

Visitors come from Britain and all over the world, not only for the landscape but because we have a world-class hospitality and tourism industry, with the best pubs, restaurants, accommodation, attractions, heritage and history, and an innovative retail sector fully integrated with the visitor economy.

In the Lake District alone, 80 per cent of the working population are employed in tourism or hospitality. The Cumbrian visitor economy contributes £3 billion a year, and £1.45 billion will already have been lost by next month, with 80 per cent of the workers in the hotel and food industries currently furloughed.

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The RSA study put Richmondshire, in North Yorkshire, as the constituency expected to suffer the worst economic damage from the crisis in the country, with 6,000 jobs at risk.

The Chancellor’s financial package to help hospitality businesses has been really welcome. However, there are still many businesses that are falling through the cracks, receiving no support at all.

People who have become self-employed in the last year, those workers who started new jobs in March, owners of small limited companies, businesses that operate from people’s homes and businesses that pay council tax rather than business rates all continue to miss out. Fitting into the last category are small B&Bs which are vital to the hospitality industry.

After much pressure, I’m glad that the Government have now announced that £617m has been made available for businesses such as these, but it remains to be seen whether this money will stretch far enough to support every business that misses out, or indeed whether many are actually eligible under the Government’s guidelines. We will continue to put pressure on the Chancellor.

For many in the Lakes, the Yorkshire Dales and the rest of Cumbria, hospitality and tourism are seasonal. They operate their trading year on something of a “feast and famine” basis.

The coronavirus hit right at the end of the famine, and now this year there will be no feast. If we do not get this right, we may inadvertently kill off an entire industry that is essential to our wider economy.

When it is safe to do so, the lockdown will ease, but it seems likely that hospitality and tourism will be the last to return to normality under the Government’s plans. We understand that. Our priority is to protect our people and to save lives.

The problem is that if hospitality and tourism are phased back in the autumn, having missed out on the feast of the summer months, they will have to try to keep themselves afloat just as the famine of winter begins.

If we do not provide long-term support for those businesses, we will be faced with tens of thousands of furloughed workers losing their jobs as soon as support ends. That will have a colossal impact on our communities and will push countless families into poverty.

With 22 million fewer visitors to the UK, according to Visit Britain, the tourism industry faces a shortfall of billions. Alarming research from Cumbria Tourism reports indicated that the cost of coronavirus may reach £1.45 billion by the end of this month for Cumbria alone. This cost also translates into over 18,000 job losses, which will have devastating consequences.

Additional grants and an extension of the furlough scheme will be needed over the summer, but if that is all we do, the Government will simply be delaying the failure of businesses, the loss of jobs and the hardship and misery of the families of the South Lakes. I will not stand for that, and I hope that the Government will not do so either.

That is why we are calling for the Government to protect this vital industry by committing to a 12-month ​funding settlement for tourism and hospitality so that they can survive the winter and be ready to lead the revival in the spring of 2021.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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