Tourism: Covid-19

Alistair Carmichael Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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I apologise for not having been here for most of the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker; I have been trying to multi-task today and have been failing miserably.

I wish to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) about the reduced VAT rate, as I, along with many others, have been campaigning for that for many years. It is a welcome move, but, as he said, it requires a bit more consideration, with a view to a more open-minded approach from the Treasury to see it extended. I believe it is due to run until January or February of next year, but we are talking about people who have come out of six months of winter into spring of this year, when they were earning very little, and then been closed down for most of what would be their economically productive season. Accordingly, they simply have not opened up and they will be going back into their quiet season again, with a view to going back into their full productive effort around Easter next year, by which time the benefit of a reduced VAT rate is not going to be there for them.

I also say to Treasury Ministers, through the Minister on the Front Bench, that one of their objections to a reduced VAT rate for the visitor economy over the years has always been that they do not think it would have the effect on the tax take that is claimed for it. After a significant period at the reduced rate, if it is extended beyond that which we have at the moment, we will have reliable data that should settle that question once and for all. The case for a continuation of the VAT reduction period is strong.

As the local economy in the Northern Isles was opening up over the summer months, I was able to go out, and as the visitor economy is so important for us, I took time to talk to hoteliers. The thing that came across to me loud and clear was their frustration at having no control over so many of the things they need to rebuild their businesses and get money back into our community.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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As an MP for an island constituency, like me, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the financial packages provided by this Government are particularly important for island and coastal communities?

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Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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They are absolutely important for island and coastal communities, because there are so many different ways in which we do not control our own destiny. I talked to hoteliers at the north end of Shetland, one of whom was particularly frustrated because they had had so many group bookings cancelled—NorthLink Ferries had cancelled the bookings from the tour companies themselves. That Government-provided service should be running for the benefit of the community, but, for reasons that were perhaps understandable but which came without the necessary consultation, these people had been left without the proper control. As we begin to rebuild the visitor economy, in the Northern Isles and elsewhere, the one plea I make to Government in London and in Edinburgh is that the communities that rely on the visitor economy should be given the power to do that for themselves. They are the people who know best what they need, and they need to be listened to. Give them the tools to rebuild our tourism industry and they will do the job for us.