HIP Commentary: Fair Question, Raab-ish Response
Mr Raab’s description of the coronavirus as “significantly affecting the tourism industry” is platitudinous blather. It is obvious that for as long as the government maintains a strategy of forcibly applying social distancing regulation to all segments of society– young and old, healthy and health-challenged – for an apparent indefinite future across the entire country, there is no possibility of restoring tourism on a scale anywhere near its pre-pandemic level. Advice to restaurants to set up their tables further apart, limitation of numbers of passengers on trains and buses, instruction to event managers to keep audience members distanced from each other in theatres or sports stadia, dispersal of social groupings of all sorts: these are petty adjustments that won’t scale up. For most people the attraction of travelling away from home involves social participation – whether in sport, concerts and other cultural/leisure entertainments or just gatherings of family or friends – that is effectively nullified, both practically and psychologically, by distancing rigmarole.
And the truth is that the level of help currently offered by government to the average small business that operates in the tourism, arts and leisure sectors of Hastings and Rye is going to make little indent into their losses over an extended period; nor does the employment furlough scheme work for a considerable proportion of seasonal employees, zero-hour staff and other workers in these sectors. As for interest-free loans, what prudently-managed tourism business can be justified in increasing its debt when there is no end in sight?
Mr Raab went on to refer to a £1.3m grant made to support “destination management organisations [DMOs] at risk of closure”. Quite apart from the paucity of this sum, to be spread over the whole of the English tourism industry, how will this allocation help businesses in Hastings and Rye? The relevant DMO seems to be Tourism South East (based, incidentally, 84 miles away in Eastleigh, Hampshire). Its website describes its role as to “provide expert advice and guidance” and to “support the performance and growth” of the sector in “partnership”. But hotels, restaurants, arts centres, music venues etc don’t need advice or marketing at present or in the currently foreseeable future. What they need is permission to re-open. Seeing government money spent in shoring up infrastructure management while they are given no inkling of a timetable to rescue their own businesses feels like a kick in the teeth.
Mrs Hart states in her above article that she is “acutely aware of” and “working to address” the issue: she describes as “fundamental” measures that are “taken in the next few months for these businesses to bounce back”. Her good faith is not in issue. But neither she nor the rest of her political class show that they understand just how far and how fast the economic and social losses are mounting up.
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