‘Save Norfolk’s tourism industry’: Five MPs make urgent plea to Chancellor over coronavirus
PUBLISHED: 14:12 05 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:55 05 April 2020
MPs have urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to come to the aid of Norfolk’s “profoundly vulnerable” £3.3bn tourism industry hit by coronavirus.
Five MPs have urged Mr Sunak to consider extra measures to aid the county’s tourism sector hit so badly by coronavirus they fear many businesses will not survive a year.
They declare the Norfolk Broads boating holiday market has been “devastated” and many others affected at their ‘most vulnerable’ time.
The MPs state coronavirus hit the tourism industry at the “worst point in the year” when coming through winter and with operating cash at the lowest. The result, they state, is that “businesses will not be able to survive through to Easter 2021.”
The plea in the form of a letter signed by each of them, urges some additional changes by the government to aid tourism firms with financing, seasonal workers and insurance with the aim of “plugging some of the gaps around the big interventions that have been made.”
Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadlandm gathered support from Duncan Baker (North Norfolk), George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) and James Wild (North-West Norfolk) in urging the Chancellor to act to save Norfolk’s tourism.
“Tourism is the single biggest contributor to the Norfolk economy, both in terms of revenue and employment, with 67,000 people employed by the sector – 18.9% of all employment in Norfolk – generating £3.3 billion to the economy. To put this into perspective this is larger than the tourism economy of Cornwall.
“Covid-19 has hit the tourism industry at the worst point in the year when operating cash is at its very lowest, having come through the winter, invested in growth and increased employment in time for the new season.
“Most businesses at this point are at their most vulnerable and are already running out of cash reserves. Because of the seasonal nature of their trade, under current Covid-19 projections it is likely that these businesses will not be able to survive through to Easter 2021, with such little revenue forecast before the tourist season closes.
“Even with the majority of staff furloughed and costs cut to an absolute minimum, under current schemes they simply will not survive.”
The MPs state how Norfolk’s tourism sector is reliant on the summer season – boats are hired out on the Broads, for example, over a 20 week season, usually starting now and coming out of the water in September.
They make the point that many firms have ‘unavoidable overheads’ having to retain some staff and that amassing more debt under the Covid working capital loan scheme was ‘not a realistic option.’
They also asked for the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme to be looked at – indeed Mr Sunak has issued new guidelines which hopefully will put more pressure on the banks to deliver.
But the MPs look at the longer term picture, and fear that businesses won’t be able to pay back loans or deferred payments, adding: “In pushing back various tax and debt repayments now, merely to ease immediate cashflow pressures, many fear that this is simply storing up trouble for later down the road.”
They also address the issue of seasonal workers, who make up the backbone to Norfolk’s tourism sector and operate on short term contracts for the summer months.
“Therefore, they cannot be furloughed as they were not employed in February and if they are self-employed, they will not receive grants under the self-employed income support scheme unless they have had that status for more than 12 months.”
They also ask the government to consider allowing key staff to continue to work whilst furloughed to allow a business to keep ticking over. And they suggest banks lending at a set percentage above base rates after the first 12 months. “This is the banks’ opportunity to stand behind the real economy that funded their own bailout in 2008; increase the available length of term for scheme loans easing the financial burden and making them more akin to mortgages.”
Their final plea was concerning insurance; as many businesses such as pubs and restaurants are finding their insurance doesn’t cover them for coronavirus unless it was actually found on the premises.
“Finally, business insurers are avoiding payment of business interruption claims...if the government is able agree a waiver of this constraint then this will assist a significant number of businesses.”
They finish by praising the work that has to be done for business. “The government’s response to this crisis has been breathtaking but we propose that these additional steps are needed to support truly seasonal businesses.”
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