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Covid-19: Heritage and Tourism Sector

Volume 675: debated on Monday 27 April 2020

The Government are committed to our world-class heritage and tourism sectors. I and my officials are engaging across Government and are in regular weekly discussions with industry stakeholders. The Chancellor has set out an unprecedented support package for businesses and workers, including those in the heritage and tourism sectors, to help protect them in the current emergency. We have also announced a £1.3 million scheme to support destination management organisations, and both the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England have announced sectoral support packages.

Liverpool’s visitor economy brought in £3.3 billion last year, supporting 6,300 businesses and 57,000 jobs, but by June almost £1 billion will have been lost in Liverpool alone because of the lockdown. Will he undertake to push the Chancellor to extend further the business support he announced to those with a rateable value over £51,000 and to extend help to the self-employed and micro-businesses in the sector, who are falling between the cracks of the available support schemes?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the enormous economic value of the tourism industry —not only in her area, but right across the country. I assure her that we are in regular conversations and dialogue with not only the industry but the Treasury, and those discussions will continue.

The Keighley and Worth Valley railway—Yorkshire’s No. 1 tourist attraction—has welcomed over 7 million visitors to Keighley in the last 50 years, all supporting our much-loved heritage railway and the local economy in Keighley. Like all heritage railways, it is run predominantly by passionate volunteers, with an economic model based on ensuring that ticket sales are plentiful. With social distancing restrictions unlikely to be relaxed for a significant time, will the Minister outline what additional support he will consider providing to the heritage railway sector?

The importance of the heritage rail sector was recognised last year, when the National Lottery Heritage Fund gave a grant of nearly £800,000 to bring the Keighley and Worth Valley railway back into service for the first time in 25 years. My hon. Friend may wish to apply to the £50 million emergency programme launched by the heritage fund to support the heritage sector through the covid-19 pandemic. He may also want to approach Historic England, which has announced an additional £2 million programme of grants for smaller specialist organisations and projects.

It is a pleasure to make my Dispatch Box debut, albeit virtually; I believe I am the first Member to make an inaugural appearance from the Front Bench online.

On Friday, G20 Tourism Ministers met. The UK tourism sector is greatly exposed to the lockdown and, with the summer season coming, the uncertainty is causing distress. The sector learnt that it would be among the last to exit lockdown merely as an aside from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on “The Andrew Marr Show”. In contrast, President Macron outlined a strategy for the French tourism trade including flexible furlough, a 100% state-backed loan—not 80%—and state backing for postponed rather than cancelled holidays. Our system of refund credit notes can be expanded and extended to protect our domestic tourism industry. Did the Minister discuss those measures at the G20 meeting? What consideration has he made on introducing them?

I congratulate the hon. Member on his first virtual appearance from the Opposition Front Bench. He raises many important issues. We had a constructive conversation with the G20 tourism Ministers, primarily around the recovery programme. We are continuing the dialogue, both domestically and internationally, on all those issues. Of course, the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector has benefited from additional measures including business rate relief, and we will continue the dialogue with all stakeholders to ensure that the sector is looked after.