Jim Parker: I fear this gift horse won’t help us stay the course

I am a firm believer in never looking a gift horse in the mouth – as long as the horse can go the full course.

In the case of the ‘presents’ announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week I fear they will do little to help some of our stricken tourism and hospitality businesses stay in the saddle!

To be fair to the government, they have done quite a bit to help businesses during these dreadfully damaging times with things like the furlough scheme and bounce back loans.

And I am sure the Chancellor was only trying his best with some additional measures for the sector which has been hit financially more than most by the pandemic lockdown which millions of pounds lost.

He announced VAT was being cut from 20 per cent to five per cent for things like accommodation, theme parks and cinemas and for food and non-alcoholic drinks in restaurants and takeaways - but only between now and next January.

He also threw in a voucher scheme where customers will be able to claim £10 off a meal.

As I say, nobody wants to appear to be ungrateful. But are these measures, especially the limited VAT cut, going to prevent some businesses from going under? Sadly, I fear the answer is no.

July 4 and so-called Independence Day when the sector was allowed to re-open to the public was welcomed all round. But Super Saturday never really took off and it is going to be a long while before locals are confident enough to return to our bars and restaurants in large, safe-distanced and meaningful numbers. And, likewise, for visitors booking into our hotels and guest houses.

Our tourism industry needs much more help faced with having to survive what could be three winters.

The English Riviera Attractions, which represents many of the top attractions locally, are spearheading a campaign to persuade the Chancellor to retain a reduced VAT rate for the hospitality sector throughout 2021.

Bygones boss Richard Cuming,speaking on behalf of the group, said: “We welcome the reduction in the VAT rate to five per cent for the remainder of 2020.

“But this year in many ways will be a transition period where members will operate with a massive reduction in visitor numbers, reduced capacity and much higher operating costs to maintain COVID secure opening.

“Some members,such as our theatres,remain closed with no known reopening date.

““Traditionally group and coach visits extend the season into the winter months and this is unlikely to happen this year.

“We are also grateful for all the measures, grants and bounce back loans the Chancellor has already put in place which will help businesses to survive this period.

“But until social distancing is dropped, we cannot enter the recovery phase which hopefully will be in time for the 2021 holiday season.

“We need to look ahead to next summer now and one way to boost staycation bookings and international visitors would be to retain a reduced VAT rate for hospitality until at least December next year.

“Our sector will play an important role rebuilding our economy, securing jobs and getting the country back to normal with UK holidays.

“We recognise maintaining the rate at five per cent may not be sustainable. However, a rate of around 12 per cent would be a major boost to our recovery.”

The group is hoping MPs, including Torbay’s Kevin Foster and Brixham’s Anthony Mangnall, will support its call to the Chancellor.

Richard says: “Whilst we support the necessary current regulation during the recovery phase and beyond businesses will only be able to build back up and new ones be established if we deregulate to encourage investment.”

There really is little way forward unless the government recognises that seaside economies like Torbay are special cases and need special help. And I am sure our two MPs get that more than anybody....