McKee speaks out on hospitality

Scottish tourism minister addresses issues affecting industry

GLASGOW Provan MSP Ivan McKee was appointed minister for business, trade, tourism and enterprise in May following the Scottish Parliament election.

Here he addresses some of the issues affecting Scotland’s hospitality industry.

Q: How would you assess the level of support the Scottish Government has given hospitality businesses during the pandemic?

A: The Scottish Government has been steadfastly committed to supporting our world-class tourism and hospitality sector. Thus far we have provided more than £3.6 billion in support to businesses across all sectors, a third of total COVID funding. 

We know we can never make up for all income lost, but we have sought to target support at areas that need it most, including hospitality. As business minister, I am absolutely focused on getting all businesses back up and running properly again as we navigate our way out of the pandemic. In March we launched a £25 million tourism recovery package and we’re starting to roll that out now. We’ve also extended 100% non-domestic rates relief for retail, leisure, hospitality and aviation businesses for this financial year.

However, there is always more we can do and we will keep engaging with the sector on a regular basis on the way forward. 

Q: Given that the planned easing of restrictions at the end of June has now been pushed back by three weeks, what financial support will be made available to hospitality businesses?

A: We have worked closely with councils to ensure businesses remain supported and have provided additional financial support to businesses in areas which have remained subject to higher levels of restrictions. The finance secretary announced earlier [in June] up to £12 million additional funding for the 14 local authorities that are remaining in level two, should restrictions continue until the end of June. This included up to £7.4 million to support hospitality businesses, with grants of between £350-£525 per week for businesses required to modify their operations in level two areas. 

While we recognise that business support cannot, and is not intended to, make up for all losses, the Scottish Government provided additional funding to allow grants of £250 to £750 per week for eligible hospitality and leisure businesses depending on their rateable value and the duration of the restrictions. Councils also have their allocation of the Local Authority Discretionary Fund to support businesses and we will pass on any further funding if it becomes available.

Q: How important are bars and restaurants to Scotland?

A: Scotland is globally renowned for its warm welcome to visitors and bars and restaurants play a critical part in this. Whether you’re in a trendy bar in Glasgow or a cosy pub in Golspie, you can always depend on friendly Scottish hospitality. And it’s not just the hospitality. Even in the face of a global pandemic, I have been amazed at the levels of innovation in the sector and the way some businesses have transformed to serve their customers. This innovation will be critical as we move out of the pandemic and begin to welcome more visitors to Scotland again. 

Q: What support can the Scottish Government give the industry to help deal with the current recruitment challenges? 

A: As we emerge from the pandemic, many businesses across Scotland are facing recruitment challenges and not just in the hospitality sector. For many employers, something approaching a perfect storm is here. They face increased demands, but with a tightening labour market and a real prospect of staff shortages. 

We warned the UK Government to avoid a hard Brexit in the middle of a pandemic and we are now beginning to feel the impacts of this. What makes matters worse is that this is happening against the express wishes of both the Scottish Government and Scottish people.

In recognition of the challenges facing the hospitality and tourism sector, my colleague Richard Lochhead recently announced additional support this financial year for upskilling and retraining in the sector via the National Transition Training Fund. We are also working closely with partners, including UK Hospitality Scotland and Skills Development Scotland, to promote the range of careers in the sector and make tourism and hospitality jobs a career of choice. 

Q: The business rates ‘holiday’ for hospitality businesses has been welcomed by the industry, but many say the system for calculating rates remains flawed. How committed is the Scottish Government to reforming the system?

A: The valuation of all non-domestic property is, of course, a matter for the assessors, who are wholly independent of government.

Businesses have been clear with me that right now they need as much certainty and stability as possible, and I don’t believe that this is the right time to fundamentally review the non-domestic rates system, but my door is always open to business where they have ideas where they think we can go further to support them. 

I note that the UK Government has commissioned a fundamental review of business rates in England, and we will study the outcome of that with interest. Similarly, should the hospitality industry come forward with evidenced-based options for reform that have the support of the whole sector then both Scottish Government and Scottish Assessors would of course consider that seriously. 

However, the Scottish Government is already delivering on the accepted recommendations of the independent Barclay review of non-domestic rates, and implementing a number of key reforms including three-year revaluations from 2023 with the move to a one-year tone date, and the introduction of the unique Business Growth Accelerator relief.

Q: The Transient Visitor Levy Bill, which will ultimately pave the way for councils to implement a so-called ‘tourist tax’ in their area, was delayed due to coronavirus. What are the Scottish Government’s plans now regarding a tourist tax?

A: Plans for its implementation were put on hold as part of the response to the COVID-19 crisis and in recognition of the severe economic impact the pandemic has had on the sector. Our priority is to work with the sector to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future for the tourism industry in Scotland. Future consideration of the levy will take account of the changed context the industry is operating in.

Q: What is the timescale for implementing the Tied Pubs Scotland Act?

A: The Scottish Pubs Code and the Office of the Scottish Pubs Code Adjudicator needs to be in place by May 2023, however we’re aiming for a much earlier implementation date than that. I am committed to consulting widely with the sector on the Scottish Pubs Code. We are starting with workshops this summer, with implementation of the legislation following on during 2022. I have heard from both sides – organisations representing tenants and those representing pub-owning companies – that early implementation is important. I am currently working with officials to explore accelerating the implementation timetable.

Trade groups have called for the implementation of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) in Scotland to be pushed beyond the intended July 2022 launch – what are the Scottish Government’s plans for that?

A: I recognise the unique and significant pressures that COVID-19 has placed on businesses over the past year. That is why we have commissioned an independent Gateway Review to assess the impact of the pandemic on the go-live date for Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme. We will update Parliament and businesses following summer recess.

On a lighter note, what’s your favourite bar or restaurant?

A: Nakodar, just off Duke Street, one of the best Indian restaurants in Glasgow.

And your favourite drink?

A: Lagavulin 16.