MSP Forbes recognises “enormous pressures” on hospitality as calls grow for greater funding

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance has said lower level of restrictions in the Highlands has allowed the sector to continue to operate but in very challenging circumstances.

Skye and Lochalsh MSP Kate Forbes says she recognises the “enormous pressures” facing the hospitality industry as pressure mounted for compensation to go beyond the existing package of £40 million.

Ms Forbes comments came in response to a plea from the chair of destination management body Skye Connect who outlined the need for further investment on the back of survey results carried out across the sector last week.

In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, Skye Connect chair Dave Till said hotels, guest houses, and self-catering across the island has seen a “swathe of cancellations” due to confusion arising from mixed messaging from the Scottish Government over travel restrictions following the First Minister’s announcement on 7th October.

The new rules were to remain in force until Sunday 25th October. However, today (Wednesday) the First Minister said that the restrictions would be extended by a further week into the start of November.

In his letter, Mr Till said the restrictions had left local businesses on the brink of closure.

He wrote: “This part of October is usually the last opportunity in the short Skye tourist season to build up cash reserves.

“This year those cash reserves are more important than ever and these last-minute changes to the capacity to open and build reserves are more important than ever.

“That opportunity has been taken away and risks dire consequences for all businesses affected. They remain on the brink of permanent closure.

He went on to state: “SkyeConnect surveyed businesses within the sector this week.

“The headlines make stark reading – 38 per cent of respondents have lost more than £20,000 in October due to the new restrictions. This equates to an average of 30 per cent of turnover for the month — the last chance to make money before the winter.

Two-thirds of respondents have seen food sale fall by more than 20 per cent, and half of the respondents have seen alcohol sales fall by 75 per cent

“This leads to one-third of businesses expressing a lack of confidence in the ability of their business to survive and more than half saying the Scottish and UK Governments are not doing enough to support the sector.

“The effect of the First Minister’s announcement on 7th October of new restrictions is a de facto lockdown on Skye.

Skye Connect Chair Dave Till says businesses’ fate over winter looks to be “desperate”

The Free Press contacted Ms Forbes concerning calls for additional financial support for the industry.

She said: “I recognise the enormous pressures facing the hospitality industry right now in Skye and beyond. Businesses in tourism and hospitality have been devastated by months of total lockdown and now the uncertainty of the future, created by efforts to suppress the virus.

“During the October holidays, the Scottish Government explicitly did not ban travel so as not to exacerbate the impact on accommodation providers who had guests booked in. The lack of travel restrictions meant that some national lockdown measures were required namely restrictions on evening hospitality.

She added: “There is a growing problem across the country but largely in the Central Belt which is why the lower level of restrictions in the Highlands compared with the rest of Scotland allows more of our economy to open and operate, albeit in very challenging circumstances.”

Mr Till said that “Skye and the Highland hospitality businesses affected have been forgotten, and added that their fate over the winter looks to be desperate and mass redundancies in the hospitality sector are a certainty.

He has requested an urgent response and compensation for the effective closure of the island’s businesses. He stated that the £40 million currently on offer was a “drop in the ocean” compared to the losses the sector is suffering.

In a new announcement made this afternoon (Thursday), The UK Government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rushi Sunak outlined a new package of support for workers impacted by Covid restrictions.

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