Coastal Tourism and Hospitality: Fiscal Support — [Judith Cummins in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall am 1:44 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:44, 22 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I thank Selaine Saxby for leading the debate. She is always very enthusiastic and zealous about her constituency. I always like to hear what other right hon. and hon. Members say about their constituencies, because I find it mirrors what I have to say about mine.

I am going to take a wee step down Strangford way, and talk about some of the good things we have back home. I also want to support the hon. Lady in what she put forward, because this issue is so important. She represents and clearly understands a coastal constituency, which she is so passionate about. It is fantastic to be here and support her, as all our constituencies have those similarities. In another debate, she mentioned the impact that the recent storms and weather have had on businesses in her constituency. I was there for that one as well, and that is certainly something that needs to be addressed.

We are here to discuss many things. We look to the Minister, as we always do. He is always receptive to our comments and has an ability to respond in such a way that we all feel encouraged. We will feel better encouraged, of course, if there is some help financially or some ideas at the end. I am sure the Minister will have those ideas; I have no doubt about that. I am also pleased to see the shadow Ministers for the SNP and the Labour party, the hon. Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and for Ealing North (James Murray), in their places. They are both committed to making lives better and to ensuring that help for tourism and hospitality in coastal areas becomes a reality.

Why do I enjoy these debates? I enjoy them because, right away, there is a subject matter that I can relate to. The hon. Member for North Devon spoke very well about her constituency. These debates give me an opportunity to understand other areas, but also to show off the beauty of my constituency of Strangford. What is known as the Ards peninsula consists of numerous villages such as Ballywalter, Portavogie and Portaferry, which have stunning scenery. Strangford lough is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a Ramsar-designated area as well, so it is really important. I am privileged to live on the edge of that area.

There are many tourism attractions and hospitality businesses that are pivotal to the local economy and play a huge role for local visitors. I will try to do as the hon. Member for North Devon did. The businesses in my constituency are often family run, so when I speak about the individual businesses, I speak with the knowledge of having known them for many years. There is such a variety on offer. What makes Strangford so special is all those businesses that come together in the tourism and hospitality sector along the coastal areas.

We have numerous tourist attractions, such as the National Trust grounds at Mount Stewart, between Carrowdore, Greyabbey and Newtownards. Mount Stewart really is the jewel of the crown for Strangford, with well in excess of six-figure sums of people coming to visit at all times of year. During covid, those numbers did not drop very much. It has fabulous walks and hosts events such as jazz nights in the summer, not to mention the fact that it is a much-used location for weddings.

Another example of what we are doing is the land in Ballywalter that was transformed into a minigolf course as part of the farm diversification scheme. Jim Davidson, the guy I sat beside in primary school—that was not yesterday—is in farm diversification, and that is one of the things he has come up with. It is much loved and visited by families and couples from all over. It is has become a fun day for families whenever they are about. The sheer volume of hospitality that is offered is just incredible. You can probably guess, Mrs Cummins, that I am very enthusiastic and proud to tell others about it. I have told some Ministers here. The Minister in his place will no doubt be booking his trip to Strangford before the day is out, as a former Minister did. She came to visit my constituency and she enjoyed her time across the water.

Glastry Farm ice cream is another example of farm diversification. One of the dairy farmers in that area realised that there was potential for his ice cream. He has been developing that over the years and has done exceptionally well. Echlinville gin distillery is one of many gin and whiskey distilleries that we have across the constituency. The owners of Harrisons of Greyabbey are family friends and my next-door neighbours. It came out of nowhere and they have built it up into a restaurant, a café and a garden centre. The hospitality costs are part of the problem for them. They have a lovely, visual venue that looks right over Strangford lough, which is quite an attraction.

Local DUP councillor, David Kerr, started his own fruit and veg shop from his farm in Kircubbin; fantastic B&Bs in the village of Ballywalter, and a hotel in Portaferry, provide warm and homely accommodation for tourists; and the window of the very much sought after Orange Tree wedding venue—where I attended my niece’s wedding just last year—has a view of Strangford lough, so is coastal in every sense of the word. All the businesses I have mentioned, like those in the hon. Lady’s constituency, create jobs, wage packets in people’s pockets and opportunities for young people who want to have a part-time job or to start off somewhere. It is vital that the tourism and hospitality issue in coastal areas is addressed so that those jobs and opportunities can be retained. The list of what is on offer is truly endless.

As the hon. Member for North Devon said, exceptional circumstances, such as weather conditions, ultimately play a massive role in footfall at coastal areas. Especially after covid, we have witnessed many places shutting down as they cannot sustain the lack of business; it is just impossible for them to carry on. Furthermore, the rise in the cost of living has had a significant impact on businesses’ ability to pay their bills. I know that is true of the retail trade and those involved in hospitality.

Colin Neill is one of those guys who represents the industry; he is always vocal, factual and evidence-based, and he tells us about the pressures these businesses are under. Some smaller and medium businesses were being charged thousands of pounds for electricity and severely struggling to pay their gas and oil bills. This is ultimately not sustainable—it was not for some of them, and unfortunately they had to close or sell on to new management.

I replicate what the hon. Member for North Devon has said, and other Members will do likewise. Although we represent different parts of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we are probably seeing the same issue. When we look to the Minister for a response, we do so from the basis of facts on the ground and what people are telling us. There is certainly a call for Government to better support local businesses, especially in the coastal constituencies that we all represent.

Government incentives for more local businesses that want to choose to open are crucial to sustain the livelihoods of these areas. Over the last few years—the last two in particular—I have seen quite a few smaller hospitality businesses, shops and venues in my area close; it is important that we keep what we have and that those opportunities are in place. The Government must do more to support local businesses, especially through the Barnett consequentials and the block grant. That is my request to the Minister.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee heard from the Secretary of State this week. To be fair, I think he clearly understands that the Barnett consequential for Northern Ireland has not been okay for the last few years, and because of that the Government are committed to a change in the Barnett formula to something more along the lines of the Welsh model. That is where we think we should be, because it would reflect better our population growth—which has jumped up to 1.95 million, whereas it was approximately 1.75 million about 10 years ago—and the peculiarities of costs for Northern Ireland. I am very encouraged by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and by the Government’s dedication to making those changes. Although the Secretary of State had outlined a timescale, he did say in answer to my question in the Select Committee that the Government were looking very much at how they could make the process quicker. That would bring substantial moneys in and give equality to the Barnett consequential.

I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister would look at the matter and discuss it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—there is a commitment and I think an agreement can be reached—to see whether any more can be done to support local businesses in coastal areas, including in my constituency, because they need help. I am very pleased, as I think most people are, to have the Northern Ireland Assembly back, because it ultimately ensures accountability in the process, but for us to do well and deliver for our constituents—as a very much integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—we need to have that Barnett consequential change, which will enable us to support our businesses across the whole of Northern Ireland.