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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall am 2:09 pm ar 22 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Ceidwadwyr, Waveney 2:09, 22 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing the debate and thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. Tourism around the British coast remains a vital component part of the UK economy. That is perhaps overlooked at times, and it is right that we are holding this debate in advance of the spring Budget statement at the beginning of March. At the end of March we have the start of the season, with the Easter weekend.

I shall start as other colleagues have, by providing an advertorial for the tourism and hospitality industry in the Lowestoft and Waveney area. Some might find that a bit of a joke or tedious, but it serves a very important purpose. We are showcasing the enormous range of leisure and tourism opportunities available on the coast of all four nations, as well as the beauty and diversity of the coastline. There is something for everyone to savour, as well as many job opportunities.

I return to Lowestoft and Waveney. In Lowestoft, to the north at Corton and to the south at Pakefield and Kessingland, there are a wide variety of beaches, including the gloriously sandy South beach in Lowestoft. We have two piers—the Claremont pier, which the Llewellyn family are restoring to its former glory, and the South pier, which is let for a peppercorn by Associated British Ports to a community interest company, which I chair. To the north and south of Lowestoft we have two of the biggest visitor attractions in East Anglia, the Pleasurewood Hills theme park and Africa Alive, which is run by the Zoological Society of East Anglia.

All along the coast are a variety of holiday parks run by family businesses and larger national companies. We are also the gateway, at Oulton broad and Beccles, to the—often overlooked by our noisy neighbours in Norfolk—Suffolk broads, which are surrounded by a stunning landscape that the Suffolk Wildlife Trust plays an increasingly important role in restoring at Carlton marshes, Oulton marshes and, as announced last week, Worlingham marshes. Finally, Hoseasons, which takes the strain for many of us out of organising and arranging our holidays, has been based in Oulton broad and Lowestoft for nearly 80 years. I hope that I have painted a picture highlighting the importance of coastal tourism in the Waveney area.

Covid hit local businesses hard, although the support that the Government provided was a lifeline for many. The pandemic, as we are hearing, unfortunately has a long, bitter tail, and for many the 2023 summer season was worse than that of 2022. Looking forward to the forthcoming season, many businesses’ confidence is low. High energy costs continue to have an impact. The response to those challenges by many businesses and operators is to cut their opening hours, delay investment and reduce staff.

One business has highlighted to me the negative impact—described by hon. Members around the Chamber —of the national minimum wage. That business does not begrudge paying the increase to its staff, but that presents challenges that cascade right through the business and ultimately leads to higher charges to customers, at a time when their wallets are under enormous strain.

A holiday park operator has brought to my attention the delays in obtaining planning permission for an upgrade and extension to its facilities, not in the Waveney area but elsewhere on the East Anglia coast. An application that should have taken eight weeks took one and a half years.

Leisure businesses in coastal areas including those of Suffolk are not asking for handouts, but they rightly seek a level playing field. To achieve that, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would consider the following fiscal measures—I am largely repeating others’ words, but in this place repetition plays a very important role indeed. First, as UKHospitality seeks, we must cap the increase to business rates for larger premises at 3%. Ultimately, we must have annual revaluations and drive the rate in the pound back down to the 30p to 35p level, which is what we had when business rates were introduced in the early ’90s. That said, in the short term, hospitality and leisure businesses, many of which are what I would describe as property-hungry but relatively low income-generating, should not have to pay onerously high business rates.

Secondly, to address the challenge of funding the increase in the national minimum wage, in his forthcoming Budget the Chancellor should cut to 10% the lower rate of employer national insurance contributions and increase the thresholds. The benefit of this policy, which in many ways is welcome, would thereby be shared not only with businesses, but with the Government. That is only equitable.

Thirdly, to ensure that planning applications of the type that I have mentioned are promptly dealt with and are not a brake on investment, the fair funding review of the local government funding settlement needs to be carried out as quickly as possible. That funding settlement is skewed against county and coastal councils.

I ask the Minister to act as a messenger—not Cupid, perhaps—to other Departments about other things that coastal businesses in coastal communities need not only to survive, but ultimately to thrive.

The first message is to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Along the Suffolk and Norfolk coast, we need urgent investment in coastal defences. Our glorious beaches are increasingly unsafe, and holiday park operators and other businesses will not invest in facilities if they are at increased risk of disappearing over a cliff or being washed away. There should also be national investment in the co-ordination and promotion of the King Charles III England coast path national trail.

The message to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is that VisitBritain and VisitEngland should provide parity of support for coastal and rural economies with what is given to London and other core cities.

The message to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is that we need to revive the coastal communities fund and separate the funding provided by the Crown Estate from the granting of licences for offshore wind farms. That money derives from our coastal waters. It should be used to address the many challenges that coastal communities face, rather than thinly dispersed across the whole country.

The final message goes back to DEFRA. Although progress is being made on improving the quality of bathing water around the coast, further pressure must be applied to the water companies to completely eliminate storm overflows as quickly as possible.

Coastal Britain is utterly unique. We must cherish it and ensure that the tourism and hospitality businesses operating there have every opportunity, first to survive and then to flourish and bring significant benefits to the people who live all around our coast.