Tourism hotspots hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic face becoming “hollowed-out high streets”, Labour warns today.
Travel restrictions imposed during lockdowns have plunged hotels, bars, restaurants and gift shops in some of the country’s most picturesque areas into crisis.
Across England, 11.7% of all businesses are in the hospitality, tourism, leisure and non-essential retail sector – including hotels and B&Bs, restaurants and pubs, clothes and book shops and travel agencies.
But the proportion is much higher in some of the towns and counties most popular with staycation families and foreign visitors.
Labour analysis of Office for National Statistics data found such businesses accounted for 44.4% of firms on the Isles of Scilly, which lie 28 miles south west of the British mainland; 20.2% in Cornwall, home to cream teas, pasties and Poldark; also 20.2% on the Isle of Wight; 17.7% in Blackpool and 17.4% in Brighton.
In Dorset, home to Bournemouth’s long sandy beach and the stunning Durdle Door, it was 15.5%; in Cumbria, the county of Wordsworth and the Lake District, it was 15.4% – the same figure as Devon.
Labour urged the Government to extend the 100% business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for at least another six months; continue the reduced rate of VAT for businesses in the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors; and give businesses “greater flexibility to manage debt including student loan style arrangements”.
Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband said: “We are facing a national economic crisis, but it’s clear that if high street businesses like restaurants, hotels, shops and salons go bust the impact will be felt much more deeply by communities in certain parts of the country.
“It’s striking that, before Covid these places, from Cornwall to Cumbria, were bustling with tourism and trade.
“Businesses were supported by visitors and local people – and they will be again when our economy can open up.
“Standing by and letting these businesses collapse with the vaccine rollout making huge progress and recovery in sight would be absolutely devastating for business owners and employees who have done the right thing by shutting to help tackle the virus.”
He accused the Government of a “ sink or swim approach” and urged ministers to “stand up for local high streets”.
Mr Miliband added: “They must urgently confirm they will extend business rates relief to give struggling businesses the breathing room they need.
“We cannot allow these places to be hollowed out.”
A Government spokesman said: “We want to see thriving high streets, which is why we’ve spent tens of billions of pounds supporting shops, restaurants and cafes throughout the pandemic, and we’ve extended our furlough scheme through to April as well as providing £4.6billion extra in grants earlier this year, so that people have certainty that help is in place.
“At the upcoming Budget we’ll outline the next stages of our Plan for Jobs to support businesses and families across the UK.
“That has been our priority throughout the past year and it will be the priority for the year to come.”