Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scottish Tourism Recovery Taskforce minutes: September 2020

Minutes and papers from the meeting of the STRT in September 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism
  • Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills
  • Malcolm Roughead, CEO, VisitScotland
  • Marc Crothall, CEO, Scottish Tourism Alliance
  • Malcom Buchanan, Chair of Scotland Board RBS
  • Willie Macleod, Executive Director, UK Hospitality in Scotland
  • Stephen Leckie, CEO of Crieff Hydro and Chair STA
  • Angela Vickers, Apex Hotels, Chair HIT Scotland
  • Gordon Dewar, CEO, Edinburgh Airport
  • Robbie Drummond, CEO Calmac
  • Duncan McConchie, SOSE board, owner of Laggan Outdoors
  • Peter Duthie, MD of SEC
  • Jeanette Wilson, British Holiday and Home Parks Assoc
  • Rebecca Brooks, CEO Abbey Tours, VS Board
  • Alastair Dobson, MD, Taste of Arran
  • Mark Tate, Scottish Chambers of Commerce 
  • Calum Ross, Proprietor, Loch Melfort Hotel, Chairman UKH Scotland, HIE Board
  • Derek Brownlee, RBS
  • Lucy Husband, Scotland Food and Drink, UK Market Development Director
  • Gordon Morrison, CEO, ASVA
  • Susan Morrison, ASVA
  • Susan Russell, Chair, Women in Tourism
  • Lord Thurso, Chair, VisitScotland
  • Alan Rankin, Chief Executive, Sail Scotland
  • Caroline Millar, Go Rural for Business
  • Paul McCafferty (for Jane Martin, MD, Business Services and Advice) Scottish Ent.
  • Paul Togneri, Scottish Beer and Pub Assoc
  • Professor Anna Leask, Tourism & Languages Subject Group, Edinburgh Napier Uni
  • Colin Smith, CEO, Scottish Wholesale Association
  • Lucy Byatt, Director, the Hospitalfield Trust, Arbroath
  • David Sutherland, Director, North Highland Escapes
  • Stephen Montgomery, proprietor, The Townhouse
  • Richard Hardy, Prospect Union
  • Colin Wilkinson, SLTA
  • Freda Newton, MD, Jacobite Cruises


  • Jonathan Pryce, Scottish Government
  • Bettina Sizeland, Scottish Government
  • Duncan Mackay, Scottish Government
  • Kevin Brady, Scottish Government
  • Lawrence Durden, Skills Development Scotland, STERG
  • Karen Christie, Scottish Tourism Alliance, STERG
  • Carole Buxton, HIE
  • Katy Bowman – Scottish Government


  • Suzanne Cumisky, Chair SLAED, Perth and Kinross Council
  • Gary Cox, Transport Scotland
  • Frances Pacitti, Transport Scotland
  • Stephen Deans, Unite Union

Items and actions


  • Marc Crothall welcomed all members
  • No comments were received regarding the minutes of the meeting of 24th August

Opening Comments

Mr Ewing

  • Thanked STA for their work representing the sector. Recognised the contribution of all of the members, and hope all members feel their contribution has been accounted for in the report. If not, members should certainly say so.
  • Covid proving to be more persistent than we had hoped or expected.  It has not receded so that makes what we do in the next 9 months critical, and financial support will be required over that period.  Comments about the precise actions over those 9 months would be appreciated.
  • The report has a lot of financial asks and rightly so.
  • Acutely aware that expiry of furlough will see major difficulties for business.  Pressing UK Government on further support.
  • Will seek a parliamentary debate to present the report to parliament.  An extremely solid and useful piece of work.
  • Appreciate there have been developments of the last 24 hours.  Had discussion with some on this but don’t propose to go into these today.

Mr Hepburn:

  • Echoed the thanks for the hard work that have gone into a very comprehensive series of recommendations.
  • Some specific requests for SG intervention which SG need to consider how they take forward.  Keen to do this on a collective basis with the sector.
  • Keen to hear the discussion.

Marc Crothall

  • Summit with UK Ministers.  STERG looking at this and how we put the 4 or 5 big asks consistent with elsewhere in the UK to the UKG
  • STA has drafted a letter to come from the Taskforce
  • Alastair Carmichael office in touch.  Appt set up with scottish office.  Kate Nicholls and M<Arc gave evidence to public affairs committee at Lords last week
  • Marc to go back to colleagues on STERG to finalise the letter.  If all members happy to put their name to it, will give it added strength.  Will ask for round table discussion with UK Ministers to present the taskforce findings on
    • Extending JRS
    • provision of additional targeted grant support
    • extend measure of reduced VAT, ideally extended to other forms of tourism activity
    • removal of APD
    • investment for growth by reducing cost of loans
    • need for agreed package of local and national lockdown consequentials if these need to be put in place,
  • Edited and more concise version of the document to be made public in the next 2-3 weeks
  • Mr Hepburn agreed with this way forward. Scottish Parly voted last week to call on UKG to extend furlough, so clearly a widespread view on this.
  • Mr Ewing agreed. Tourism, travel and aviation have a clear need for this support.  Engagement with NMigel Huddleston is continuing but a wider engagement with key players in UKG would be a good idea
  • Possibly some ongoing standing committee of public and private sector interest to represent tourism across the UK and keep it on the table? Beneficial to use what we have learned on the taskforce to represent a team scotland on a UK forum
  • Same messages coming from across the UK so could to have a united sector voice

Investment (Malcolm Buchanan)

  • The workstream came up with ideas which can be categorised short term and long term
  • Everybody’s eyes are on cashflow.  So focus on levers and buttons available at the moment to see businesses which are ordinarily viable through to more normal times
  • Recognise cliff edge looming on loan scheme repayments, so consideration needing given to extending that.
  • Loan schemes need to continue to be available.
  • VAT repayment deferment etc all need to looked at as well as targeted grants
  • Duty free in airports is a big upstream impact which will concern the sector.
  • So, a menu of options, short terms measures are the most critical to help businesses to survive for longer.

Mortgage holidays coming to an end will also hit self catering sector.

UKH have written to Ben McPherson about ability of tenants to make rent payments and threat to businesses who are in such situations. Different legal regimes in England and Scotland but extension under coronavirus act from 14 days to 14 weeks for eviction action.  May need looked at

Report Highlights  (Bettina Sizeland)

  • Recapped on process and progress so far including sub group work generation of recommendations
  • Current draft report incorporates all comments except those received today
  • Report will go to Ministers but we will publish a more user friendly version.
  • Will provide Scottish and UK Minister with the full set of recommendations though, and present the full devastating impact on the sector
  • Guiding light remains Scotland Outlook 2030.  No need to change that vision and outcome, but the starting point is now very different.  For the sector to survive and recover is common purpose and clear set of actions.
  • Report sets out this common purpose (quoted by Bettina)
  • Recommendations focused on 6 main outcomes
  • Set of prioritised actions  - shorter and medium term and ease of deliverability, also some are SG, UKG and industry. 
  • Some actions come with a hefty price tag eg extension of JRS could be £150m, NDR could be £300m, so VFM also a consideration
  • Not all of this therefore feasible through public sector so need to consider new partnership for investment.  Some initial discussion with SNIB on investment, financing and loans, but substantial investment needed from UKG.
  • Marc as described summit. VS doing a lot of work on stimulating demand. STERG continuing to work on business recovery and employee retention.
  • What are the key things cabinet ministers to do with nus and for us
    • Industry summit
    • Commission enterprise agencies to develop 5 year recovery programme.
    • Useful to develop thinking on investment with EAs and SNIB to attract longer term sustainable funding and finance
    • Need to consider hardship.  Some businesses haven’t been able to access grants and loans, some are in desperate stages, so need to think how we best support
  • Need to ensure members feel their views reflected and the actions are right.  Members can also email after the meeting if helpful

Discussion – Marc chairing

  • Brooks – talking about getting businesses to point of break even.  From intl inbound, not even clear they will break even in 2021.  Just now it’s a question of survival.  Air corridor policy and quarantine has meant no autumn trading, so we need a policy on quarantine irrespective of vaccines. We need intl travel resuming early in 2021.  Want to see more emphasis on this.
  • Willie – clarify difference between gross and net costs to gvmt.  If NDR costs £300m to gvmt, can this be offset by supermarkets who have done relatively well, is JRS cost net of offsetting costs of unemployment. 
  • Bettina – indicative outline costs – further modelling required to take on these specific points willie makes. More general point is the blunt instrument or a more targeted scheme.
  • Willie – need to move quickly. Without some immediate hardship support we will lose businesses and jobs
  • Hepburn – OCEA analysis published last week about cost of extending furlough vs cost of not doing so and unemployment.  Worth looking at.
  • Emerging talent skills proposal devised by SDS – got a clear proposal.  Identified funding for training element. Still need to identify additional funding for wider wage subsidy package.  Timeline on this is pressing.
  • Colin Wilkinson – appreciate 6-9 months view, but situation desperate just now.  Recent SLTA survey saw 38% of respondents saw more than 50% drop in revenue. 40% looking at closure or business exit. (Colin to send on the report)
  • Evidence from industry is very clear about the impact. 
  • Alistair Dobson.  Fantastic report.  Cost is eye watering but needs to be.  Concern from business point of view is that there are products and services out there which businesses are struggling to access.  Businesses need clarity from LA’s and account managers to support businesses in any way possible. How can we help communicate opportunities and help to businesses?
  • Bettina – need to consider the comms plan that goes along side this.
  • Have we got enough of a reference to the wide variety of sector?  Speak up if anything missing?
  • Mark Tate – report has captured a lot.  For activities sector, vitally important for cairngorms and other areas.  Lack of business from schools and residential trips is a crisis for that sector and its jobs which underpin local rural communities
  • Note – Events Taskforce report also being developed in tandem. Need to ensure dovetail with any other relevant reports.
  • Bettina – been taking comments from these members but also done it internally with SG portfolios on business, transport, environment etc.  Will go back and review education side
  • Rebecca – product needs to be there for the wholesalers to survive.  This needs fleshed out a bit more in reference to Mark’s comments.
  • Malcolm Roughead – report is very comprehensive and a significant job pulling it together with tourism strategy, PFG and others.  Could look at all areas and consider if we’re doing enough, but there’s a lot of partnership working to be done to deliver this. We will have to prioritise, but there’s a lot of analysis being done to look at return on investment.
  • Hepburn – Richard Hardy put in some stuff of interest to Hepburn’s portfolio
  • Richard Hardy – fantastically detailed report.  A lot in there the TU’s can get behind.  Couple of concerns. Priorities around recruitment and retention – would prefer this through fair work and conditionality for support.  Not a huge return on fair work from the sector for a variety of reasons. A lot of tax about tax reductions for businesses, and we’re in abnormal businesses, but how can we look at using expenditure to support demand. Balance of VAT vs demand.  For TUs, conditionality of fair work is a key strand and recruitment and retention is more aided by fair work than by recruitment and retention
  • Food and drink – had fed in comments, needs to be more impactful and explicit. National ambition to make scotland a global food tourism destination, so need more actions on this
  • Gordon, ASVA – support with short to medium term strategic planning ie how to operate at 30% capacity for next X months. 
  • Alan Rankin – echoed Mark Tate’s point.  Willing to help with evidence and detail around outdoor and active sector.  Aggregate value of small business in terms of economy AND experience. Some sectors have had NO trade this far so need to be a bit higher up the priorities.

Ministerial Comments (closing)

Mr Hepburn

  • Echoed FE comments and reiterated his thanks. 
  • Discussion very useful in largely finessing what has been produced, although a few areas need looked at in a bit more detail so we can move forward to help the sector

Mr Ewing

  • Very useful discussion
  • Some specific points.  Once report is near enough final, be useful to share with other trade bodies, although focus is tourism and hospitality.  Need to avoid any unintentional issues.
  • Would quite like to put a figure on the RTIF ask
  • The ask for trading support, will be working hard to identify
  • Licensing colleagues position which is bleak, want to ensure overt the next few week want to present statistical information to cabinet to keep this high on the agenda. SCANCE notes on this.
  • Bit more work to be done to tackle points malc Buchanan raised.  Hoping UK Gvmt will still move on furlough or successor.
  • Coach sector, aviation, intl travel virtually dead and we need to get them moving again. Focus on increased testing rather than quarantine will become more pressing rather than less.
  • Grateful again for input and the speed with which this very useful piece of work has been accomplished.
  • Hope we can find a vehicle for this group keeping in touch with government as we value the support with all the sectors represented on the group.

Final Comments (Marc Crothall)

  • Keep momentum going and group intact helpful to keep feeding in the evidence.  STA council will keep gathering info
  • Willie – state aid potentially a bigger issue on future support.
  • Anything else to be added in, feed in to Bettina.
Back to top