Regional leaders have called on government to allow the West Midlands to become a national test bed for an early reopening of the tourism, hospitality and cultural sector, which include the running of events.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, Fiona Allan, chair of the West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism and CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome and Martin Sutherland, chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board and CEO of Coventry City of Culture 2021, have sent a joint letter to Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), asking for the region to be used as a pilot area which would see the sector opening sooner than elsewhere in the country.
The region’s tourism, hospitality and the cultural businesses have been hardest hit by the lockdown and, with little or no trading revenue being generated, have been almost entirely reliant on the furlough scheme to avoid wholesale redundancies and business closures.
With tourism, hospitality and cultural businesses in the West Midlands supporting more than 135,000 jobs, the sector contributes around £12.6bn a year to the local economy.
The region believes there is now a pressing need to restore confidence in the sector so it can not only fully recapture the economic and cultural benefits it enjoyed pre-lockdown but can grow further.
Mayor Street noted the tourism, hospitality and cultural sector was the first to close under the lockdown and is likely to be the last to reopen and that even then it will likely have to operate at a much-reduced capacity.
He said: “We believe we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the sector as a key economic driver in the region’s post-Covid-19 recovery, and we are asking Government to pilot the West Midlands as the region where this sector opens up faster than in other areas. This way we can lead the way and help strike the right balance between safety and outputs, allowing other regions to follow suit.
“It’s important for the West Midlands to build on its unique heritage and distinctive strengths and seize the opportunity to reset, rebuild and reinvent our region, and come back even stronger.”
Regional leaders are keen to see staff in the sector allowed to return on a reduced, part-time basis until it is safe for normal activity to resume. The Covid-19 lockdown has had a major impact on the sector right across the region. Figures show that 95% of businesses are reporting a fall in revenue while over 50% are struggling with cashflow. Over 40% have closed or ceased trading with a further 35% forecast to join them by August
An earlier than planned reopening under a pilot scheme would provide a much-needed boost for the region’s key visitor destinations such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and the NEC.
It would also provide confidence to the region’s theatres, who are currently considering whether to cancel Christmas productions.
Allan said: “This region has incredible cultural assets, which attract visitors from around the country – including theatres, galleries, festivals, museums and heritage sites, not to mention our incredible food and beverage offer – and it is vital we find a way for these businesses to open as soon as possible.
“We need to be promoting our region as a visitor destination now or we may miss the opportunities afforded by both Coventry City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022.”
Paul Thandi, CEO of the NEC Group noted his support. He said: “I fully support this approach from fellow business leaders. It aligns with the lobbying efforts we have made for the demonstration of how a quicker and safe return of controlled events can be achieved as a viable option for government.
“As the UK’s largest live events business, the Group has worked extensively to develop a comprehensive Return to Business blueprint. We have already approached government about piloting public events on behalf of the UK venue and live events industry, so are well placed to contribute to this West Midlands pilot.
“This could act as a real beacon of hope for our industry in the West Midlands but also nationally for the whole of the live events sector. One of us opens, we are all open.”
The setting up of a pilot scheme would also bolster the wider Covid-19 recovery plan being drawn up by the region. The West Midlands’ civic, business and trade union leaders have already committed to a ‘bounce forward’ approach to create a more inclusive, environmentally sustainable economy.
Earlier this month the region set out its 10 priority areas for a post-Covid economic recovery plan, which includes priorities to accelerate transport construction plans, to build more homes faster and reshape town centres, and getting people who lose their jobs back.