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Plight of Highland tourism sector under the spotlight as top-ranked government minister Michael Gove visits Alness

By Scott Maclennan

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One of the most powerful UK government ministers, Michael Gove, has heard first-hand the enormous challenges faced by the region's tourism and hospitality sector.

Mr Gove is the minister for the Cabinet Office, a role that places him at the heart of the UK government assisting the Prime Minister to develop and implement policy, as well as overseeing constitutional affairs and maintaining the Union.

Michael Gove.
Michael Gove.

He was initially called on by the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone to visit the Highlands at the start of March amid concerns that many EU workers are being discouraged from staying and working in the UK due to Brexit.

Those concerns have multiplied due to the pandemic with tourism and hospitality now on a knife-edge with many businesses struggling for survival.

So Murray Lamont of Mackays Hotel in Wick arranged a roundtable event with Mr Gove and Mr Stone that was attended by David Richardson of the Federation of Small Businesses and Tanja Lister of the Kylesku Hotel.

Discussions there focused on the need for skilled labour in the north, connectivity issues as the Scottish Government’s R100 programme for broadband is now in deep jeopardy and the need for ongoing government support for tourism and hospitality.

Asked what he was told at the meeting, Mr Gove said: “Jamie Stone had asked me a wee while back if I would come and visit his constituency to see for myself some of the challenges facing the tourism and hospitality sector.

“Certain things came through loud and clear. First thing is that the people I talked to were very grateful for the assistance that has been provided by the UK Treasury furloughs scheme in order to make sure that jobs can be protected.

“And also through the VAT cut, which is a clear recognition that the hospitality sector has been one of the worst affected in the pandemic and the broad shoulders of the UK Treasury are required to support the sector.

“Points were also made about the particular nature of the tourism season in the Highlands including making sure that when people are here they have the best possible experience.

“Several points were made about connectivity, and of course, one of the things that I will be working with the Scottish Government on is to make sure we can have an appropriate rollout of 5G and broadband so that everyone in Scotland, with those in the hospitality and tourism sector at the very front of the queue, get the opportunity for better connectivity, better linkages, a greater degree of integration which will allow their businesses to get through a very very difficult period.”

Mr Richardson said: “I thought the meeting was good but brief and in it we were able to make a number of points and Mr Gove appeared to be listening and be receptive and his reaction to some of the points that we made was positive as well.

“We summarised the state of play at the moment which varies across the Highlands.”

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