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Country sports tourism sector welcomes lifeline £1m coronavirus fund after Scottish Government bows to pressure

By Val Sweeney

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Country sports play a vital role in Scotland's tourism sector.
Country sports play a vital role in Scotland's tourism sector.

Country sports tourism businesses in Scotland have welcomed the announcement of a £1 million fund to help those hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

It follows a lobbying campaign by two of the sector’s leading representative organisations, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG), following a decision by the Scottish Government to exclude country sports businesses from key funds for a second time.

In an open letter to Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, and Kate Forbes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, BASC described the situation as "unprecedented" and said "you cannot justify leaving country sports tourism businesses in the lurch for a second time".

The representations led to a commitment by Mr Ewing and VisitScotland officials to support the struggling sector via a dedicated £1 million Scottish Country Sports Tourism Restart Fund.

Applications from impacted businesses will open next week.

The fund – which was jointly developed by the Scottish Government, Visit Scotland, BASC and the SCSTG – aims to assist the hardest-hit businesses in the country sports tourism sector.

Eligible businesses include sporting agencies, land-based sporting businesses, sporting guides and fishing charter operators – all of which have experienced unprecedented hardship, disruption and financial loss as a result of the pandemic.

To ensure support reaches those in the greatest need, applicants are required to prove that 75 per cent of their annual turnover originates from country sports tourism activity - a requirement that will likely exclude estates which tend to have numerous income streams.

Estates are expected to be made eligible for local authority administered funds in due course, with the SCSTG monitoring for any potential incidences of discrimination and bias.

BASC Scotland’s public affairs manager, Ross Ewing, said: "The arrival of the Scottish country sports tourism restart fund is a pivotal moment for the sector and the wider rural economy.

"Businesses have endured significant hardships and little support since the pandemic began, and we are grateful to the Scottish Government and VisitScotland for making a dedicated fund available to the country sports tourism sector.

"The fund will play a crucial role in helping businesses to safeguard jobs and protect investment in rural areas."

SCSTG chairman, Rory Kennedy, said the fund was a vital lifeline for the sector.

"After a painful year, the fund will give the hardest hit businesses the means to survive," he said.

"Various other rural sectors rely heavily on country sports tourism so it is vital that its significant contribution is protected as far as possible.

"The Scottish Government’s decision to rectify the lack of sector support is very welcome indeed, and we would like to thank VisitScotland for their speed in bringing this fund to fruition."

A spokesman for VisitScotland said country sports were a significant contributor to the Scottish economy and considered to be a distinct sector which was extremely valuable to local and rural communities.

"It is estimated that the value of country sports tourism to the Scottish economy is £200 million per year, with 8800 full-time equivalent jobs being supported by the sector," he said.

The Scottish Conservative’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism, Jamie Halcro Johnston, said: "I am pleased that the Scottish Government is finally bowing to pressure and providing some much-needed support for this vital sector.

"Country sports play a vital role in the tourism sector, providing a significant number of jobs in parts of the country where there are often few alternatives sources of employment, and maintaining a flow of visitors during the quieter parts of the year when income for hospitality providers can be otherwise very low.

"It was wrong– and damaging – that these businesses should have been excluded in the first place and that it required repeated requests, and repeated representations from BASC and SCTSG, to finally force SNP ministers into action.

"Rural Scotland deserved much better than the lethargic response it received from the Scottish Government in Edinburgh."

Related story: Country sports tourism businesses denied coronavirus funding

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