Throughout the pandemic, I have led the campaign to see VAT rates for the tourism and hospitality sector reduced to 5% and subsequently extended. After many letters, phone calls, emails and a small amount of arm twisting I am delighted the Chancellor has once again announced a further extension.
This move will provide the economic breathing space for businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors to recover. Aided by the Restart Grants, the Government is doing all it can to ensure not only businesses can reopen over the next few months, but they can recover substantially from the difficulties of the last year.
The tourism and hospitality sectors will be the first to benefit from the ‘great unlocking’ and we should welcome the knock-on impact it will have on our high-street shops and local producers. But we must also consider what needs to be done for other sectors in South Devon.
The recently announced ‘super deduction’ scheme, whereby businesses can invest in new machinery and offset it against their tax bill, will spur on new levels of investment, redevelopment and business creation. This initiative can be used on anything ranging from computers to solar panels to factory production lines, even fishing boats. So, businesses like boat builders, photonic manufacturing, food and drink producers and even oceanographic equipment producers, all of whom are home to South Devon, will be able to benefit.
Such a proposal allows businesses to upgrade their equipment while reducing their tax bills and saving money. Local businesses could use such savings to expand, take on new employees or even develop new products. But for the latter two points to work they need to know the requisite skills are available within the local workforce.
The Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the Kick Starter Scheme and the National Skills Fund all offer young and old alike the chance to train and retrain. Helping to close the skills gap. This can be to the advantage of South Devon but only if we connect local businesses to our places of education and training.
South Devon should be recognised as a ‘trailblazer local area’ to pilot local skills improvement. We have the variety of industries and sectors to offer a wide range of professions and through the infrastructure of organisations like South Devon College, we can set up such an initiative at pace and serve as an example to the rest of the country as to how to create skills and opportunity in equal measure.
Of course, tax breaks and pilot schemes will help businesses and create a new highly skilled workforce, but we must also go further with apprenticeship schemes. All too often they are viewed as a hindrance rather than a help. New apprenticeship schemes should not just be based on tax incentivisation but on what would be truly valuable to the employer and employee.
VAT extensions, tax reductions, pilot schemes and reform all make up the steps needed to be taken to ensure South Devon is a place in which jobs are available, houses are affordable and skills aplenty. If we strike the right balance, we can offer our graduates a stable employment market, as well as helping to attract investment into the area.
Whatever your view on how we achieve growth, skills and opportunities it is not an overstatement to say South Devon is all too often overlooked. Scratch the surface in any one of our towns and you find great businesses that can offer huge opportunities for residents and the local economy. Whether it be in tourism and hospitality, fishing or farming, public service, or the high-tech industry we can create an environment that offers employees and employers a high degree of variety.