Brexit and the case for reform

The withdrawal agreement the UK reached with the EU ignored the financial, human resources and competitive needs of the hospitality and culture sectors, concluded a top-level workshop of hospitality and cultural industry leaders held in Glasgow on Saturday 21st October. The event produced an agenda for change that the sectors want government action on, according to Bylines Scotland.

The measures include calling for simplified customs procedures, cutting the cost and time involved in visa applications for incoming workers and artists, removing the need for touring artists to have visas, making it easier and cheaper for artists and performers based in Scotland to work in the EU, a cut in VAT and tax incentives for corporations and wealthy individual that support cultural activities. 

Chaired by the distinguished journalist, Alf Young, the workshop was organised by the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) and Glasgow Loves EU. It aimed to identify a menu of issues an incoming government at Westminster should address to help the culture and hospitality sectors thrive. Between them, these industries in Scotland employ over 260,000 people and contribute over £10 billion annually to the Scottish economy. 

“It’s time to push ideology aside and for government to focus on practical reforms that are critical to the financial health and cultural well-being of the nation. It is vital that the political world understands the importance of hospitality and culture to Scotland’s economic future.” says EMiS chair, David Clarke.

Positive news and a strong commitment to Europe

The workshop began with the positive news that visitors from Europe to Scotland grew this year and they have been spending more. Reporting the upturn, Baillie Annette Christie, Glasgow City Council convener for culture, sport and international relations, said that the UK rejoining the Horizon programme was very good news for the city’s academic sector. She said it also adds to Glasgow’s competitiveness as a conference destination. Councillor Christie went on to emphasise the importance of Europe to Glasgow’s economic and cultural wellbeing. 

“In 1990, our economy was reborn when Glasgow became European City of Culture. Today, we are as committed to Europe as ever and play a central role in the Eurocities Network. Glasgow recognises the importance of working in collaboration with our partner cities across Europe as a way of offsetting the damage caused to our society by Brexit.” said Christie. 

In his presentation to the workshop, Executive Director of the leading trade body, UKHospitality Scotland, Leon Thompson, explained that since leaving the EU, several programmes have been launched to bring more UK citizens into the hospitality sector. However, with such a tight labour market there remains a significant number of vacancies, with chefs in great demand, along with experienced managers and other specialists.

“UKHospitality Scotland members operate 14,000 venues across Scotland. We are in every community, providing services, jobs and economic growth. To help ensure businesses can trade at their optimal level we need support from our governments. For example, simplifying and reducing the costs of the worker visa system, streamlining the skills and training landscape, and extending the existing Youth Mobility Scheme to the EU 27 would all greatly assist our businesses to expand and invest.”

Fantastic people struggling to find work in the EU

Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance spoke about the ambition of Scotland’s Tourism and hospitality industry—to be world leading in 21st Century Tourism.

“We have many outstanding cultural assets, great provenance and, most importantly, fantastic people. But if you visit and can’t access or enjoy either because there’s just not enough staff to service the demand then that’s a big problem. For many businesses staying competitive and being fully open is a huge challenge.”

Musicians, performing artists and technical support specialists have found it increasingly hard to find work in the EU. A survey published in August by the Independent Society of Musicians found that over 28% of UK musicians now had no work in the EU and 39% had to turn down work because the costs and time involved in getting visas. 

“Creeping parochialism”

Claire Moran, of the Glasgow based audio-visual company, Cryptic, says a lot of musicians have experienced massively reduced incomes, because of lack of touring opportunities in the EU. 

“Cryptic has toured all over the world and across the EU. Ours is often a collaborative business, which has become much more challenging since Brexit. It’s essential we don’t deter musicians from touring to the EU or coming to Scotland to perform due to the extra costs and paperwork. We need to ensure we remain European in all that we do. “

Katrina Brown of The Common Guild said she is concerned about “creeping parochialism”: 

“We are resolutely internationalist in what we do. Culture and the Arts are central to visitor attraction and the wellbeing of the country. We must now work harder not to become isolated from Europe. Our position as an attractive cultural destination is in danger and we need measures to give us a more secure future.” 

Emma Congreve, deputy director at the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde Business School said there could be a case for a special scheme for Scotland that would make it cheaper and easier to recruit people from the EU. 

“There would have to be a willingness for change and cooperation between the London and Edinburgh governments,” she said.

First published by Bylines Scotland

“I want to know as a citizen and as an observer of the scene here what can be done to put some new wind into the hospitality and culture sectors of Scotland,” Alf Young said on introducing the workshop.

The audience that braved Storm Babet to attend the gig a certainly heard a lot about Brexit-induced damage but also about what can be done – given then political will – to reverse it and foster two sectors contributing more than £10bn a year together to the economy and employing around 400,000.

Featured image of sculpture showing precarious nature of the culture sector with Alf Young presiding via David Gow

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