Tourism, culture and hospitality are valuable not just for the contribution they make to our economy but also in their own right. Progressive politics has always recognised this: a Labour government introduced free entry to museums, causing a huge rise in visitor numbers. The National Trust was founded by social reformers to give the working classes access to the countryside for their health. Labour’s education ’10 by 10’ pledge recognises the need for children to have key life experiences including trips to new locations. Cultural and social experiences lead to reduced loneliness and an increase in cohesion. Research has also shown that communities that lose their pub are more likely to vote UKIP.
History and culture are not about preserving in ideas and values in aspic. They are living and breathing. We interact with them and help shape them. The key to a living culture which fosters successful tourism is distinctiveness and local character; local people who really know the area and people running their own pub who take the time to know you and learn your name. A successful tourism industry means so much more than chain pubs, chain shops and chain hotels offering homogenous experiences no matter what town you are in.
If we are to rebuild tourism and hospitality, we must support small business owners and self-employed. They were the hardest economically hit during the pandemic with millions going without any support at all. There is a lot of anger among self-employed workers in creative industries because the financial support went to keep institutions and buildings going, rather that supporting the people that make them. Prejudices that supporting these people would be too difficult and open to more fraud than furlough came to the fore. There were even suggestions that people who work through their own limited company did so in order to avoid tax, so somehow ‘had it coming to them’. While it is true that a self-employed person generates less tax, this is due to the lack of the employer’s national insurance contribution, not because the worker pays less.
The workers excluded from the financial support packages are still not being heard. We still talk about the economic impacts of Covid-19 in terms of those who received furlough but the figures quoted about the return to work ignore the continuing impact on the number of self-employed.
Whether a worker is employed, freelance, a sole trader or a limited company director should not impact on their support and their access to rights at work. Everyone should be paid on time, get fair recompense for their work and have access to sick pay. These rights are denied to those who are not employed. They are seen as too complicated, and infringements of rights are often seen in terms of business disputes which fail to get the same spotlight as the rights of employees.
For example, a self-employed tour operator will get bookings through online platforms. Bookings are taken by the platform and the details passed onto the operator, who is then responsible for paying for any tickets etc that are necessary, the operator will be paid four to six weeks after the booking. They let their customers cancel whenever they want, even if the tour operator has already purchased tickets that the attraction will not refund. If the operator had to cancel, the fine for doing so can be 20 per cent of the total tour price. In this example, not only does the self-employed worked receive no sick pay, but there is a financial penalty.
This risk transference is also evident in the industry I have been working in; pubs. As a pub tenant I am subject to a product tie. This should be regulated, and attempts have been made to do this, but they are widely recognised as having failed, because of the inherent power imbalance between a tenant and a landlord who owns hundreds of pubs. Even as we recover from the shock of the last two years and face increased costs of energy and employment, rents are going up in a business version of fire and rehire. Yet, because it is seen as business, the voices of tenants as working people is not heard.
Working people are vital in a vibrant cultural life, but their problems won’t be fixed through wages and employment rights alone. The ambition of the Labour party must go beyond protecting the bogusly self-employed, a group which only make up a small minority of the self-employed. Millions of people need a fair system that sticks up for their rights, protects them from discrimination and provides a safety net, where the small voices are not drowned out by those that can afford to lobby.
Any sustained recovery is only possible if we rediscover our joie de vivre and venture back out from the lives we have learned to live under restrictions. Tourism will only recover if people have trust that they are safe, trust the government’s message and have an income that is not swallowed up in increased living costs. The promise of the economy bouncing like a coiled spring and leading to ‘1920s style’ exuberance cannot be realised while we are still struggling with the debt of closures.