Urgent support required for country sports tourism businesses – an open letter to the Scottish Government

Ross Ewing

Ross Ewing

Ross is BASC’s Public Affairs Manager in Scotland. He is a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews and his shooting interests include lowland game shooting, clay pigeon shooting and deer stalking. Ross has been embroiled in the debates surrounding shoot licensing since university where he wrote a dissertation on attitudes towards licensing driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation,
Marford Mill,
Rossett,
Ll12 0HL.

Kate Forbes MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Finance

Fergus Ewing MSP
Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Tourism

The Scottish Government,
St. Andrew’s House,
Regent Road,
Edinburgh,
EH1 3DG.

Dear Cabinet Secretaries,

CONTINUED INABILITY OF COUNTRY SPORTS TOURISM BUSINESSES TO ACCESS COVID-19 FINANCIAL SUPPORT

I write to you today on behalf of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) to make you aware of a deepening crisis within Scotland’s country sports tourism sector.

At the end of 2020, we welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention to provide further support to businesses across Scotland to help them contend with the impact of Covid-19 restrictions. These stringent but necessary restrictions came into force in the middle of the game shooting season – the worst possible time for providers of country sports tourism – and led to a dramatic cessation in activity and significantly modified operations. The indication that government support would be forthcoming was most welcome.

BASC anticipated that the strategic framework business fund and the various funds making up the tourism and hospitality lifeline would have relevance to country sports tourism businesses. Regrettably, it has transpired that this is not the case. Since the funds were announced, we have been inundated with correspondence from members who have been rejected from the strategic framework business fund. Elsewhere, we have scrutinised the detail surrounding the marine and outdoor tourism restart fund and have discovered that country sports tourism businesses are excluded. Details surrounding these rejections and exclusions are available at Annex A.

The cumulative impact of these circumstances mean that country sports tourism businesses currently have no means of obtaining financial support, despite enduring an acute loss of income and increased running costs associated with feeding surplus gamebirds. The situation is unprecedented and businesses are at crisis point. We have genuine concerns that country sports tourism businesses will fold if support is not made available in short order.

As the Cabinet Secretaries responsible for the aforementioned funds, we urge you to intervene to ensure country sports tourism providers can access financial support without delay. This is the second time we find ourselves writing to you to rectify an exclusion – inadvertent or otherwise – of country sports tourism businesses from financial support. We are particularly disappointed that they been left behind despite representations made directly to Mr Ewing on 4th November 2020.

We appreciate that you are contending with a rapidly evolving and extraordinary situation, but you cannot justify leaving country sports tourism businesses in the lurch for an unprecedented second time. These businesses are the cornerstones of our rural economies – denying them the support they need will have ramifications that extend far beyond the realms of country sports. It is in the best interests of the rural economy to ensure country sports tourism businesses get the support they deserve.

We hope you will address this matter with utmost urgency, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Ross Ewing
Public Affairs Manager (Scotland)
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation

Annex A – Details Surrounding the Rejection and Exclusion of Country Sports Tourism Businesses from Financial Support:

The Strategic Framework Business Fund:

  • Various country sports tourism businesses paying non-domestic rates / sporting rates have made an application to this fund. Businesses have shown clear evidence of a closed or modified operation due to restrictions as per the requirements of the fund. The authenticity of applications in relation to these criteria have not been disputed by local authorities in any of our case studies.
  • Despite this, businesses have been rejected for not being classified as an eligible ‘sport and exercise’ or ‘leisure and entertainment business’. We have several case studies which follow the same pattern of rejection.
  • Local authorities appear only to be progressing applications with the following types of ‘sport and exercise’ businesses: indoor gyms, swimming pools, dance studios, exercise class/yoga studios, indoor soccer centres.
  • Local authorities appear only to be progressing applications with the following types of ‘leisure and entertainment’ businesses: cinemas, arcades, soft play, funfairs, indoor bowling, theatres, comedy clubs, concert halls, sport stadiums, conference or exhibition centres, snooker/pool halls, casinos, bingo halls, nightclubs.
  • Proposed Rectification: Widen the list of ‘sport and exercise’ or ‘leisure and entertainment’ businesses to include ‘field and country sports’. The current list of eligible businesses is too narrow and prescriptive, prohibiting what are genuine sports and leisure businesses who have closed / modified their operation from obtaining support.

Marine and Outdoor Tourism Restart Fund:

  • The Marine and Outdoor Tourism restart fund is intended to provide support to marine and outdoor tourism businesses who have been significantly affected by COVID-19 and are faced with seasonal re-commissioning and re-start costs ahead of the 2021 season.
  • The fund has a list of businesses not eligible for the fund. Once such ineligible business type is ‘field / country sports’.
  • We are perplexed at this exclusion. Country sports take place outdoors and are arguably one of the most seasonal types of activity in existence, with strict statutory obligations to adhere to in terms of when activity can and cannot take place. Preparation for the various open seasons is rigorous and wide-ranging. Some businesses will be enduring higher re-start costs ahead of next season due to the cost of tending to surplus gamebirds on top of normal rearing and release expenditure. Deer managers will also be preparing to harvest more deer due to the reduced cull since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced and the demand for wild venison in hospitality businesses slumped.
  • Proposed Rectification: Include ‘field and country sports’ businesses in the list of eligible business types of this fund. Field and country sports businesses clearly fall within the intended scope of this fund.  
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