SCOTLAND’S hospitality sector plays a crucial function in bringing people together to socialise, relax and switch off from the day-to-day stresses. Yet, after being hammered relentlessly by numerous shocks over recent years, the sector is in crisis and needs immediate help now.

The hospitality sector provides vital social as well as economic infrastructure, especially in rural constituencies like mine in Stirling.

Hospitality businesses give a sense of place, provide vital local social facilities, attract visitors, provide vital employment and have a real impact on the identity and vibrancy of our communities, rural and urban.

As with much of the cost of living crisis, much of the challenges the sector is facing can be traced back to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

Pre-Brexit, labour shortages were not as much of an issue thanks to freedom of movement. Equally, sourcing products from the continent to sell alongside Scotland’s excellent food and drink was not much of an issue.

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And of course, tourism from the continent was a reliable and familiar sight across Scotland’s cities, towns and villages.

Now the situation is different. Vacancies go unfilled. What was once routine trade now faces a bureaucratic Brexit nightmare.

Meanwhile, the Home Office continues to make it ever more difficult to come here for work or holidays; with Ireland just across the sea and part of the EU, a simple economic cost-benefit analysis makes the decision for many potential tourists.

Inflation, scarcity and cost of labour, skills shortages, energy and other input costs are all creating a uniquely challenging trading environment for the hospitality trade.

Of course, as an independent country, Scotland will be back in the EU with all the benefits that membership brings such as access to the single market and freedom of movement. This will always be our north star – to return Scotland to the European Union as an independent state.

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In the meantime though, we also have a duty to continue advocating for Scotland’s interests. Under the current devolution settlement, Westminster retains many of the economic levers which could materially make a difference for the hospitality sector.

This is why, after listening to and consulting with local businesses and trade associations, I’ve been campaigning for a 5% cut to VAT for the hospitality sector.

There is universal recognition that such a move would be the single best thing that could help the sector manage the shocks of Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine. The likes of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Hospitality Group, UK Hospitality Scotland and the Scottish Licensed Trade Association have all indicated their support for the policy measure.

As I stated in a letter to the Prime Minister, a VAT cut would be proportionate, clean, easy to administer and an effective way to directly boost the bottom line of these crucial businesses. It would not require any complex bureaucracy and administration as a new grant scheme would; it would simply tax less, relative to the turnover of the business. Given that the Tories are considering slashing inheritance tax, a policy which would disproportionately benefit the wealthy at the expense of the public finances, cutting VAT for hospitality is a far more sensible measure.

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By helping these businesses remain active, it would also help them fulfil a vital social function in providing communal spaces for people to come together as well as stimulate local economic growth.

It would also bring us into standard practice across the EU. In many European countries such as Ireland, there is not a flat rate of VAT across the economy, since the likes of the hospitality sector also bring about many social benefits as well as economic ones.

Indeed, for all the Brexiteers’ talk of a Singapore-on-Thames, the UK continues to have a higher rate of VAT compared to EU members. So much for taking back control!

With independence in Europe, we will have the full economic levers to take these decisions to help our economic sectors such as hospitality.

Independence offers the chance of a clean start to build an environment which helps our businesses as well as our local communities address the challenges they are facing.

In the meantime though, a 5% cut to VAT will go a long way towards mitigating the pressures facing the hospitality trade.