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High streets in England’s tourist hotspots are at risk of becoming ghost towns if coronavirus support is scaled back, Labour has warned.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said “we cannot allow these places to be hollowed out” and called on the government to extend business rates relief.
The top three “at risk” areas are all in the South West, traditionally a major destination for Britons taking domestic holidays.
However, one business owner on the Isles of Scilly – deemed by Labour to be at the highest risk – played down these concerns as she said businesses in these areas are used to going months without tourism trade in the winter off-season anyway.
She added many businesses have been “keeping our money in the bank” from trade last summer, when lockdown restrictions were briefly eased, in order to “get through April”.
Watch: Matt Hancock says vaccines 'absolutely critical' for summer holidays (from 11 February)
It is hoped the vaccine rollout – the government aims to have given a jab to all people in the top nine priority groups by the end of April – will pave the way for a holiday season this summer.
However, according to Labour’s analysis of areas with the highest proportion of hospitality, tourism, retail and leisure businesses, these are the five areas at the highest risk amid "shrinking government support" (see the full list of 20 at the bottom of this page).
Isles of Scilly – 44.4% of businesses in these sectors
Torbay – 20.3%
Cornwall – 20.2%
Isle of Wight – 20.2%
Blackpool – 17.7%
The 20 areas deemed to be at the highest risk can also be viewed on this interactive map:
Labour has called on the government to extend the 100% business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses for at least another six months.
It also said Boris Johnson should extend the reduced rate of VAT in the hospitality, tourism and culture sectors to continue beyond 31 March.
Miliband said: “Standing by and letting these businesses collapse with the vaccine rollout making huge progress, and recovery in sight, would be absolutely devastating for business owners and employees who have done the right thing by shutting to help tackle the virus.”
The owner of a hospitality business on the Isles of Scilly, who spoke to Yahoo News UK on condition of anonymity because “we are a very small community where everybody knows everybody and I don’t want people getting p***** off with me”, has received business rates relief but is hoping trading conditions will improve from May.
“At this time of year, there is no business usually. I would be open but on very reduced hours and only with locals. We don’t have any tourists here.
“OK, very soon it’s going to hit us and last year we got hit very badly because we rely so heavily on our seven months of working to be able to survive the winter.
“But we managed to get enough of a season [when lockdown restrictions were eased] and most of us are now being very careful, keeping a low profile, not spending any money on the things we usually do during the winter like renovating.
“We’re keeping our money in the bank, keeping our heads down, and we’re pretty much looking at May. If we can get through April, that will be brilliant.”
Johnson is set to share his "road map" out of lockdown on Monday.
The 20 areas deemed by Labour to be at the highest risk
Isles of Scilly
Isle of Wight
Bath and North Somerset
Southend on Sea
Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?