The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been accused of ignoring the plight of struggling businesses in his constituency, including a number of outdoor education centres that face being wiped out.
“Over the last five months I’ve tried to speak to Mr Sunak but he just doesn’t seem to be listening,” said Terry Hailwood, the head of Low Mill Outdoor Centre, one of several centres nationwide facing closure because of a ban on overnight school trips.
“He only visits businesses round here that are benefiting from his schemes. For those of us struggling, making redundancies, he just doesn’t understand our issues.”
Sunak and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, are coming under pressure in their respective constituencies as a national campaign continues against a ban on residential school trips, which risks an “economic, social and cultural disaster” and the loss of 15,000 UK jobs unless it is lifted by spring.
Companies, schools and parents say a generation of children risk missing out on often life-changing benefits of visits unless there are changes to Covid-19 restrictions that have left outdoor education centres dormant since March.
The role of Sunak – who as chancellor has overseen the furlough scheme and other funding for businesses struggling in the pandemic – has engendered some particularly strong feelings in his constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire.
Hailwood said: “Sunak has three centres in his own backyard that have had their business decimated by government guidance. At Low Mill, we are at risk of closing permanently and our staff are on notice. We don’t qualify for the new Job Support Scheme. It’s jobs and businesses slipping through the cracks in his own patch.”
In Williamson’s constituency of South Staffordshire, the chief executive of an outdoor education centre that has been running “transformative” trips for children and adults said it had also “tried to engage constructively” with the MP on the mounting threat to the existence of outdoor education providers.
“Despite our Staffordshire site being located in his own constituency, it is clear that he has not taken the time to properly consider how we operate or the importance of the sector’s survival to our younger generation,” said Alex Williamson, CEO of Kingswood centre.
The Department for Education has said schools have been able to run non-residential trips since the start of term. It is keeping guidance on residential and non-residential trips under review in line with Public Health England advice.
The parliamentary offices ofSunak and Williamson have been approached for comment.