Regional leaders have called on the government to allow the West Midlands to become a national test bed for an early reopening of the tourism, hospitality & cultural sector.

Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, Fiona Allan - CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome - and Martin Sutherland - CEO of Coventry City of Culture 2021 - have sent a joint letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, asking for the region to be used as a pilot area, which would see the sector opening sooner than elsewhere in the country.

The region’s tourism, hospitality and cultural businesses have been hardest hit by the lockdown, and with little or no trading revenue being generated, have been almost entirely reliant on the furlough scheme to avoid wholesale redundancies and business closures. The businesses support more than 135,000 jobs and contribute around £12.6billion a year to the local economy.

The region believes there is now a pressing need to restore confidence in the sector so that it can not only fully recapture the economic and cultural benefits it enjoyed pre-lockdown but also grow further.

Andy Street said: “Our tourism, hospitality & cultural sector was the first to close under the lockdown and is likely to be the last to reopen. Even then it will have to operate at a much-reduced capacity.

“But we believe we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the sector as a key economic driver in the region’s post-Covid-19 recovery, and we are asking the government to pilot the West Midlands as the region where this sector opens up faster than in other areas. This way we can lead the way and help strike the right balance between safety and outputs, allowing other regions to follow suit.

“It’s important for the West Midlands to build on its unique heritage and distinctive strengths and seize the opportunity to reset, rebuild, reinvent and come back even stronger.”

Regional leaders are keen to see staff in the sector allowed to return on a reduced part-time basis until it is safe for normal activity to resume.

The Covid-19 lockdown has had a major impact on the sector right across the region. Figures show that: 95% of businesses are reporting a fall in revenue; over 50% are struggling with cashflow; over 40% have closed or ceased trading, with a further 35% forecast to join them by August.

An earlier-than-planned reopening under a pilot scheme would provide a much-needed boost for the region’s key visitor destinations, such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

It would also provide confidence to the region’s theatres, who are currently considering whether to cancel Christmas productions.

Fiona Allan said: “This region has incredible cultural assets, which attract visitors from around the country - including theatres, galleries, festivals, museums and heritage sites, not to mention our incredible food and beverage offer - and it is vital we find a way for these businesses to open as soon as possible. 

“We need to be promoting our region as a visitor destination now, or we may miss the opportunities afforded by both Coventry City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022.”

Paul Thandi, CEO for the Birmingham-based NEC Group, added: “I fully support this approach from fellow business leaders. It aligns with the lobbying efforts we have made for the demonstration of how a quicker and safe return of controlled events can be achieved as a viable option for government.

“As the UK’s largest live events business, the Group has worked extensively to develop a comprehensive return-to-business blueprint. We have already approached government about piloting public events on behalf of the UK venue & live events industry, so are well placed to contribute to this West Midlands pilot.

“This could act as a real beacon of hope for our industry in the West Midlands but also nationally for the whole of the live-events sector. One of us opens, we are all open.”

The setting up of a pilot scheme would also bolster the wider Covid-19 recovery plan being drawn up by the region.