A meeting has been held with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng. He was sympathetic but as yet could not promise sector specific help.
Kwasi is putting us in touch with Paul Scully the Business Minister to take the matters further and find possible solutions for the Snowsports sector to receive further support for at least the 21-22 season.
We are also working the UKCA task force to help us navigate the complicated situation regarding safety marking (helmets, goggles and other items classified as PPE). We, alongside the OIA, are asking for an extension to allow us to implement the changes.
Also involved with our case are Henry Smith the Parliamentary Ski Captain and Andrew Rosindall who is the Chair of the British Switzerland All Party Parliamentary Group. They have taken specific interest in supporting the requests of the SIGB.
We will forward an update when there are any further developments.
UK snowsport industry briefing note to UK Government
The current situation
The winter sports industry, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was a thriving business sector. It encompasses far more than just skiing or snowboarding and represents various businesses across the retail, wholesale, media, travel and education sectors. Its specialist nature does not mean niche or small; there are over 6.3 million winter sports enthusiasts in the United Kingdom. However, uniquely to our industry, these enthusiasts need to travel to participate.
The industry is now in crisis as a result of the travel restrictions imposed since March 2020, terminating the 2019/2020 winter season at its peak. The lifting of lockdown in Summer 2020 and travel recommencing then gave false hope for a “normal” Winter 2020/2021 season.
Accordingly, retailers placed further orders for the winter and took deliveries only to be closed down again for almost the entire season, with full lockdown in November, tier lockdowns in December and then full lockdown post-Christmas until April. This situation was further compounded by the closure of resorts in the UK and across Europe following the implementation of travel bans.
All of this has had a catastrophic impact on our SIGB members, most reporting a reduction of year-on-year turnover of between 80%-90%. Moreover, there is now a substantial overstock situation in the market that is likely to eliminate any profitability for the coming Winter 2021 season, with consequent payment issues across the industry.
Concerning the wholesale business, these are generally either agents or distributors and self-employed or small company directors who have been eligible for very little support for the past the past 15 months. These organisations will struggle to be paid by retailers for goods that may not be sold until Winter 2021/2022 and thereafter are unlikely to return to a normal, commercial level of business until Winter 2022/2023 at the earliest. Furthermore, you should also be aware that this is particularly hard on commission-based agents who do not receive payments from brands until debts are cleared in full by retailers.
Sector specific support request
We would like to ask if there are any specific measures (similar to the support given to the hospitality sector), that the Government could undertake to support the industry during these extremely difficult circumstances. These include but are not exclusive to, support through the furlough scheme or the SEISS, business rates relief, a reduction in Vat to 5%, grants being made available and where required extensions to loan repayment plans (for bounce back loans taken out during the pandemic).
You should also note that as an industry reliant on travel, a roadmap and clear guidelines on travel is essential to provide winter sports consumers and enthusiasts with the confidence to book holidays and buy product once again.
UKCA marks for PPE equipment
On a separate note, we would like to have clarification regarding the replacement of the CE mark with the UKCA mark on PPE sold in the UK. While we understand that the standards required by each remain the same in the short term, any divergence in the standards will lead to a costly certification process for any products entering the UK. Consequently, the SIGB joins the OIA, (Outdoor Industry Association), to ask for a further 12 month period to enable us to implement such changes to ensure products in retail are correctly certified
It has also been brought to our attention that product safety requirements state that all garments sold in the UK, must incorporate a UK address, that is permanently attached to the product by the end of 2022. This seems a rather archaic proposal as consumers generally, either return the product to the place of purchase or contact the manufacturer directly, therefore surely a web address would suffice?
Many international manufacturers will have already produced the product for the coming winter, much of which will also be carry over from the previous season, so it may be not be possible for them to comply with these standards within the given timeframes, leading to significant cost increases for many manufacturers, who may decide simply not to supply Britain in the short term. It is important that we produce guidance for the industry, to enable manufacturers to comply with the new regulations to ensure that they can sell their product in this country and consumers continue to have access to great brands and products in the winter sports market.
UK citizens – the ability to work in EU resorts
Finally have there been any developments regarding the issues UK citizens are facing working in Europe? There are several issues particularly relevant for the snowsport industry. Instructors, traditionally based in Europe, are finding it very hard to find employment as they can only work for 90 days despite devoting many years and thousands of pounds to gain their qualifications. Within the travel sector the lack of seasonal British staff is hugely increasing the costs for British tour operators active in Europe. This cost will ultimately be borne by the holiday maker, potentially reducing the accessibility and participation of winter sports. This will impact all sectors of the industry, from retail and wholesale, media and travel, further compounding the problems caused by the Pandemic.