The north east Fife economy is facing “significant and unique” challenges as the post-Covid recovery begins.
More than 4,000 jobs in the area depend on tourism and hospitality, the sector hit hardest by lockdown.
According to new figures produced by Fife Council, 40% of the region’s accommodation and food services are based in the north east, including the East Neuk and St Andrews.
In 2019, more than 4.5 million people visited the area – half of all visitors to Fife – and spent £245 million.
However, last year two thirds of Scottish accommodation and food services staff were furloughed as businesses closed due to the pandemic.
Covid hit its economy with greater force than elsewhere.”
Councillor Linda Holt.
This affected as many as 2,600 jobs in north east Fife.
Much is being done to support and promote the area to tourists as part of the Covid recovery this year.
More than £2.1m is being invested in facilities in ahead of an expected increase in staycationers.
But north east Fife councillor Linda Holt fears many of the jobs furloughed last year could be lost for good.
‘Some businesses will not reopen’
The East Neuk and Landward councillor said: “I welcome this report by Fife Council because contrary to the view that north east Fife is wealthy and not in need of council support, it shows it faces significant and unique challenges.
“My ward has the highest number of people seeking work in north east Fife, with much available work being low paid and seasonal.”
Ms Holt added: “North east Fife’s dependency on tourism and hospitality meant Covid hit its economy with greater force than elsewhere.
“Many businesses had to shut up shop during lockdown and, even as restrictions ease, many are yet to reopen fully.
“Some will not reopen at all and the vast majority will struggle with Covid-caused debt.”
The All For Unity councillor said: “These sectors had the highest proportion of furloughed workers – two thirds – and it is doubtful that all will be reinstated.”
Fife tourism success
Tourism in north east Fife was enjoying huge success before Covid hit.
A new 64-mile Fife Pilgrims Way walking route, including two sections in the north east, opened in 2019.
However, many of the traditional events, including shows, festivals and Highland games moved online last year because of the pandemic.
Visitors flocked to the area again last summer as restrictions eased but foreign holidays remained off limits.
However, this saw many communities and rural sites facing huge pressures as the infrastructure struggled to cope with the influx.
As a result, a new tourism programme will deliver new toilets, car parks and mobile home sites by this summer.
Gordon Mole, Fife Council’s head of business and employability, said the largest employment sectors in north east Fife are accommodation and food, as well as arts, entertainment and recreation.
He said those sectors had “the lowest proportion of businesses trading and the highest proportion of their workforce furloughed in Scotland in February and March 2021”.
Fife Council is offering business support but Mr Mole asked councillors to “recognise the ongoing economic impact and uncertainty resulting from the global Covid-19 pandemic and European exit.”