Letter to Jill Stein, chair, Visit Cornwall

This letter  to Jill Stein was written in order to prepare the ground for the Penzance Citizens Panel. Its purpose was to trigger an honest conversation with key stakeholders over the whole issue of low wage employment in Cornwall and the need for the Real Living Wage (different to the government’s living wage). The letter has been shared with the Citizens panel.

The response from Visit Cornwall is at the bottom.

Jill Stein OBE
Chair of Visit Cornwall

Dear Jill Stein OBE                                         22-August-2019

Firstly, congratulations on becoming chair of Visit Cornwall. I wish you every success in your appointment and am sure that you will bring a huge amount of talent and experience to the role.

Visit Cornwall plays a vital role in promoting tourism in Cornwall and with it, the jobs and prosperity on which thousands of people and businesses depend. My purpose in writing to you is to ask whether you see a role for Visit Cornwall in promoting the Living Wage in the hospitality sector?

Visit Cornwall is cited on the Living Wage Foundation website as one of the very few companies in the hospitality sector in Cornwall that pays the real Living Wage of £9 per hour (for London it is £10.55). The rate is different from the government ‘living wage’ of £8.25 an hour since the real Living Wage is calculated annually by the Resolution Foundation and overseen by the Living Wage Commission. The calculations are  based on the best available evidence about minimum living standards in London and the UK. By contrast, the government’s version is based on a target to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020.

The issue of the Living Wage arises out of research I am doing for a background information brief to be submitted to the Penzance Citizens Panel on Housing. The key challenge the citizens panel will address is:

High housing costs, low paid insecure work, eviction and homelessness are all issues that blight local communities in Cornwall, including Penzance. How can we as a community come together to address these issues?

The 15 member panel is due to convene for its first session on 17th October.

Employers paying the Living Wage in Cornwall

My research so far has revealed that there are just over 90 employers who pay the real Living Wage in Cornwall. While the majority of these are branches of well known high street banks, there are some surprises: for example all Oxfam bookshops pay the Living Wage of £9 per hour; So does Pentreath, a mental health charity in Cornwall. Carol Spinks Homecare which is based in Saltash also pays the Living Wage, as does  Wadebridge Food Bank. These are unlikely champions of the Living Wage given that both the care sector and the charitable sector operate in a harsh funding environment. And it begs the question that if they can do it, why not  others? 

The absence of the Living Wage in the hospitality sector

With regard to the hospitality sector, a cursory search on Booking.com and Trivalgo reveal that  there are approximately 1,300 Four Star and Five star hotels, inns and holiday homes which charge well over £100 a night in high season and many over £200. And in Penzance, recently named as in the bottom ten percent of the most deprived towns in the UK, there is one establishment that charges over £1,000 a night for its 7 bedroom property.  

So far, I have only found one tourist establishment that pays the Living Wage, apart from Visit Cornwall.

My purpose is not to blame or finger point but to raise important questions and trigger a wider conversation; one which can also feed into the  citizen panel deliberations on this issue. It is also to encourage you to respond to the challenge set by  Glen Caplin, chief executive of CIOS LEP  in a recent article on low pay:

“businesses say the reason they don’t pay more is because no-one else in their sector does…..if we can encourage some of those businesses to make a first move then perhaps we can encourage more to follow.”

Visit Cornwall is well placed to take up this challenge by encouraging other businesses to follow their example. If they did so, they would find a powerful ally in Cornwall Council and in the Living Wage Foundation. More than anything, with Brexit upon us, we need leadership and vision. For all its popularity as a tourist destination Cornwall remains a poor region and Brexit could further damage the livelihood and job prospects of local people. 

I  do hope to hear from you and I  will be sure to share your response  with citizens panel when it convenes on 17th October.

Kind regards,

Signed,

Gavin Barker, volunteer project manager,
Penzance Citizens Panel

Response from Visit Cornwall

Malcolm Bell, CEO Visit Cornwall email response September 30th 2019

HI Gavin

We had a good discussion at our Board of Directors meeting

This issue is quite complicated in tourism and hospitality due to the issues of “end of season bonus” , tips and the associated “tronk”.

This means that  a person’s hourly rate may well be above the real living wage, even when the base rate might be at min wage levels,   that said it was agreed we should promote the real living wage ( Visit Cornwall CiC – is a real living wage business) to our members, but we have no influence beyond that to insist or demand etc (italics by Gavin)

There is a wider debate linked to our current toward 2O40 tourism review and best practice in the industry , that we should have as a high priority, the key issue of progression from entry level jobs.  

We believe that it is one of the highest priorities, that someone who enters the sector in an entry level jobs should be able to progress to jobs above the real living wage as soon as is practical, through a shake up in the training ( especially that of adults ). Training needs to be flexible and modular so that each individual can learn through bite size sessions to gain skills, knowledge related to their needs and that of the business.

We should consider worse that someone has failed to progress from an entry level job and pay rate within a year or two of employment and that as a strategic target we need to be measuring progression as a high priority, alongside pay rates.

I would be happy to discuss further and even discuss at a panel meeting as we are keen to widen the debate on how effective training systems should be in driving progression in the sector for all those employed  

 Regards

 Malcolm Bell

Chief Executive

Web www.visitcornwall.com

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