36 Conservative MPs urge PM to support UK ELT schools "on brink of collapse"
A group of backbench MPs have asked Boris Johnson for urgent government support for UK ELT schools at risk of permanent closure because of Covid travel regulations.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, excerpts of which have been published in the Sunday Telegraph today, they say our £1.4bn industry is "of huge national strategic importance" and "on the brink of collapse" but is "wholly reliant on inbound tourism and faces the full impact of ongoing travel restrictions."
Granting business rates relief to language schools for 2020-22 would cost no more than £17m and help keep the industry going until students return, argue the MPs: "The Chancellor has recently announced a £1.5 billion pot for those who have missed out on other forms of business rates relief," says the letter, adding: "We urge you to use this fund to issue clear guidance to local authorities in England to supply language schools with rates relief backdated to 2020. Swift action now would help save an industry that contributes over £20 million to the exchequer in a normal year, providing 35,000 jobs here at home."
The 36 signatories, led by Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer and including 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady, represent constituencies from across the country – many without language centres or English UK members.
Mr Lewer said: "Before Covid, the UK's English language teaching schools taught more international students than any of our competitor nations, and they aspire to return to that status as soon as possible. But as a seasonal industry relying on inbound tourism, there is a very real risk that many of these businesses will close and our expertise and global reputation will be lost. The UK needs these language schools so they can continue to play a positive role in the Prime Minister's plan to Build Back Better after the pandemic and create a truly global Britain post-Brexit."
The letter to Mr Johnson says that the ELT sector is of "huge national strategic importance", adding: "Over half a million students a year travel from overseas to study at a language school in England and bring with them £1.4 billion of support to the wider tourism and hospitality industries. A language school is their first positive contact with our great country, and it is where they learn about her diverse culture and values. Indeed, many of these students go on to study at a university or set up a business in the UK."
The letter goes on to say: "However, the ELT sector is on the brink of collapse. Many language schools have already permanently closed because of the impact of the pandemic, with an 84 per cent drop in student numbers in 2020 leading to a loss of £590 million in revenue. Whilst the furlough scheme has so far saved many jobs in the ELT sector, many more language schools are set to shut this summer without further Government support."
"Despite their enthusiasm to re-open, language schools are wholly reliant on inbound tourism and face the full impact of ongoing travel restrictions. A substantial number of language schools are located in coastal and rural parts of the country where they are a pillar of support to the local economy; providing income to host families, transport companies and a range of leisure and hospitality businesses. ELT is one of the few sectors unable to benefit from the - as yet - incomplete Roadmap to Freedom, or indeed able to fully do so even when it is complete, and we risk allowing global custom to move to other anglophone countries without a guarantee of funding."
English UK chief executive Jodie Gray was delighted with the letter. She told the Telegraph: "This is a seasonal industry which relies on students travelling to the UK to learn. We cannot now see any prospect of significant recovery until 2022 as most of our students come on short courses of around a fortnight and cannot afford to spend ten days in quarantine first."
"Business rates are a real issue for the majority of ELT centres which are private businesses, because they need large, high street premises to attract and teach students. The Chancellor promised business rates relief to the hospitality and leisure sector, but our centres were effectively excluded from this despite having had no income since February 2020."
"A few local authorities chose to support our members but the majority did not – and at least one of our members is now being taken to court for an £150,000 rates bill, which may put him out of business forever. The more of this expertise we lose, the harder it will be for our industry to compete globally once again."
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