Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole 5:34 pm, 24th March 2021

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing this debate. We all know that, in the west country, hospitality is very important. It is responsible for many, many jobs. How quickly we get back to normal will depend on what levels of unemployment we have in our constituencies. I commend the Government for what they have done. When they had to work rapidly on the schemes to support people—whether it be the furlough scheme or the self-employment grant—they did so very efficiently. The whole British Government have been more functional and more efficient than I might have thought before the start of this crisis. When they have had to act, they have done so quite swiftly.

Where I have a slight difference with the British Government, which is why my voting record on one or two occasions has not been wholly in line with lockdown, is that I am still not convinced that hospitality and non-essential retail are as big a problem as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and others have suggested. Many of these businesses were running in the summer in a very covid-friendly way—many were encouraged to invest in being covid-safe. I still believe that they are a soft target that has been closed down too quickly.

The Government could make amends by looking at the data, considering the situation and, perhaps, speeding up the opening up of hospitality. There are some big groups in hospitality, but there are also an awful lot of small businesses. There are some people who retire on a pension to run a pub or a restaurant which is really a labour of love as much as it is a profitable business. We need to get them open and functioning as quickly as possible.

I welcome the fact that pubs and restaurants will be able to open up outside on 12 April, but, looking at the data, I cannot see why they should have to wait a further five weeks before taking on inside trade. It is even longer for hotels and other parts of the sector.

My call on the Government today is to look at the data. With the vaccination programme going the way that it is—fingers crossed that that continues—we could get hospitality open very quickly. Everything is interdependent. The shopping areas in my constituency do best when there are pubs, bars and restaurants nearby, and pubs, bars and restaurants do best when the shopping areas are open. The area also does well when the caravan sites are open, which, thank goodness, they will be on 12 April, because that brings in thousands of people. Therefore, if we take out a whole sector, it has a major impact on the community.

The hospitality sector is important for jobs, particularly for young people who have suffered during this pandemic. We need to nurse this area back to health and I hope that the Government do so by speeding up the unlock and getting people back to business.