The hospitality industry is the blood in the veins of our communities. It delivers so many things that make life worth living. It supplies the enjoyable days and occasions that, even before the pandemic, we all look back on fondly. Hospitality is not just about the special occasions; it is about the occasions we all treasure so much when they are taken away. It is the opportunity to have a coffee and a cake with an old friend. It is the opportunity to have a couple of pints while the world is put right. And yes, of course, it is about the weddings and the big birthdays. All have been stripped from us over the last year and it is imperative for the wellbeing of all that they are able to return as restrictions lift.
The hospitality industry has been impacted massively by the lack of celebrations, whether we are looking at a five-star hotel such as Rockliffe Hall, somewhere associated to a country park such as Hardwick Hall, or a pub with rooms such as the County in Aycliffe village. It is also pubs such as the Royal Telegraph, also in Aycliffe village, and small brewers such as Alan Hogg at the Surtees Arms in Ferryhill. It is about the food chains that enable them to operate and the multitude of staff who spend their working hours giving exceptional service.
The actions taken to frustrate the pandemic could not have been more focused on this industry if they tried. The Chancellor did his best to afford some respite to parts of the industry in the summer and his initiatives in the Budget have been helpful, but there is so much more of this industry’s core that is on life support and at risk of being terminated. Please can we consider urgently removing the ban on takeaway sales of alcohol from licensed premises in the lockdown? So many of our communities rely on the local pub for so much more than being somewhere to go for a pint. They are a critical part of the social infrastructure we need. They were already under threat before covid-19, but now the risk is critical. The all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods, which I co-chair, has clearly seen how vital social infrastructure is for communities to thrive. It has therefore promoted the concept of an automatic assumption of “asset of community value” status for the last pub in the village, which would recognise the centrality of pubs and clubs to village life.
I would encourage another look at extending the 5% VAT rate to alcohol sales on licensed premises, as well as an extension in time. Also, the variable duty proposals led by my hon. Friend Mr Holden have attracted 79 Conservative colleagues in a letter already. I also ask for consideration of sectoral support for the hospitality industry, with an extension of both furlough and business support grants beyond September, as many will have only just opened their doors in June.
I noticed today that Durham County Council has announced further support from discretionary funds for hospitality businesses and the associated supply chains. I welcome that, and hope that we can all grasp the opportunities available to support those businesses, while co-ordinating the efforts in supporting our high streets. Whether it is pubs, hotels, coach companies, brewers, wedding suppliers or the supply chains that sit behind them, their survival is critical to us feeling the benefit of lockdown lifting, and giving our communities back the precious times they have missed. We need to go above and beyond for them to give them the opportunity to give us our good times back.