Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 6:10 pm, 24th March 2021

The last year has been difficult for us all, with every aspect of our lives and livelihoods impacted by covid, but the hospitality sector has perhaps faced more challenges than most. Apart from a few months over the summer, many pubs and clubs have not been able to trade at all, and when they have been able to open, they have faced such onerous trading conditions that, if they have chosen to trade, they have often done so at a loss.

I understand, of course, why restrictions were needed on how people interacted in pubs, but the way we ended up, in the space of a few weeks last September, lurching from debates about whether Scotch eggs were substantial meals to whether 10 pm closures did more harm than good shows just how confused the response was, with rapid, almost weekly changes to how pubs were meant to operate. That constant chopping and changing only added to the financial burden that pubs face. What about the farce of Test and Trace check-ins for hospitality venues? They were used 100 million times but resulted in only 284 alerts. The Government should make sure that these things work properly if they are going to insist on them in the future.

When I look at some of the pubs in my locality that have not opened their doors for a year, I worry that they may never do so again. We know that in the last decade, a pub has closed once every 14 hours. My concern is that that shocking figure may end up being dwarfed once we see the true impact of covid on the sector. We must look at the sector as a whole—not just the bit we see as customers, but those in the supply chain. The brewers, the cleaners, those who supply the vending machines and the pool tables—all those businesses rely on a thriving hospitality sector to survive, and the importance of their making it beyond the next three months must be clear.

It is welcome that we now have a clear road map for the opening of venues, which is necessary to give sectors confidence. The last thing they need—the last thing we all need—is the stop-start, boom-and-bust approach that we saw last year, when where a business was based and what it provided dictated whether it could open at all, almost on a day-to-day basis.

Even when pubs reopen on 12 April, we need to recognise that that does not mean all pubs will be able to reopen. Those that do not have outdoor facilities will still be shut, and, frankly, we cannot be confident that the great British summer will come early enough to encourage people to drink outside in April. That gap has to be bridged. We must also remember that, when we hopefully get to full reopening in May, the road map requires table service only to be in operation. With social distancing, that means there will be, by definition, a limit on the number of customers a pub can have, and that limit is likely to be well below the capacity it used to enjoy. Again, that is a gap that has to be bridged, and many Members have already spoken today about how we can do that.

We all hope that this lockdown is the last, but I hope it has been made clear to the Minister today that, even if that is the case, there will still be challenges to the sector for many months to come. I will do my best personally to support the hospitality sector—within reasonable limits, of course—but I cannot do it on my own, and the sector cannot do it without Government support until the pandemic is completely over.