Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 6:19 pm, 24th March 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend, and neighbour, Selaine Saxby, on securing it. She is right to point out the importance of the hospitality industry to our economy in the west country. Before the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector was worth more than £2.5 billion to our local economy each year. That supported more than 3,000 businesses in Devon, and created more than £200 million of spending in the industry’s supply chains. Many of our hospitality businesses have suffered over the past year, and I am grateful for the support that the Government, both local and national, have provided.

As Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I have a particularly strong interest in our food industry. During the first lockdown, we launched an inquiry into covid-19 and the food supply, as pubs, bars and restaurants shut down, and the companies and workers who supplied them found their revenue sources removed overnight. Farmers and food suppliers tried to move food originally destined for hospitality to supermarkets, but the adjustment was difficult. British dairy farmers, for example, lost more than £41 million. The Government stepped in to help the dairy sector with a hardship fund, but many other sectors supplying hospitality businesses have continued to struggle.

It is clear from our inquiries over the last year that it is not only cafés and pubs that need extra support, but also the small and medium-sized food-and-drink businesses that supply them. The Government’s support for hospitality will be only partially successful if supply chains collapse, and the same is true of the wedding industry. Large venues such as Deer Park country house in my constituency have received a good amount of support from retail, leisure and hospitality grants, as well as the new restart grants. However, it has been more difficult to target support for the florists, cakemakers, dressmakers, photographers, caterers, and musicians, who rely on the weddings and events industries for their businesses. The Government have generally gone for a “catch-all” approach, which I understand, instead of sector-specific support, but that has left some hard cases and a lot of confusion for some sectors.

There is a lot of financial support out there, and we must ensure that our constituents know about the support schemes and how to access them. That is why this debate is especially useful, as we tackle the final weeks of lockdown and look to reopen the economy. I hope that the Minister will continue to engage regularly with representatives from the hospitality sector, to ensure that businesses are aware of what specific support is available to them now and as they look to reopen. I believe that the combination of tax cuts, cash grants, and the relaxation of planning laws over the next 12 months can help the many tourism and hospitality businesses in Tiverton and Honiton to survive and thrive, and I thank the Minister for her continued support.