Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London) 6:48 pm, 24th March 2021

I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby on securing today’s debate. She has given me another stopping place in her constituency for us to have a drink in when we are eventually able to do so, the Bell Inn in Chittlehampton, and we will have to go to the Nartnapa Thai kitchen in Lynton to have a good meal there as well. This debate is important because the hospitality sector is so important. As we have heard, it is important for its contribution to the economy, for local high streets and communities, for the millions of local jobs that it creates, and for the health and wellbeing of us all. This debate has highlighted just how important the sector is, and I hope it will go some way to restoring public confidence and kickstarting the recovery as we see the road map to recovery.

We have heard of those local examples, including my hon. Friend Kate Griffiths talking about Carling’s “support your local” campaign. We have heard about restaurants such as Bartellas, and about cafés such as Coffee Cups, Catch 22 and the Pilot House in Ynys Môn. We heard about Mulligans Sports Bar supporting its local area in Scunthorpe. We know that nationally the hospitality sector is a big deal, employing about 1.3 million people across 162,000 businesses, but arguably it is even more important at the local level, providing that cornerstone of our high streets, securing local jobs and opportunities for local suppliers, supporting the events that attract visitors to towns and cities up and down the country, and providing space for family and friends to come together. In short, hospitality is the lifeblood of our communities, our society and our heritage.

Since the start of the pandemic, I have worked closely with the sector to understand the issues involved so that I can best represent its interests in Government. That engagement has helped to shape the business support package and ensured that as many hospitality businesses as possible had access to some form of support. Clearly, it would not have been possible to have a separate scheme for every sector and every industry, or to compensate every company for every pound lost as a result of the pandemic. The Government support package is designed to ensure that as many businesses as possible—from the large chains to the sole traders—qualify for some level of business support, with the aim of saving as many otherwise healthy businesses and jobs as possible.

That package included job retention measures, support for the self-employed, access to grants and loans, VAT cuts, business rates relief and the moratorium on commercial rent evictions. In addition, we have provided local authorities with £2 billion of funding to support those businesses that do not qualify for the local restriction support grants and the restart grants, including breweries; freelance and mobile businesses, which take in caterers, events, hair and beauty, and wedding-related businesses; tourism businesses, including group travel and tour operators, B&Bs, and events industry suppliers. I urge local authorities to use the discretionary additional restrictions grant funding generously to support those businesses and others that have not had other forms of support. After all, they could, as we have heard, play a critical role in attracting visitors to the city and town centres, as well as to their local areas, over the summer and beyond.

Equally, local authorities should have the guidance for restart grants to help them plan ahead and get the grants out quickly, so that businesses are in the best place to reopen at step 2 of the road map. None the less, no business support package can ever match the benefits of operating in an open marketplace. While the new restart grants and the additional restrictions grants are important to the reopening and recovery of hospitality businesses, local authorities also have a part to play in helping businesses to reopen safely, by making it easy for them to maximise outside seating, tables and street stores to serve food and drinks. That will not just help hospitality businesses to reopen in a way that provides extra capacity and therefore revenue, helping them to manage down accrued debts, but provide the sector with longer-term resilience.

I encourage local authorities to make use of the welcome back fund announced on Saturday 20 March and the additional restrictions grant funding to run publicity campaigns and to prepare for events such as street markets, festivals and all those sorts of things to help support local businesses. Campaigns and safe events will be vital in encouraging the return of shoppers to our town and city centres. At the same time, we need to make sure that we embed confidence by supporting local pubs, cafés and restaurants.

Lucy Powell raised the issue of those that had missed out on support, which I have already addressed, but a number of Members mentioned small brewers and the relief fund. The Chancellor has launched a technical consultation, which closes on 4 April, and I encourage all brewers and people interested in that sector to make sure that they have their say. Beer duty has been frozen for the second year in a row, saving drinkers £7.3 billion. The Government will set out details of the next stages of the review in due course.

We also heard from Ian Paisley. I have been working with Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster on the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland, and I am grateful for his feedback. I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is about time that we renewed the karaoke session that we had a few years ago in his constituency.

Finally, a number of Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), raised the issue of weddings. I value the fact that I was able to work with the weddings taskforce, which was brought together by the sector itself, involving a disparate number of businesses and voices focused on producing concentrated and collaborative work. We do need to do more to make sure that we can give them the certainty that they need as we get to step 2, and I will redouble my efforts to make sure that we can get that done.

In conclusion, the road map that the Prime Minister announced provides a gradual and cautious step-by-step—not stop-and-start—plan to reopen the economy. That, in tandem with the progress of the vaccination programme—bear in mind that at some points on Saturday, we were achieving something like 27 jabs a second—means that we are hopeful of keeping to our schedule.

Despite the progress over the last few months, we cannot pretend that the way forward is easy or that difficult choices do not lie ahead. For the sake of people across the country and for the NHS, we must remain cautious. We must remember hands, face and space. Ventilation and fresh air will also be hugely important as we seek to reopen. That is why the road map starts with outdoor opening before we come indoors. The events research programme, which is looking at how we can have covid-secure events including larger weddings, will report back in May.

We remain cautiously optimistic. I look forward to returning to the hospitality sector, as I think we all do in this House.