Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:56 pm, 24th March 2021

For my three minutes, as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the night-time economy, I want to focus on the night-time hospitality sector, which has been pretty much completely closed for over a year, but which makes a massive contribution to our economy and our tourism sector. Our recent APPG inquiry looked at the effect of the pandemic on the night-time economy and we found that without urgent support, many nightlife businesses could be lost. We are at the critical point. Lots of venues have just about survived until now but they are racking up debts and they need help, so I want to raise five issues briefly.

First, on debt, many businesses will be in arrears for rent, utility and other costs by the time that they can reopen and, when they reopen, creditors will expect to be paid. We need a solution for that amassed commercial debt, whether that is a shared burden approach to debt, as we have seen elsewhere, or support for long-term restructuring so that debt does not need to be paid off until businesses are able to do so over the long term.

We need specific sector support for businesses that have been hit harder than in almost any other sector and will not be able to fully reopen straightaway, and for individuals. Disproportionate numbers in the hospitality and events sectors are self-employed. Many still fall into the gaps in support and there is a strong case for extending the job retention scheme for the hospitality industry until summer 2021.

We need support from the culture recovery fund. It is a great idea, but the culture recovery fund has had a limited impact on night-time venues. Of £1.57 billion, only 12 nightclub-type venues have received funds. These are cultural hubs at the heart of our city and town centres and we need to look at the criteria for future support.

On the reopening plan, the Government set out a road map to reopening, which is welcome, but venues need to be able to open at the capacity that makes them viable, so it is important that the Government work quickly with the sector on testing or other mitigations that can allow venues to open. I am worried that the test events that are part of the events research programme are not fully worked up yet. To make that happen, there has to be close partnership with the industry as soon as possible.

Finally, security is a key challenge for the sector, and I do not think that has yet been fully recognised. Because of covid, lots of security professionals have had to look for alternative jobs and many do not want to risk coming back to an uncertain future. Six in 10 late-night door supervisor positions are at risk of not being filled. That is important because venues rely on them to fulfil their licence requirements and cannot open without them. There will be high demand for the small numbers of door staff and we need to look at support and a solution.

I just have time to mention event cancellation insurance. Without a Government-backed insurance scheme, many festivals and big events will cancel this summer. France, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and Germany have all introduced some sort of Government-backed scheme. We need one to protect our world-leading events.

Nightclubs and music venues bring joy and a sense of community to our cities and towns. We cannot let these vital businesses fold. It jeopardises our wider economic recovery and leads to a massive cultural as well as economic loss to our country.