My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive introduction to these SIs and for going over the background and the rationale for their introduction.
Local communities are centred on their local hospitality providers. When weddings and events are postponed, cinemas, theatres, churches and sports grounds are shut, exercise facilities are curtailed and local and overseas tourism disappears, the hospitality sector feels the strain. Unfortunately, it is these businesses that are most affected by the new measures to combat Covid-19. With the ending of the furlough, the growing number of cases and the tightening of restrictions, this sector faces even tougher times ahead. Only this week, UKHospitality predicted 560,000 extra redundancies in the sector by the end of the year.
Today’s first set of regulations introduces the rule of six for pubs, restaurants, cafes and other businesses, clearly placing responsibility on them to ensure that parties of more than six may not book or gain entry. This was noted by the SLSC, and we do not object to it. The second set of regulations amends the first to get businesses to take all reasonable steps to stop singing, dancing and event music, to deal with noise levels and to introduce new signage for face coverings. They also rack up the penalties—I suspect that that will give rise to further discussion this morning.
Labour supports public health measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but I argue in this amendment that these further restrictions on the hospitality sector should be introduced alongside additional financial support for the businesses affected and effective incentives to retain jobs affected by these new measures. In passing, I note that there are reports in today’s papers of a local furlough to be introduced for businesses forced to close because of Covid-19 regulations. Can the Minister give us any further details about that, because it clearly has a bearing on what we are talking about this morning?
We accept that it is challenging during a crisis such as Covid-19 to find the right balance between necessary public health measures and economic support. However, this Government have acted with alarming inconsistency and been guilty of mixed messaging on a grand scale. People were told to go back to work, and then to stay at home if possible; people were told to eat out, but then it turned out that the NHS track and trace app was not ready; and businesses were told that the furlough was ending without a proper plan for recovery and job creation in place. This one-size-fits-all approach is patently not working for, for example, the creative industries or the hospitality and events sectors.
Why is it that one in three freelancers—who make up 70% of the theatre workforce in this country—are ineligible for the SEISS or the CJRS? How do we expect regional theatres to survive if their staff are unable to get the support they need? Many restaurant owners and pub landlords believe that redundancies are only weeks away. When the Chancellor said this week at the Conservative Party conference
“I couldn’t protect every job or every business”,
the sector felt like he was talking directly to them. What on earth was in his mind when he raised questions about whether jobs in the creative industries were viable? It is one of our most effective sectors, which makes a huge and growing contribution to our economy and our national life. Indeed, Tim Burgess nails this argument in his Guardian article today.
The Government say that the Job Support Scheme is supposed to stop workers being laid off, but there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the scheme to incentivise employers to keep staff on by covering a percentage of their wage. Its design means that for some struggling businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, it would be more cost-effective to lay off half their staff than pay £700 a month for each job they want to save. Other countries have done it better.
Surely we now need a job recovery scheme—regionally and sub-regionally based, to provide businesses with the incentives to keep staff on, not stack the odds against them—and a real focus on jobs for young people entering the job market for the first time. We all recall the scars of earlier recessions. We must learn the lessons. The Labour Party has called for the business grants underspend to be brought together into a hospitality and high street fight-back fund, so that local authorities can target financial support at businesses in distress. We need a sector-specific recovery plan which tries to reach out to the hospitality sector, the tourism sector, the creative industries and rural businesses in ways that give confidence that the Government recognise their particular circumstances and so that, when shut-downs and new regulations on behaviour are necessary for public health reasons, the collateral damage is recompensed on a fair and transparent basis, with local input. I beg to move.