Live Events and Weddings: Covid-19 Support — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:51 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury 6:51 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray.

Dorfold Hall, Peckforton Castle, Combermere Abbey, Carden Park and Wrenbury Hall are just some of the stunning, romance-laden, fairytale wedding venues in Eddisbury, which are at the forefront of a thriving £10 billion-plus national industry that employs, as we have heard, over 400,000 people in around 120,000 viable and mainly family-run businesses across the country. I say “thriving”, but of course since March this sizeable chunk of our economy has been, to all intents and purposes, shut down.

It is important to recognise that the Chancellor’s significant financial support package has rescued many businesses from failure and kept other businesses, including in the wedding industry, on life support. However, since I spoke in the House in July and again in September in support of more targeted support for such businesses, I am afraid to say that the situation has only got worse. Indeed, the reduction on 22 September in the number of people allowed to attend a wedding to 15 saw 15,000 to 20,000 weddings cancelled and the loss of a further £450 million to £600 million in revenues.

If I look specifically at the Boutique Hotel Group, which is based in my constituency, I see that in 2020 to date it has had 432 weddings cancelled, and lost £7.8 million in sales and £3.7 million in net income. Dorfold Hall, which is near Nantwich, was only able to hold four weddings this summer, with the business closed for the greater part of the year. While the rest of the hospitality sector benefited from VAT relief and the eat out to help out scheme, wedding venues were in effect excluded.

As we have also heard today, that has also had serious consequences for nearly all the businesses that are in or around the supply chain for wedding venues. The managing director of the Boutique Hotel Group, Chris Naylor, told me that one of its suppliers—a florist—would usually turn over in excess of £200,000 from his venues alone, spread over 40 weddings a year, but it has provided flowers for only one wedding this year. The group’s recommended DJ and lighting company, which would normally turn over £350,000 from the group’s venues, has had no turnover since March. The photography company that the group uses, which would normally bring in around £1 million through 450-plus weddings at £2,000 per wedding, has not seen those sales coming in, and it employs photographers based across the north-west area. Significant hardship has been caused right across the wedding industry.

We have heard a lot about the road map, but it is time that we actually saw it realised, as something that builds from socially distanced numbers towards normal weddings, where situations and technologies allow. The wedding industry and many of the venues themselves are really well set up for that to happen. We can put them at the heart of the test and trace system, and we can also make sure that they have all the support they need financially, so that their cash flow can continue throughout what will continue to be a difficult time, because January and February 2021 are the most important months in which to sell 2022 weddings. That will also help with the cash-flow issues.

In the previous debate, we heard about a taskforce that has been set up to work towards spectators going to venues again as soon as possible to watch elite sport. We need a similar group for the wedding industry. I urge the Minister to do what he can to work with all those who have a keen and now urgent interest in making that become a reality, because there is hope. There is a lot of latent capacity within the wedding industry, a real chance to bounce back from what has been its worst ever year. There is an incentive for the Government as well, given the tax receipts that will flow as a consequence. I ask the Minister to continue to work closely with the wedding industry to ensure that we do not miss this chance to bring back a great part of our economy.