The Minister for Hospitality debate was held in Parliament earlier this week, where 20 MPs discussed hospitality’s need for government to make such an appointment.
Even the most optimistic supporters could not have wished for such an understanding of our industry to be displayed, of its current needs, as well as a unanimous vote approving the motion from Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for the government to appoint a Minister for Hospitality.
Graham Stringer, Labour MP, Blackley and Broughton Chaired the session and opened by inviting Catherine McKinnell to introduce the motion.
McKinnell’s opening was eloquent and immediately set the tone for the session. An early intervention was made by Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP, Bournemouth East.
Ellwood was clear from the outset in his backing of the motion saying: “I absolutely support the hon. Lady’s call for a hospitality Minister.
“I was the shadow Minister for tourism when I first came into Parliament. I wanted that job to continue when we went into government, but the size of Government restricts the number of Ministers it is possible to have, as we will no doubt hear later.
“In the event that we are not successful in getting a Minister for hospitality, would she support an envoy for hospitality so that we can at least have a voice for this important sector, which has been battered so hard because of covid-19.”
No sooner had Ellwood concluded another intervention was made by Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist Party MP, Strangford.
Shannon made the intervention to highlight the needs of wedding venues and bed and breakfast providers as well as the need for all hospitality businesses in all regions of the UK including Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, to work together.
McKinnell then continued demonstrating a deep and broad understanding of the hospitality industry in part due to the fact that her husband works in hospitality. She stated: “I want to put on record that my husband works in hospitality, so I live with its daily ups and downs, not to mention the huge challenges of covid-19.”
The next intervention was from Steve Brine, Conservative MP, Winchester who was straight to the point saying: “I support the hon. Lady’s call for a stronger voice for hospitality in Government.” Brine continued by suggesting the UK’s coffee culture may have to be put on hold during the pandemic, suggesting takeaway coffee was not essential.
McKinnell again continued and took her colleagues present in the debate and those watching online to her Newcastle constituency for a tour of hospitality close to her geographically and emotionally. McKinnell called into Thyme Square café on Station Road and onto the Michelin-starred House of Tides on the quayside. On the journey difficulties and challenges faced by local hospitality providers were underlined in context with the wider industry sharing of them.
The preparation for the debate by McKinnell was highlighted when she explained that on the Friday prior to the debate, “I met the petition’s creator, Claire Bosi, and some of its leading supporters”. This preparation and understanding of the issues faced and the need for a Minister for Hospitality continued to be evident throughout the session.
Next up was Greg Clark Conservative, Conservative MP, Tunbridge Wells who got straight to business. Thanking The Chancellor for his generous economic assistance of hospitality businesses to date, but highlighting the need for continued and increased help. Clark referred to a recent meeting he had with hospitality businesses in his Tunbridge Wells constituency. The meeting was with 36 hospitality businesses and Greg said of them: “These businesses pay their way, and if they manage to survive they will thrive in the future and help to repay the sums that have been set aside during these last few months.”
Greg continued with: “(I) ask for the Government to reconsider the requirement to pay national insurance on furloughed employees, given that, at the moment, zero revenue is coming in; to extend the business rates holiday and VAT cut, to reflect the fact that the closure of businesses has been for much longer than was expected; and to extend the terms of the loan scheme, so that these businesses can finance themselves for these crucial few months and so that, at the end of that time, everyone in this Chamber can join together and look back at a pandemic that is over, raising a drink and celebrating the success of continuing businesses.” This was a message that all in hospitality could savour.
Dr Rupa Huq, Labour MP, Ealing Central and Acton then took to the floor and like her predecessors with a true passion for hospitality. Huq was comprehensive stating clearly: “Hospitality drives the health of our high streets and the viability of our suburbs and towns. A lot of these business are family run—I know: my late dad was an Indian restaurant person himself. All of these things are now facing existential threat. At the other end of the scale, the collapse of big chains such as Carluccio’s, Pizza Express and even Jamie Oliver outlets would ordinarily be big news, but these are not ordinary times, and with the worst death toll in Europe, we hear barely a whisper about them.
“I never thought I would live to see the day when a Conservative Government would forcibly shut down businesses, but here we are again. A dedicated Government Minister for hospitality would give food, beverage and leisure accommodation a proper say, rather than them always being an afterthought, suffering the consequences of the latest failed experiment—the tiering system, the 10 pm curfew or whatever it is. At a time of distancing and isolation, a sector based on togetherness and sociability cannot exist on takeaway only. This sector spent a fortune on remodelling, even though social distancing slashes the number of covers available: people instituted one-way systems, enhanced cleaning, and screens to create a covid-secure environment, all seemingly now for nothing. These people are famed for hard work and resilience, but they cannot run on empty, and no one clapped when they provided meals for NHS staff or for children, outside of the Government’s initial, cruel insistence that they would not run the free school meals scheme in the holidays.
“Coronageddon should not relegate hospitality to being the easiest lever to pull: first into lockdown, last out, in this zig-zag, stop-start way. These businesses need cash flow, and they need to plan for things like fresh produce orders and staffing rotas. As the MP who first spoke of a “curry crisis”, I implore the Minister: the sector is fighting for survival, and bold action is needed. Now is the time for a dedicated Minister, plus additional financial support, extending furlough and rent, rates and VAT relief, because we will all need restaurants, hotels and pubs.”
Listening and watching Huq was a joy, she clearly understood the impact to date hospitality has endured, and what is now needed from government.
Jane Hunt, Conservative MP, Loughborough was next and opened like McKinnell with: “I first declare an interest, in that my husband works for a logistics company and deals directly with the hospitality sector in his role.” Hunt then continued and her focus was on the extended hospitality supply chain. “Looking at hospitality as a whole, we must first recognise the level of support that has been received generally within the sector throughout the covid crisis.
“However, three main themes are of great concern. The first is that there are many supporting, and spin-off businesses that co-exist within this sector, but that seem not to have been included in all aspects of the support offered.
“The second is that the prolonged period in the sector and those spin-off businesses have had to endure no customer revenue is stretching the limits to which they can wait for the sector to reopen once more, and – the third is the lack of customer confidence in when the sector will be able to trade again.”
Hunt was the only member that touched on consumer confidence, a huge issue, and one the hospitality industry will need to fully address in due course.
The second member from Northern Ireland to enter the debate was Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist Party MP, North Antrim who referenced his constituency and region citing how Northern Ireland with “a population of 1.7 million, getting 1 million visitors dramatically changes the local economy”.
Paisley continued: “We need a kick-start plan to open up businesses—to help them to open up when they start back again, probably at some time in March. Loans under the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme need to be repaid, but it should be done softly, and they should be extended if possible.”
Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP, New Forest East was next to speak and another who had done his homework. Lewis set out with: “In New Forest East alone almost 300 businesses are in the food and accommodation sectors, employing 4,000 people and constituting 10.8% of the working population. The hospitality industry is the UK’s largest employer of under 25-year-olds and, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) said in her able introduction, the importance, post Brexit, of our having an appealing environment for people to come and invest in cannot be overstated.”
He then presented a rationale for his backing of a Minister for Hospitality and similarly to his colleague Tobias Ellwood MP, an option. “It took more than four months for the Treasury to respond to one letter that I sent from a concerned constituent. Having a separate dedicated Minister would prevent that sort of delay. It would matter less that responsibilities are spread over more than one Department if only it were the same Minister who held the post in each Department. It is not uncommon to have a specialist Minister with a focused role in more than one Department. Initially, that could be on a temporary, emergency basis, as a hospitality industry recovery Minister. If it is found to work well during that phase, making it permanent might well be the logical next step.”
We heard next from Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP, Warrington North who as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs rightly focused on them. Nichols delivered her message with precision saying: “We all recognise the crisis that the pandemic has caused pubs over the past year, with takings having collapsed through the floor, thousands of staff made redundant, and the closure of many pubs that may never open again. Not all of that damage was inevitable. Landlords invested many thousands each in making their establishments covid-secure during 2020, only to have rules changed or imposed on them at short notice, collapsing their trade time and again.
“I remain angry that many of those restrictions were put in place without any scientific evidence for them. We asked for any available, but it seems that Ministers simply thought that they should be seen to be doing something—whether enforcing pub curfews or requiring farcical definitions of substantial meals, prohibiting the trade of wet pubs.
“Decisions that were not based on scientific recommendations led to public resentment and non-compliance, as well as the exasperation of the industry, which is doing its best. Now that we are in full lockdown once again we have another example. Official guidance suggests that pubs are permitted to sell alcohol only for delivery as opposed to takeaway. What is the reason for that decision, which puts them at a disadvantage to off-licences and supermarkets? I cannot believe that there is a scientific basis, so that discrimination must be because there is not a strong enough voice in Government making the case for pubs and the wider hospitality sector.
“I am glad that the Government recognise the need for further support for businesses that are prevented from trading by law, but one-time £9,000 grants are a drop in the pint glass. Pubs up and down the country need the reassurance of a proper financial package that recognises what they have lost this year and what they contribute to our communities as a vital social hub. When the pandemic is over, people will want to congregate in relief to see their friends again. It will be devastating if the venues in which they can do that have died in the meantime.”
By the time Nichols was finished in our mind’s eye we could hear publicans cheering in the background, and we joined them.
As the debate progressed it was evident that all the MPs in attendance were not only wholeheartedly in support of the motion being debated, but true advocates of our industry.
Nichols was followed by Damien Moore, Conservative MP, Southport who was another that focused on how hospitality was a major part of the constituency he represents. Moore took a strategic viewpoint stating: “I point out to the Minister again that we need a clear road map. We want to work with the industry, in collaboration with the industry.
“We need to extend the VAT support. We need to look at business rates, of course. Beer duty is something that keeps coming up and it is important. A hospitality and tourism recovery fund would help. Giving the industry a voice and a seat at the table with the decision makers is absolutely vital—it is critical.”
Wales was introduced by Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru MP, Ceredigion who was forthright and cautionary saying: “I urge the Treasury to consider extending the business rates holiday for the forthcoming financial year, as well as extending the hospitality VAT reduction scheme into 2022.
“I am aware, of course, that such measures would mean further significant expense for the Exchequer, but I argue that that would be money well spent.
“Not only would it give businesses in such an important sector the support that they require to see out the pandemic, but it would avoid a terrible situation whereby businesses that have previously received Government support are forced to close for good, leaving their employees without a job and previous Government support or investment being made in vain.”
The point was well made and underlined the need for continued support being justified as part of the Chancellor’s wider 2020 investments in hospitality.
The debate showed MPs from all political parties and devolved nations of the UK recognising hospitality as an integral part of their local economy, and as such how important votes are in relation to how hospitality is represented in Parliament by them.
James Wild, Conservative MP, North West Norfolk then stood and aired his points from an economic viewpoint in saying: “The one-off grants of up to £9,000 are very welcome, but many employers have taken on considerable debt and have to cover national insurance costs for staff who are furloughed. Those businesses tell me that more help is required. It would be tragic, as others have said, if the benefits of the support to date are lost if firms are unable to hang on until the vaccination programme has had the impact that we all hope for.
“In July, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor responded to calls that many others and I supported to cut VAT to 5%, but the tier restrictions and national lockdown mean that businesses have not had the benefit from the cut, as had been expected, so the cost to the Treasury has been lower. I support the sector’s calls, and I hope the Chancellor will look favourably on continuing that reduction until the end of the year. Extending that and the business rates holiday will help firms to survive and be there when the reopening comes.”
We were then given a second viewpoint from Wales as Stephen Doughty, Labour (Co-op) MP, Cardiff South and Penarth who like others took a wider view to look at the hospitality supply chain and associated businesses. Doughty reminded us of the diversity saying: “We have to remember that the sector is much wider than it appears on the face of it. It is not just the pubs, restaurants and cafés; it is also the food supply businesses, the breweries and the laundries—I have some major laundries in my constituency. It is the wider economy and all the jobs that come with it.”
We then heard from Steve Double, Conservative MP, St Austell and who is Chair of the Hospitality and Tourism All Party Parliamentary Group. The APPG is a cross party group that draws MPs from all the main parties from across the UK. Its main aims are to represent and promote the tourism and hospitality sector in Parliament.
Given Double’s existing association with hospitality his statement must have come as a shock to his fellow MP’s in attendance and everyone watching on the internet when he said: “I believe that we have a Minister for hospitality—that may not be in his title, but I know from my work with him over the past year, he has always been available to me and colleagues across the House to address the concerns of the sector. He has also worked closely with the sector, so although I recognise the call for a Minister have ‘hospitality’ in his name, I do not accept the premise that we do not have a Minister for hospitality, because we very much do.”
The invisible Minister for Hospitality was not named by Double, maybe he knew something his colleagues in the debate and 206,000 petition signatories did not. But given his statement contradicted the need for the debate to even take place, he should have informed everyone involved before it got started and saved everyone much time and effort. Even after reading the full transcript of the debate for the umpteenth time that contribution remains a mystery.
Back to reality and enter John Spellar, Labour MP, Warley who was quick to offer a completely different viewpoint to Steve Double and was probably as mystified as us as to who Steve Double had been referring to, Spellar was succinct: “The petition for a Minister for the industry is perfectly understandable, because the industry falls between different Departments.
“It represents hundreds of thousands of establishments and falls between the bureaucratic cracks.
“It (hospitality) needs someone to be its champion in Whitehall.”
We were glad to be reminded we were watching the right debate and were grateful to John Spellar for the sanity check.
Mark Pawsey, Conservative MP, Rugby returned to the hospitality supply chain and spoke with first-hand experience acknowledging: “I spent 30 years as a supplier to the catering trade. In that regard, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
He then continued by saying: “We often appreciate things when they are not there, and we are missing our pubs, cafés and restaurants right now. When they are not operating, it has a significant effect on the suppliers to the sector. Although I welcome the support that the Chancellor has spoken about—he referred to £4.5 billion today—many of the suppliers are not receiving the same level of support as the trading companies. During the pandemic, we have seen food purchases transferred from out-of-home to in-home consumption, and the beneficiaries have been supermarkets, which have done well out of the restrictions.
“We have heard about the switching on and off of hospitality, which has led to a great deal of stock being wasted.
“Food service businesses continue to pay bills such as rent, electricity for chillers and loan payments for vehicles that are often standing idle. Wholesale distributors are usually high-volume, low-margin businesses, and the fixed costs mean that a relatively small fall in sales has a disproportionate impact on profitability. Too long a period without profit will cause many suppliers to fail.
“In addition, the catering trade—restaurants and pubs—often use the cash sales generated in the current period to pay for goods received in the previous period when they were trading. That has led to many suppliers becoming banks and funding their customers. There is very little action that those suppliers can take if the hospitality businesses do not have the cash to pay them.
“I hope that the Minister in his response will show his appreciation for the supply chain, as well as for valued hospitality businesses.”
Navendu Mishra, Labour MP, Stockport started with an industry view and then took a more localised view from his constituents viewpoint: “The hospitality industry is a vital part of our economy and a growth industry. It is the fourth-biggest employer in the UK and contributed £133.5 billion to the economy in 2019.
“My constituency of Stockport is no different from many others in that a significant number of people are employed in the sector, many of whom have written to me to express their concerns about the lack of meaningful support provided by the Government.
“It is clear that the current measures, such as furlough payments, are little more than a drop in the ocean for many businesses struggling to keep their heads above water almost a year on from the start of the crisis. Far more needs to be done if we are to avoid the industry nosediving and hundreds of thousands across the UK ending up unemployed.”
Next up was Lucy Powell, Labour (Co-op) MP, Manchester Central, who was a joy to watch and listen to (you can do so here). Powell has a presence that commands the ear and her opening was made with impact: “I thank the instigators of the petition and the 200,000-plus people who signed it. That is an impressive number, but it is unsurprising, given that hospitality is the hardest-hit sector, as well as associated activities such as weddings, events and live entertainment.
“At the heart of the petition is the fact that people are looking for leadership, which is why they want a specific Minister. They want leadership, focus and understanding. I mean no disrespect to the Minister, with whom I share a lot of these occasions, but what we have had is bits—piecemeal, sticking-plaster support offers—alongside stop-start restrictions that have sometimes felt particularly pernicious for the sector and that have often lacked evidence.
“The petition reflects the idea that the Government do not get hospitality in all its forms. As we have heard, hospitality includes lots of different businesses, but at the heart of it are people who have put their life’s work, livelihoods and love into creating businesses that bring people together. Often they have used personal assets to guarantee those businesses.
“We have heard that hospitality is a huge part of our economy. It was the third biggest employer before Covid, generating billions in turnover and tax. Such businesses make up the heart and soul of our town centres, city centres, high streets and communities. They are a key part of the ecosystem and they bring people and places together.
“We saw that recently in the BBC documentary that Tom Kerridge, one of the supporters of the petition, presented—it was an excellent programme. There is a wider ecosystem, too, from the supply chain that we have heard about to taxi drivers and security, as well as hotels, events and weddings.
“Hospitality is a huge, interlinked and diverse sector, and it employs many young people, those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and women. It was growing before, and it will grow again.”
Powell continued and made many more pertinent points illustrating she knew her subject well. To complete her address Powell maintained her eloquence stating: “In conclusion, hospitality businesses and their associated ecosystem need better leadership, focus and understanding. They need cash support that matches business need and revenue loss. There will be no businesses for firms to employ people unless this is done.
“They need immediate action on the uncertainty created about these cliff edges. That may involve big, creative thinking on some of the big issues coming up the track, with rent deferrals and the huge debt overhang, that will need to be addressed at some point. The Government need to stop their scattergun approach, which leads to sticking-plaster solutions, and come up with a proper long-term plan for this hugely important sector in distress.”
The final contributor to the debate was Paul Scully, Conservative MP, Sutton and Cheam, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), and Minister of State (London).
Scully thanked the Chair Graham Stringer, and congratulated Catherine McKinnell on securing the debate and representing the petitioners so well.
He then opened his summation with: “Hospitality has undoubtedly been one of the hardest pressed, if not the hardest pressed, sectors over the pandemic. I thank everybody who has contributed to the debate for the way in which they have put the case for their constituents.”
Pausing momentarily Scully referenced and thanked Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, Brighton, Pavilion who was unable to attend the debate sent the minister statement from hospitality businesses in her constituency, supporting the creation of the ministerial position and emphasising the important role that the sector will need to play in our economic recovery and growth.
Much of what he then continued with was a party line outlining what the government had done throughout the pandemic and the merits of those actions.
In his closing he said: “The hospitality sector represents friendship, generosity, enjoyment and happiness. It is a tonic for loneliness and a warm welcome for visitors at the heart of our communities. In short, hospitality matters. We will continue to work with hospitality businesses to get them through the immediate crisis and then help them to build back stronger and greener.” It was a positive end.
The penultimate part of the occasion was a summing up from Catherine McKinnell and she did so by saying: “I thank the Minister for his response today but urge him to take the idea away and put it to the Prime Minister as something that it is in the Government’s interest to create.”
Chair Graham Stringer then put the motion forward for the participants to vote on, and with a resounding and unanimous reply of “aye” the motion was carried.
The session was a resounding success, firstly in as much as it took place, and secondly that the process is now initiated. Doubtless the PM’s instinct will be to resist the move as he is an advocate of small government, but there does seem to be a growing cross party realisation of the enormous political capital on offer from hospitality.
The full transcript of the debate or watching and listening to it in full (as you can here) shows that MPs across the house and in all regions of England, as well as Northern Ireland and Wales (Scotland was not represented) understand hospitality’s importance in their constituencies. That collective appreciation and its favour being courted by a ministerial position could just tip the scales for the PM if he justified it as an investment in votes.
There are many hurdles ahead and much political navigation required in getting over them. What the debate has already delivered is a focus on our industry never before witnessed, and a group of MPs that are now friends of hospitality.
So, well done to Claire Bosi who initiated the petition, and to all her supporters along the way.
News from the hospitality and catering industry is also being featured extensively in our Facebook and twitter social media accounts with the opportunity to engage with others in hospitality and share your views.
Hospitality & Catering News: Parliament serves hospitality a signature dish – 15 January 2021 – Parliament serves hospitality a signature dish
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