Pressure mounts on PM to meet with Hospitality Minister petitioners

The  Staff Canteen

Labour MP Catherine McKinnell has written a letter to the prime minister urging him to meet with campaigners for a hospitality minister despite his recent refusal to do so.

The letter follows on the Parliamentary debate on January 13th, in which ministers agreed to put the decision of whether to create a hospitality minister in the UK government to the Prime Minister, who has final say on the matter. 

Since then, the Prime Minister attended a Liaison Committee Meeting, and said: "You're right to identify the particular troubles of the hospitality sector, they've had a very, very difficult time," nonetheless denying the MPs request for him to further discussions with the hospitality professionals behind the petition.

The best thing for the hospitality sector, he said, "is really that we all work together to defeat the virus in a way that I'm absolutely certain we can, with disciplined action and the vaccine roll-out and get them back on their feet. I'm sure that's the best thing for them." 

Once again stressing the hardships the sector has faced, and the potential to leverage it in a recovery plan for the British economy, the letter from Catherine McKinnell reads:

"On Monday 11 January, the Petitions Committee held a debate on support for the industry. Members across the House called for a dedicated Minister for Hospitality to ensure the whole of this diverse sector is heard, from the pubs and takeaways on our high streets, to the hotel and restaurant chains with which we are all familiar.

"As the Minister responding to the debate said, you are the only person in Government with the authority to create such a position.

Extending grattitude for the measures taken by government to support the industry, she said that despite this, the current assistance "doesn’t amount to a long-term strategy and without fully understanding and representing the needs of the industry, I fear the Government risks repeating the mistakes that were made in last summer’s reopening.

"I urge you to take time, alongside your Ministerial colleagues who currently share responsibility for the sector, to meet with Claire and her fellow petitioners to listen to their concerns and fully consider this request."

What happened in the Parliamentary Debate?

The petition, devised by Claire Bosi with support from chefs Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett, and hotelier Robin Hutson, reached 200,000 signatures shortly before the debate took place. 

In her opening speech, Catherine McKinnell said: "A voice at the heart of government so that they can represent not only the interests of all aspects of  hospitality but all areas of the UK as well." 

"The petition speaks to a concern that many of us have heard time and time again from local businesses in our constituencies - that government lacks deep understanding of the nature of the hospitality industry and its diversity," adding that that is why petitioners are arguing for better representation for the sector. 

Citing the sector's weight in the economy prior to the crisis, she added: "It will be crucial to our recovery from the present crisis, yet unlike the arts or sport, it does not have a dedicated minister." 

She quoted a recent study which found that 41 percent of businesses believe they will fail by mid-2021, and that 1 in 5 thought they would run out of cashflow by February.

Having met with Claire Bosi, Robin Hutson, Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett, she said: "I heard really powerful examples that demonstrate that lack of deep understanding of the sector on the government's part, namely, through its one-size fits-all approach and the very short notice given to businesses before lockdown measures are implemented."

In contrast, she said, there's been a build up of savings by those fortunate enough to have maintained a steady income. 

"And there will be a catch-up on spending in that social consumption, we very much hope when things return to normal eventually." 

"As the nation is vaccinated and the economy reopens, the rules we apply in hospitality inevitably become more nuanced and complex, it's important that we have that input from the hospitality sector as to how we can design that policy to not repeat the mistakes that were made in the summer of 2020 when they reopened." 

"We need to get ahead of the problems," she continued, and institute a dedicated minister for hospitality rather than interests divided between two departments in parliament at present, as "it's not working."

Several more ministers took the stand to discuss the issues affecting hospitality, which is now unlikely to reopen before April.

Finally, Paul Scully, Minister for London; small businesses, and MP for Sutton & Cheam spoke.

He thanked the whole of the hospitality sector for their hard work, for pivoting and adapting their businesses to comply with Covid-19 safety measures, and added that government is doing its utmost to strike a balance between the restrictions and necessary support measures. 

"We responded with an unprecedented package of support worth a staggering £280 billion," which, he said, included loans, grants, tax cuts and the job retention scheme, to which it recently added a committment to spend £4.6bn on supporting businesses through the current lockdown. 

"We've also taken action to support businesses by placing restrictions on landlords, using commercial rents arrears and recovery," adding that support measures have remained under constant review "to ensure as much as possible that they've kept pace with the changes of Covid-19 and the need to stretch them accordingly." 

As for the establishment of a hospitality minister, he said that as currently the responsibility is split between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the former responsible for Food and Beverage industries whereas the latter oversees businesses offering accomodation.

"There's clearly some overlap between these important industries," he said, adding that he works closely with the DCMS minister "to ensure that it is fully representative across government." 

And while the responsibility of whether or not to institute a minister for hospitality falls to the Prime Minister, he said: "I can assure you, that the two of us are doing all we can within government to understand and represent the interests of the sector." 

"Whether or not we have a minister for hospitality as a single entity, we do need to ensure that the industry is in the best place to bounce back from Covid-19 so that we can play a leading role in the UK's economic and social recovery." 

He stressed that support would last for as long as any restrictions are imposed on hospitality, but that long-term recovery plan is a priority.

Finally, he concluded: "The hospitality sector represents friendship, generosity, enjoyment and happiness. It's a tonic for loneliness, a warm welcome for visitors at the heart of our communities. In short, hospitality matters, so I can continue to work with hospitality businesses to get them through this immediate crisis and then help them to build back stronger and greener." 

To end the debate, Catherine McKinnell spoke once more. 

"I don't think there's anything that we disagree on in this room, and there's nothing in what the minister said for us to disagree with, other than the fact that he hasn't accepted the proposal to have a specific minister of hospitality." 

She added that while all see the value of the sector, "the government is not maximising the knowledge within the hospitality industry to make sure that the government and this country gets it right." 

"The well known saying goes: 'we don't know what we've got until it's gone' but I would say we do know what we've got, we all know that these businesses are essential." 

"I think the government should want to get it right and to engage with the hospitality industry in the maximum way possible and a Seat at the Table and a strong voice for hospitality would be in the government's interest." 

Thanking Paul Scully for his response, she added: "Let's put it to the Prime Minister that this is something that  is in the government's interest to create." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2021

Pressure mounts on PM to meet with Hospitality Minister petitioners