Hospitality Industry: Government Support DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Damien MooreMain Page: Damien Moore (Conservative - Southport)
(1 month, 2 weeks ago)Westminster Hall
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this important debate. This discussion is not before time. Within the wider hospitality industry, I will focus on the pub trade, as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pubs.
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.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to speak in support of an industry that is important to Ceredigion. Taken together, hospitality businesses, such as restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars, and the events catering industry employ about 4,500 people in my constituency, equating to more than 16% of all employees, and that is without accounting for the many supply chain jobs that depend on the sector.
For these businesses, measures such as the furlough scheme have proved invaluable, with more than 7,500 workers in Ceredigion supported by it in the early months of the pandemic. Both the VAT reduction and the business rates holiday were warmly welcomed. There can be no denying that these interventions offered the sector lifelines as the pandemic hit and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right to bring forward support measures such as the furlough and the self-employment income support schemes, even though they required extraordinary public expenditure. There are strong arguments in favour of continuing this level of intervention for some time yet.
The vaccination programme offers us some hope that we will see the level of covid disruption reduce significantly this year, but hospitality businesses across Ceredigion tell me that they are deeply concerned about their immediate prospects for survival. The hoteliers, restaurateurs, café owners and landlords I speak to fully understand that the pandemic was never going to be an easy time. Their expectations have long been calibrated to focus on basic survival. Support measures have been welcomed, but much of the grant funding has long been spent to cover fixed operating costs that simply cannot be avoided. Too many owners, ineligible for the Government’s income support schemes, have had to deplete their personal savings in order to keep their businesses afloat and their employees in jobs.
The Treasury has received details from the Federation of Small Businesses of a proposal for a directors income support scheme, which I urge the Treasury to consider adopting, as it would help many of these small business owners. I also support the proposals made this afternoon, such as the one-off grant to help businesses to bounce back once restrictions have been eased, and the proposal to pause national insurance contributions for furloughed employees as a way of alleviating the burden on businesses that are still, in many instances, required to remain closed by law.
To inject some much-needed confidence into the sector, 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. In other words, do not spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar.