Hospitality Industry: Government Support

Paul Scully Excerpts
Monday 11th January 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Minister, I ask you to leave two or three minutes at the end for the proposer.

Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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Thank you, Mr Stringer, I will do. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing the debate and representing the petitioners so well. They are understandably crying out for help to get across the line, after such a difficult period. 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.

Since taking on responsibility for food and beverage hospitality businesses in March last year and establishing a dedicated sponsorship team within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we have worked extremely closely with representatives from across the sector, so there has always been development. I will come back to the question of a dedicated Minister in a second, but essentially, this was split across a number of Departments and we now have a dedicated hospitality team that is working really hard.

I also put on record my gratitude to the sector itself for how its representatives have engaged with me and my officials throughout the pandemic. It is important to recognise that the hospitality sector is not just pubs and restaurants: cafés, the wedding sector, nightclubs and all the associated businesses that we have heard so much about today, including specialist suppliers, are also going through this. I thank them in particular for how they engaged with the safer workplace guidance to allow essential businesses to stay open, but also to allow these businesses to reopen at various points. Understandably, as we have discussed, the fact of the matter is that there has been opening and closing depending on the tier system, and that has been a source of frustration for everybody, especially—as my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) says—those that have had to pour away beer and throw away food at various points during this period.

We continue to work together with the sector across Government to make sure that we can strike the right balance between the covid-19 restrictions and the corresponding business support measures. As we have heard, we responded with an unprecedented package of support worth a staggering £280 billion, which included the grants, the furlough scheme, the various loan schemes, the business rates holiday, VAT deferrals, and of course the eat out to help out scheme. On top of that, we released additional funding worth £4.6 billion to help businesses through the current lockdown, which we estimate will help 600,000 hospitality businesses. We have also taken action to protect businesses by placing restrictions on landlords using commercial rents arrears recovery to enforce unpaid rents on commercial leases. Importantly, we have kept all the support measures under review to ensure that as far as possible, they have kept pace with the changing covid-19 situation and the need to flex restrictions accordingly.

Stephen Doughty Portrait Stephen Doughty
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will not give way, just so that I do not run out of time, but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in a second.

Like those who have taken the time to sign a petition, and those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate, I recognise the importance of the hospitality sector, not just to local areas but to whole communities and to the country as a whole. We have heard that the sector employs around 3.5 million people overall, and in normal circumstances generates revenues of around £63 billion a year. It is strategically important to the UK, as well, traditionally being the first sector to recover following an economic downturn and acting as a catalyst for wider economic recovery and regeneration.

Most importantly, the sector lies at the heart of communities, providing jobs and places to enjoy companionship and supporting mental health and wellbeing, social cohesion and cultural integration. It is important that when we talk about culture—about meeting people—we remember that that is what hospitality is there to do, and it is really sad that the restrictions and lockdown itself are there to stop people meeting people. As we have heard, though, that is not to say that hospitality in itself is the vector for transmission. It is really important that we do not scapegoat the hospitality sector, which has done so much—it has spent a lot of money and put in a lot of effort—to make its venues covid-secure.

Turning to the question of establishing a Minister for hospitality, responsibility is currently split between BEIS and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: BEIS is responsible for the food and beverage industries, and DCMS is responsible for accommodation, primarily hotels, as part of its tourism remit. There is clearly some overlap between these important industries, and I work closely with the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at DCMS, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), to ensure that the interests of this sector as a whole are fully represented across Government.

The close collaboration that we have means that the policy levers in both DCMS and BEIS can be employed effectively to the benefit of the sector. Clearly, it is not within my gift to create a new ministerial post—that power rests solely with the Prime Minister—but I can assure hon. Members 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 dedicated Minister for hospitality, we need to ensure that the sector is in the best possible place to bounce back from covid-19, so that it can play a leading role in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

We know that the hospitality sector has often shown great resilience and innovation in adapting; such adaptation is not a new phenomenon. We saw that hospitality was one of the first sectors to recover after the 2007 financial crisis, which helped drive the UK’s recovery more generally. In order to achieve the same level of recovery that we saw following that crisis, we are committed to maintaining support to the sector until the vaccines are rolled out and businesses can open without restrictions. However, we also need to think about and plan for the longer-term recovery.

The UK has a world-leading net zero target. I want to see the creativity that helps define the hospitality sector put to good use in helping to tackle climate change, by developing and utilising new technologies and processes to minimise emissions and, importantly, waste. Although this is a challenging time for the sector, it is essential that, as we bounce back, we work with hospitality businesses to build back their industry so that it is stronger and greener.

I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who was unable to attend the debate today but sent me a 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. I hope that I have addressed both those points.

We have had a very interesting debate, starting with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). One of the regular calls that I have with the industry includes Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster. We also heard from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who talked about Van Morrison. Actually, a Van Morrison gig was one of the last gigs that I went to at the O2, to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital. The O2 itself is now one of the nightingale hospitals, and one of the people who set it up was the chief nurse at the Marsden—everything comes around in a circular fashion, which shows the unusual times we are in.

With regard to the coffee culture that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) talked about, we should not forget that takeaway coffees also play a part for shift workers, who need such extra support, so not everything that is seen as non- essential is non-essential to certain people.

There is no way we can have a one-size-fits-all policy. Certainly what I have learnt about the hospitality sector over the past nine or 10 months is that a lot of work is being done behind the scenes, whether with me or with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, or through lobbying by Colin Neill, Kate Nicholls or Emma McClarkin, or through lobbying from the chief executives of the larger pub businesses, the independent pubs, the restaurant groups and all those sorts of businesses. That means we can address issues such as the 10 pm curfew, which was a blunt instrument, as has been outlined. It clearly stopped restaurants having second sittings, but it also stopped pubs selling a lot of alcohol at that time—a lot of their profit is created at that time but it was also pushing people together. I am also the Minister for London and I saw at that time a 40% increase in the use of the tube between 10 pm and 10.15 pm. The curfew was clearly pushing people together, doing the opposite of what we wanted. It was therefore right to make the case against it and have it reversed.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Huq
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will not give way, because I have only a couple of minutes left and I want to give the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North a little time to respond to the debate.

From my business role through to my work with the hospitality sector, and in my work as Minister for London, I can see that any town centre, any city area or any retail area is an ecosystem. People do not go to a hotel, such as those within a mile or two of where we are now, just to sleep in another bed; they go because they want to spend time in the pubs, restaurants, theatres, museums, galleries and all the things that a city such as London has to offer. It is the same with Newcastle, Manchester or any of our fantastic towns across the country, and clearly it is also the same for rural areas such as Cornwall, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) mentioned when he talked about tourism in his part of the world.

Indeed, that is a really interesting point about tourism in coastal or rural areas in particular, because we are now in the third winter of their three-winter scenario—we had the winter last year; then we had the summer, when they would expect to make a lot of their profits but effectively it was a winter for them; and now, as we can feel here in Westminster Hall today, this is really a third winter. It is important that we continue to work very closely with those areas.

I am more than happy to work with all hon. Members to ensure that we do not just hear the understandable cries of anguish from the hospitality sector, but work out what we can do, given the public finances, to continue to flex, work on the recovery and look at how we can stagger the reopening. In a few weeks’ time, we will get to the point with the vaccine roll-out, hopefully alongside the plateauing of the case load, at which we will have a better idea of the timescale and can start talking about a road map.

I know, because we talked about this last summer, that businesses, especially the bigger ones that have greater resources and can do that sort of forward thinking, will already be thinking about how to roll out the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cafés and, importantly, the wedding sector, which my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) mentioned. I would love to get to that point, whether through pilots or just through working with the wedding sector, which is understandably filling my timeline on Twitter and social media—I can see exactly why it is doing that. After that, we can deal with the nightclub sector—we heard about Sacha Lord, who does a remarkable job in raising these issues with me and colleagues—which is a really tough one to crack. Hopefully we can get to the point where it can open.

I could go on forever, but I want to leave some time for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North. Hospitality brings people together. We have heard a lot of calls for the evidence for why various measures were put in place. If hon. Members look at the infographics and the rules and guidance for this particular part of the lockdown, they will see that there are three words at the top of pretty much every page: “Stay at home.” Unfortunately, that is what everything is about. It is not about meeting. This will be a really tough few months, because it is miserable outside. With regard to exercise and so on, it is not going to be good. We need to offer hope to those businesses and get them across the finishing line so that we have a better summer and ensure that we do not have a fourth winter.

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.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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I thank everyone who contributed to this debate. We have done justice to the petitioners who raised this issue. There is nothing that we disagree on. In fact, there was nothing in what the Minister said for us to disagree with, other than the fact that he has not accepted the proposal to have a specific Minister for hospitality.

We agree that this industry is vital, but we all have concerns that the Government are not maximising the knowledge within the hospitality industry to ensure that they and the country get it right for the industry. If we put the two together, we can use all that creativity, energy and innovation to ensure not only that the Government’s response is right, but that it is absolutely right for the hospitality industry.

According to the well-known saying, we do not know what we have got until it has gone, but I would say that we do know what we have got; we all know that these businesses are absolutely essential in our communities. They are essential for jobs and opportunities. They are essential for the sense of community. They are essential because they are unique and special and will attract to this country the people we will need in our post-Brexit world. They are also essential because they are a major tax generator for the Government.

The Government should want to get this right and should want the maximum possible engagement with the hospitality industry. A seat at the table and a strong voice for the hospitality industry would be in the Government’s interest. 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.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 552201 and 329985 relating to Government support for the hospitality industry.