The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism will launch an urgent inquiry to establish the best ways to support the recovery of businesses hit by COVID-19, including restaurants. When Parliament reconvenes after the (extended) Easter recess next Tuesday, the group, chaired by Conservative Steve Double, will seek answers from the government on both the impact of the crisis and, importantly, a plan for the wider hospitality and tourism industries, which combined contribute £80 billion to the U.K. economy and employ 3.3 million workers.
Social distancing, mandated closures of businesses, and travel restrictions have impacted hospitality and tourism in direct and significant ways — with people forced to stay at home, and with so few visitors to London and the U.K., little remains of the restaurant industry as it was. While the specific long-term implications of these measures remain unknown, any plan will have to accept that there will come a point when such significant financial intervention from the government will no longer be viable. The parliamentary group recognises that in an inevitably transformed world, a comprehensive set of policy measures — from tax breaks to advertising campaigns — backed by the government must be forthcoming. Double said: “Ensuring these sectors get back on their feet quickly should be one of the government’s top priorities.”
In that context, the group outlines five “critical” areas which address what is required:
- The right time to reopen — and what measures are needed to ensure safety
- Business support for the transition into the “new normality” — cash
- Guidance for businesses to help them get “business-ready” — on recruitment and property
- Reigniting the sector’s supply chain — subsidies and preparedness
- Marketing the sector — government-backed campaigns in the vein of “London Is Open”
With little indication yet of when these industries might return to normal, and indeed with little clarity on what the new normal looks like right now, any worthwhile inquiry must be designed to take into account those unknowns. There will be a need for contingency plans for the contingency plan.
Comprised of Members of Parliament from Labour, the Conservatives, and the Scottish National Party, the group says it accepts any support plans for the industry’s recovery will be conditioned on a safe timeline and that it will be steered by government health advice. Chief executive of trade body U.K. Hospitality Kate Nicholls, says, however that the “inquiry will focus on how we get restarted rather than necessarily when.”
“It is clear we will only be able to recover if the right plan is in place, the government understands the scale of the task and the opportunities it presents, and the correct support is provided,” Nicholls added, noting the particular importance of extending of the job retention scheme (through which the government compensates businesses for 80 percent of employees’ wages), from its current fixed term of three months.
Pressure groups elsewhere are campaigning for a nine month rent-free period in order to give restaurants the ability to recover at the start of next year. Coupled with an extension to government compensation for staffing, there is a belief from within the industry that government-assisted rent relief will go a long way in avoiding the industry’s complete collapse.
The All Parliamentary Group aims to publish its findings and a report with long-term recommendations for the government by the middle of May, well ahead, it says, of “any planned reopening.”