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Chancellor Rishi Sunak Rules Out Return of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ Scheme

He again defended his scheme against a study which linked it to a rise in coronavirus cases

Chancellor Rishi Sunak Holds Press Conference On 2021 Budget
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said the Treasury will not finance a second “Eat Out to Help Out” dining scheme. It saw millions of customers claim up to £10 discounts in restaurants last August, a scheme which one study linked to a significant rise in case of COVID-19. Sunak also rejected claims that the scheme contributed to an uptick in cases, citing a comparable rise in cases across Europe in countries where no such scheme was introduced.

Sunak moved to cool talk of EOTHO 2.0 after reports emerged in late February suggesting it may return, while insight groups like accounting firm Viewpoint included its resurrection in a list of recommendations from its London clients, advocating specifically for “another Eat Out to Help Out style scheme to drive business.”

City A.M. reports that Sunak’s decision not to reintroduce the scheme is based on the level of “pent-up” which will negate the need to incentivise customers and build consumer confidence. The rationale is this: Safety concerns have been overridden by the number of vaccinations administered in the U.K.: On 15 March, over 24 million people have so far received their first dose.

“I think we probably now have higher confidence that there will be consumption-led recovery even without intervention than we did before,” Sunak told MPs last Friday, 12 March. “Consumer confidence is at different levels and there’s actually a lot of pent-up desire.”

“Eat Out to Help Out” was introduced a month after the reopening of restaurants in 2020, incentivising customers to return with a 50 percent discount up to the value of £10. It was hailed as an unqualified success — with over 160 million meals reportedly eaten through the scheme in the month of August, prompting many high-profile and independent London restaurants to continue their own version of the scheme into September. The project cost the government almost £850 million to finance.

But, Sunak again rejected evidence presented in a study by Warwick University last autumn which found “the sharp increase in COVID-19 infection clusters emerged a week after the scheme began,” and that up to 17 percent of new infection clusters “could be linked to the scheme.” The chancellor told Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast: “Every other Western European country also had a surge of cases when you got into the autumn, none of them seem to have done the same thing, so what’s the explanation for that?”

According to the government’s roadmap and subject to COVID-19 case numbers remaining on a downward trajectory, restaurants in England can reopen for outdoor service on 12 April, with dining rooms are permitted to reopen on 17 May.