Minister for hospitality debate 'a platform to build on'

Minister for hospitality debate 'a platform to build on'

The minister for hospitality debate earlier this evening "highlighted the overwhelming support for the sector" and is a "platform to build on", industry leaders have said, although there is no guarantee the position will be created.

The campaign to create a dedicated minister for hospitality was debated in Parliament tonight (11 January) following a petition that garnered more than 200,000 signatures and the backing of key figures.

Spearheading the campaign was Home Grown Hotels founder Robin Hutson, who told The Caterer: "This was never going to be a one-shot result, it was always going to be the start of something. I didn't expect to come out of this afternoon with a minister for hospitality.

"There were some good speakers who covered the points we all talk about. In terms of giving the sector a good airing, it was very successful.

"Of course, the government position will always be slightly defensive because they've been presiding over the current strategy.

"If I take the optimistic view, it gave good profile to the sort of issues we face and I think it's a good platform to build on."

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "There was a clear and highly encouraging demonstration of strong cross-party support for an extension of the VAT cut and the business rates holiday. These are going to be crucial if we hope to see businesses survive the year. Announcing an extension of both of these policies, at the earliest possible opportunity, will provide some much-needed stability for our sector and allow businesses to begin planning. Equally clear is that a great many MPs recognise that this additional support will be necessary if the sector is to survive and lead the national revival.

"It was incredibly positive to hear so many MPs being vocal advocates of the hospitality sector. There was unanimous recognition of our importance economically and socially. It was particularly pleasing to hear parts of the sector like nightclubs, wedding venues and conference centres being lauded – businesses that have not grabbed headlines in the way that other sectors have, but are no less important, as the debate recognised. There was also welcome recognition for our critical supply chain.

"It is striking that, in the end, the petition got more than 200,000 signatures. We all understand the importance of what we do and it is good to see the government recognise the importance of working closely with the sector to ensure that we are properly supported, not just during this crisis but more generally."

Speaking at the debate, Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, launched a passionate defence of hospitality, and said there was a "lack of deep understanding of the sector on the government's part" and that it needed to stop applying a ‘one size fits all' approach.

She argued that a hospitality minister would ensure the mistakes made in the summer of 2020 would not be repeated, and the fact that the industry falls between two government departments – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – does not mean it can fall foul of the ‘buck' being passed between departments.

She added: "We must at least recognise that the sector needs a strong voice in government with a genuine recognition of its diversity and greater engagement with businesses and a much deeper understanding of the ways in which they are affected by lockdown measures."

John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley, echoed McKinnell's words that hospitality "falls between different departments, it represents hundreds of thousands of establishments, and it falls between the bureaucratic cracks". He said the sector "needs someone to be their champion in Whitehall… they need someone to understand the whole economic ecosystem and join up the dots", and added that a hospitality minister would have understood the "chaos and waste" that have resulted from last-minute closures over the past year.

Dr Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, said a minister for hospitality would give the sector "a proper say rather than always being an afterthought, to suffer the consequences of the latest failed experiment", such as the 10pm curfew and tier system.

Meanwhile, Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, said that for a sector of its size to not have ministerial representation "has led to a justified sense of disregard and discrimination", and pointed out that it's not uncommon to have a specialist minister across more than one department. He suggested a temporary position of a hospitality industry recovery minister, which could then be made permanent if it's found to be working well.

However, Steve Double, Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay and chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for hospitality and tourism, said: "I don't quite accept the premise that we don't have a minister for hospitality because we very much do."

Paul Scully, Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam and minister for London, responded to the petition. He said the government continues to work with the sector "to ensure we can strike the right balance between the Covid-19 restrictions and the corresponding business support measures".

He recognised the importance of the hospitality sector to communities and the country as a whole, however said BEIS and DCMS work closely to ensure the sector is effectively represented within government and it is not in his power to create the new role.

He said that he and prime minister Boris Johnson "are doing all we can within government to understand and represent the interests of the sector" and "whether or not we have a minister for hospitality as a single entity, we do need to ensure 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". He emphasised the government is committed to maintaining support for the sector.

McKinnell thanked Scully for his response and concluded by saying the government "should want to get this right and should want to engage with the hospitality industry in the maximum way possible, and so a seat at the table and that strong voice for the hospitality industry would be in the government's interest to put in place".

In terms of next steps, Hutson said it is "time to regroup and consider how we best utilise the platform we've created".

According to Hutson, there is a question already put down in the House of Lords for three weeks' time to follow up on the issue.

He added: "We obviously need to continue to lobby in various ways, though there's a question of what's the most effective way.

"These things don't happen overnight. The fact is we've done a good job in raising the profile of this question and the issues involved, it's something to build on."

Photo: Shutterstock

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