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The industry asks: where is our minister for hospitality?

20 October 2020 by
The industry asks: where is our minister for hospitality?

Robin Hutson, Harry Murray and James Horler are among those asking the government for proper representation in parliament.

Harry Murray, chairman, Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa

I am sure you will have seen on social media the petition initiated by Claire Bosi from Chef & Restaurant Magazine to create a minister for hospitality.

We are the country's third-largest employer, with 3.2 million people directly employed and 2.8 million indirectly (9% of UK jobs) contributing £39b in direct gross taxes and £24b worth of tourism visitor spend. Surely we deserve a voice at the cabinet table of government? As many businesses struggle due to the pandemic crisis, we will never have a better opportunity to make a stand for this important appointment. For many years the BHA and now UKHospitality have challenged government to explain why we don't have a dedicated minister for hospitality.

We will never have a better opportunity to make a stand for this important appointment

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, has worked tirelessly during the past year, but she is a lone voice talking to politicians who have varying views on the hospitality industry. Rishi Sunak is the only minister to demonstrate his appreciation and value of hospitality to the economy.

The government must show leadership and support hospitality businesses by creating a role of hospitality minister to ensure transparent and useful engagement with industry leaders and help promote growth and the sector's interests.

To be considered by politicians to debate this petition in parliament we need at least 100,000 signatures. Considering the number of businesses in serious financial difficulties, the high number of redundancies and the threat of more restrictions, it is disappointing that more have not signed. I therefore plead with all leaders in hospitality to support this petition and encourage all your team members, your customers, your friends and family and your local MP to sign the petition to ensure there is a debate.

By delivering a high number of signatures, politicians will be forced to take note, because as an industry we are in a position to make a huge impact on the next election.

Click here to sign the petition >>

James Horler, chief executive, Ego Restaurants Holdings

After supporting us, the government seem to have aimed the gun at the hospitality industry and are about to pull the trigger on closing down industry again, knowing that this will lead to huge levels of unemployment throughout the UK.

The government has made a catastrophic error in bringing 1.8 million undergraduates back to universities and this has resulted in the high levels of Covid-19 across the university cities, many of which are in the north of the country. This has put some three million hospitality jobs at risk.

Across our 22 Ego restaurant and pub sites we have served 360,000 covers since we reopened and have not had a single case, nor even a single enquiry about a customer who may have been in our premises. We have ensured that we are Covid-19-compliant and all of our covers are entered into the online booking system in order to assist with Track and Trace.

The scientists said that we would have 50,000 cases by this week which was incorrect. The number of deaths is not rising.

The fact that we are now heading towards 300,000 people being tested per day in the UK shows that the system is working. Of all people tested, 95% are negative and we have dropped deaths to a rate of 0.02% of all people tested. This demonstrates that we are managing the virus and that we have greater knowledge of how to treat it, as well as extra hospital capacity.

I have spent more than 10 years building up our business and we now employ more than 1,000 staff. It cannot be right that we are now used as a scapegoat to control the spread of the virus when it is the government's failings that have resulted in this current spike of Covid-19 across the UK.

We must all join the petition to have our own minister for hospitality and work together to fight back and save our freedom and save our jobs.

With the government seemingly blind to the facts and our voices not being heard, there's one thing you can do, says Robin Hutson

Since I wrote my last column a month ago, we have seen the rules of engagement change yet again. We now have the rule of six, the 10pm curfew, hospitality lockdown in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and, by the time you read this, lockdown in several areas in the north of England.

In the rural south, at this moment, many of us are enjoying the last few weeks of summer/early autumn staycationers, which have given such a welcome boost to many small rural and seasonal businesses.

The illogical targeting of hospitality with restrictive measures by the government is causing deep despair and anger within the sector. To get an idea of how battered we are all feeling, one only needs to observe how the tone of comments from hospitality on social media has changed from polite to bewilderment to desperate pleading.

So, intense frustration, yet we are impotent to effect changes in government thinking. What do we do?

There is plenty of lobbying going on and there has been some excellent representation on TV and radio from some of the sector's most eloquent voices. For my part, I am speaking with government advisers once a week as part of an information exchange.

Despite all of this effort, in addition to us running our businesses safely, the government seems blind to the facts that are staring them in the face. They talk about how challenging it has been for the hospitality sector, yet ignore the fact that less than 5% of all cases relate to hospitality, then ‘reward' us by imposing blanket restrictive sanctions.

The government seems blind to the facts that are staring them in the face

They seem unable to accept what the sector offers, for us to be their number-one ally in the socialising safely battle, preferring not to deal with the real reason for flare-ups: universities, halls of residence, care homes, factories and non-regulated home contact.

The government also seems unable to recognise that there are many thousands of hospitality businesses that are not ‘super pubs'. These businesses, such as tiny village restaurants, country house hotels and small, traditional pubs, are being targeted with misguided restrictions designed for student drinking dens.

We have proven much of hospitality can operate safely and can continue to make that all-important contribution to the economy, employment and mental health of the nation. Yet the government does not appear to want to acknowledge this fact.

I propose that the new three-tier system could easily include a fourth tier, which would be for all the low-risk hospitality businesses, including hotels, bona fide restaurants, smaller pubs, etc, that could operate with the simple (pre-curfew) ‘hands, face and space' measures that worked so well during the summer period. Is this such a difficult concept for the government to get their head around?

I hope the frustration of not being listened to will prompt you all to sign the petition to call for the post of minister of hospitality to be created and take a seat at the top table of government. I would like to think that this mess could be the catalyst to finally get a full-time voice representing us within the cabinet. We need 100,000 signatures to get a chance of this being debated in parliament.

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