While the government has been busy fretting over Dominic Cummings, it should have been focusing on the job in hand, says Robin Hutson
I am pretty bloody furious about this past weekend's furore over the Dominic Cummings saga, but not for the reasons you might expect.
Yes, indeed, I suspect there must have been a distinct whiff of bullshit competing with the roses in the garden at Number 10 on Sunday and, to my mind, if someone at the heart of government is caught bending the rules to suit himself, then he should be removed quickly and decisively. However, for me, the far bigger issue is that the government has wasted four or more days dealing with this distraction when it should have been 100% focusing on the job in hand.
We are now at the most critical moment for hospitality during this pandemic. If the wrong decisions are made over the next couple of weeks as to how and when we open up, the all too real disaster of millions of hospitality workers unemployed and thousands of businesses never reopening will be upon us.
We need to have as much notice as possible of when and how we can open. Less than 24 hours' notice, which was given to various sectors a couple of weeks back, would be very unhelpful. We need all of the pieces of the jigsaw – only then, I believe, the creative, energetic force that is so much part of our industry can make it work.
I really want to help the government take hospitality off its ‘Covid to-do list' by giving it a very simple four-point plan that would save our businesses, jobs, livelihoods and, importantly, would get us off its back! Yes, there are many other helpful suggestions that, of course, would be great, but the reality is we are not going to get everything we ask for, so this is my four-point plan.
1. One metre, not two
Simply adopt the distance measures suggested by the World Health Organization. I assume it knows its science. This very simple point would be the difference between running a restaurant or bar at a profit or a loss.
2. Part-time furlough
Allow businesses to take back full-time staff on a three- or four-day week. This would mean the government can use the furlough scheme in a positive way, topping up wages rather than simply paying out for staff not to work.
3. National Time Out
Jonathan Downey and his colleagues have spearheaded this campaign. Again, it's very simple, but without government intervention on this point, the generosity of measures so far will have been made in vain. For many businesses the mounting debt that's accumulating daily is completely crippling. Just keeping the doors closed has many businesses literally teetering on the edge of collapse.
4. No tax payments for 12 months; business rates and VAT holidays for a further 12 months
Any business needs momentum; we have lost every ounce of it in hospitality in 2020. If we open in July, we are in for a precarious ride through the coming months. The support needs to be ongoing. In particular, rural and seasonal businesses, that do so much for entire communities, don't stand a chance of surviving the winter without help well into 2021. With the decisive action of this four-point plan, hospitality businesses will be able to work towards more stable times and will stand a chance of weathering the worst of this Covid storm.
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