Article updated on 15.01.20
PM Boris Johnson has rejected a request to meet with petitioners who are calling for a dedicated Minister for Hospitality, despite MPs voting in support of the motion during a 90-minute debate on Monday.
Johnson responded to the request, saying: “You’re right to identify the particular troubles of the hospitality sector, they’ve been through a very, very difficult time. We’re doing everything we can to support them. And the chancellor, the business secretary and I meet regularly with that representatives of sector. We’ve given them all the grants, the recent increase in grants, the recent £3,000 grants specifically for the hospitality sector, on top of the CBILS and the bounceback loans, the furlough scheme and many, many other forms of support.
“But the best thing for the hospitality sector is really that we work together to defeat the virus, in a way that I’m absolutely certain we can, with disciplined action and the vaccine rollout and get them back on their feet, and I’m sure that’s the best thing for them.”
Labour MP for Newcastle North Catherine McKinnell said she would follow up the request with a letter, adding that “it is in his government’s interest so they can get things right for this vital sector”.
On Monday, MPs voted in support of the creation of a Minister of Hospitality following a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall.
The motion was brought to the attention of Government following a petition signed more than 200,000 times, including by some of the industry’s top names such as Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett.
The hospitality industry is the UK’s third largest employer and one of the few sectors to reach every area of the country. The petition states: “The UK hospitality industry is responsible for around three million jobs, generating £130bn in activity, resulting in £38bn in taxation. Yet, unlike the arts or sports, we do not have a dedicated minister.”
Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, says for a sector of this size to not have ministerial representation, “not having a separate specialist has led to a justified sense of disregard and discrimination”. He says “it’s not uncommon to have a specialist minister” across more than one departments, and suggests a temporary hospitality industry recovery minister role which, if found to be working well, could become permanent.”
MPs debated that “a sector based on togetherness cannot exist on takeaway only” and that “a fortune had been spent on remodelling and ensuring a Covid-19 secure environment all seemingly for nothing now.”
“Incredibly Challenging Situation”
Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, argued that the sector has been crippled by repeated lockdowns, creating an “incredibly challenging situation”, exacerbated by the fact ministers have “switched the entire sector on and off at a moment’s notice”.
Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets at BEIS, said that whilst it is down to the Prime Minister to create new ministerial positions, government needs to “ensure the sector is in the best possible place to bounce back from Covid-19.”
Tax breaks, cutting VAT, giving business rates holidays and further funding support were called for in order to ensure the survival of many hospitality businesses.
Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, said that hospitality business ‘pay their way’ in taxes and need support. “If they manage to survive, they will thrive in future and repay funds set aside the last few months.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, 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 the table and that strong voice for the hospitality industry would be in the government’s interest to put in place”.
It is hoped the debate will put increased pressure on Boris Johnson to consider the proposal to instate a Minister for Hospitality.
“Worst point of the pandemic”
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued a fresh statement to the public yesterday (11.01.20) warning that the UK is at the “worst point” of the pandemic, whilst pleading with the public to follow the government’s Covid rules until the vaccine could provide a solution to the global pandemic.
Some 2.3 million does have been administered so far across the country and the government has recently published its plan to immunise tens of millions of people by spring.
Mr Hancock said the new variant of coronavirus was putting the NHS under “significant pressure.”
“The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now – and that something is to follow the rules. I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.”
Rumours of a tightening of restrictions was laid to bed for now, but the warning comes following statements by Boris Johnson and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty that the next few weeks will be the “worst time of the pandemic for the NHS.”