Speaking to the House of Commons today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined a number of new measures the Government was taking to help businesses continuing to struggle during the pandemic, including a six-month Job Support Scheme (JSS)and an extension to the cut in VAT until the end of March.
However, he has been criticised for not doing enough to help the beleaguered hospitality sector that is tonight coming to terms with new 10pm curfews. While the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) welcomes the extension to the VAT cut it says the reduction needs to be in place much longer to help the pub sector recover. It also says that the JSS will not help save jobs in the current climate.
“The new flexible job support scheme is needed considering that the furlough scheme will end next month, but with a lower level of funding from Government that will cost employers more, we are not confident it is enough to protect jobs in the current trading conditions,” says BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin.
“Some elements of the Chancellor’s plan today are welcome, but do not go nearly far enough to save the thousands of pubs and jobs that we have highlighted are at serious risk.”
McClarkin also describes the Government’s decision to not extend the business rates relief for pubs as concerning.
“Pubs now face a cliff edge come March 2021 where they will have to pay on average £25,000 each per rate paying pub. That’s a cost of £800 million to the sector which will be the final straw for many pubs.
“We need the Chancellor to review this and extend the business rates holiday as a matter of urgency.”
Measures don't go far enough
Pub company Green King also says the measures do not go far enough to help the sector that is currently faced with new restrictions.
“The industry is still dealing with the crippling aftereffects of the nationwide lockdown and the cumulative effect of the new restrictions, combined with the singling out of pubs, mean the measures announced by the Chancellor don’t go far enough, especially for drink-led city centre pubs,” says Greene King chief executive Nick Mackenzie.
“More targeted support is needed to help those people whose pubs remain closed, or businesses that were starting to recover which have again become unviable.
"With Public Health England figures showing only 5% of all outbreaks are linked to hospitality, it feels like pubs are being unfairly targeted when there is little evidence that they enable the spread of Covid-19.”
No grounds for optimism
In Scotland, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) described the Chancellor’s announcement as “not giving any grounds for optimism” and disappointing.
“Without having full details, our initial view is that the Chancellor’s introduction of a Jobs Support Scheme and the extension of other initiatives to help businesses are not as far-reaching as we needed – we are very disappointed,” says SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson.
“It must be recognised that the Jobs Support Scheme is significantly less generous then the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It is designed to back ‘viable jobs’ – and with the latest restrictions on our pubs and bars, many jobs in our sector will be unviable. It is also not clear at the moment how the scheme will be implemented.”
Wilkinson describes the VAT cut extension as welcome but having minimal impact and called for more to be done for what he says is a sector “operating under serious restrictive measures.”
“These are long-term measures of business support. The industry is struggling to survive now, and operators need support today through additional comprehensive sector-specific support for the hospitality sector, highlighted by the Chancellor as a sector which has been hit the hardest.”
UKHospitality’s Kate Nicholls has called on the Government to bear the full cost of unworked hours in the hospitality sector, which she describes as being “relatively low cost for huge reward for our workforce”.
With almost one million people in the hospitality sector still on furlough, Nicholls says full support from the Government is needed to sustain people in their jobs “during what could be a pretty bleak winter for hospitality”.
Hospitality jobs board Caterer.com is also calling on the Government to do more to protect job. "Without proper, immediate support, more businesses may be forced to close and the incredible talent we have in the sector may be forced to seek work elsewhere or face becoming unemployed," says director Neil Pattison.
"With the ‘summer of staycations’ drawing to a close and Christmas gatherings under threat, we need more creative policy to hold onto hospitality’s workforce.”
The BBPA has also called on the Government to consider running the successful Eat Out to Help Out scheme again and offering sector specific grants for pub businesses.