Hospitality debate 'a clear and highly encouraging demonstration of strong cross-party support'

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Minister for Hospitality motion passed following MPs debate in Westminster

Related tags: Government, Coronavirus

A cross-party group of MPs voiced their support for the creation of a Minister of Hospitality during a Westminster Hall debate yesterday afternoon (11 January).

Led by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell, the debate saw MPs from both sides of the aisle find common ground over the financial hardships currently facing the sector as a result of the Coronavirus crisis.

While there will be no direct action as a consequence of the debate, it is hoped the response will encourage Prime Minister Boris Johnson to consider the proposal more seriously.

The parliamentary debate was made possible after a petition that launched back in October calling for the creation of a Minister for Hospitality successfully gained 100,000 signatures.

By the time of yesterday's debate that number had more than doubled​, with some 206,000 people having now signed the petition. 

In her opening remarks, McKinnell called on the Government to recognise that the sector needs a strong voice in Government that recognises the diversity within the industry. 

At the moment responsibility for hospitality matters are shared between two different ministerial portfolios (Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), and while McKinnell said she understood the practise, she also believes it to be out of fashion at the moment given the crisis facing the sector and fears it creates an incentive in Government for passing the buck between departments. 

She said: “I’ve long held the view that the hospitality sector requires really focused representation in Government.

"This is about the future of our industry and the campaign and petition showcases the strength of feeling across the country on this issue.

"Hospitality is a sector that deserves a seat at the top table.”

Better leadership needed

Fellow Labour MP Lucy Powell criticised the Government's 'scattergun approach' to offering targeted sector support, and demanded that a proper, long-term support to plan was created help businesses plan for the coming months. 

She said: "Hospitality businesses and their associated ecosystem need better leadership, focus and understanding.

"They need cash support that matches business need and revenue loss.

"There will be no businesses for firms to employ people unless this is done.

"They need immediate action on the uncertainty created about these cliff edges. That may involve big, creative thinking on some of the big issues coming up the track, with rent deferrals and the huge debt overhang, that will need to be addressed at some point."

Powell added that as well as an economic plan, the sector also needs a clear route map to reopening; echoing calls previously made by trade bodies including the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), and UKHospitality.

Also addressing the debate, Conservative MP and former Business Secretary Greg Clark emphasised the need to support hospitality as it struggled through the third national lockdown.

He said that business owners in his constituency of Tunbridge Wells were asking the Government to reconsider the requirement to pay national insurance on furloughed employees, as well as extend the business rates holiday and VAT cut to reflect the fact that the closure of businesses has been for much longer than was expected.

"Having come this far, and after the investment that has been made in keeping these businesses and jobs alive in the hospitality sector, we must make sure that we get through the next few weeks," he said.

"So that they can continue to thrive in the future."

Representing the Government, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets Paul Scully argued that the sector is represented across Government, but he also acknowledged the role played by hospitality businesses within the community and said it was crucial to ensure they are in the best possible place to bounce back from Covid-19.

Non-commitment from Government

In his response the minister detailed the support the sector has already received from Government including the rent moratorium, furlough, grants, loan schemes, and the Eat Out to Help Out initiative.

"The hospitality sector represents friendship, generosity, enjoyment and happiness," he said.

"It is a tonic for loneliness and a warm welcome for visitors at the heart of our communities. In short, hospitality matters.

"We will continue to work with hospitality businesses to get them through the immediate crisis and then help them to build back stronger."

While he was non-committal on the petition proposal, Scully assured the sector that that he heard its 'understandable cries of anguish'.

Reacting to the debate, UKHospitality said the MPs comments highlighted the overwhelming support for the sector and the need for additional supportive measures.

“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," said Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive.

"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."

Nicholls acknowledged MPs recognition of areas of the sector that have struggled through the crisis without receiving mainstream headlines, such as nightclubs, wedding venues and conference centres.

She also welcomed MPs including Conservative Mark Pawsey and Labour's John Spellar voicing their appreciation and support of the hospitality supply chain.

 “It is striking that, in the end, the petition got more than 200,000 signatures," Nicholls added. 

"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.”

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