The last year has been tough for everyone. We’ve been separated from our loved ones, experienced a huge amount of loss and had so many of our freedoms stripped away.
It’s also been 12 months of suffering for small businesses, with many small business owners struggling to keep their heads above water.
Nowhere has this anxiety been felt more than in our wonderful hospitality sector - the pubs, the restaurants and the bars. I’ve seen it in my own constituency of St Albans, where we have more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the UK. These incredible places - many of them independent family businesses, and homes - make up so much of what is great about Britain, but they’ve received pint-sized support from the Government.
Headline grabbing initiatives like Eat Out to Help Out might have provided a short-term boost, but it did not give genuine long-term security to terrified landlords and restaurateurs who are on the brink.
Arbitrary measures, such as the baseless ‘pubs curfew’, and the undefinable requirement for a ‘substantial meal’, made matters worse.
According to data and research consultancy CGA, nearly 12,000 licensed premises have shut in Britain since December 2019. That is far too many.
Meanwhile, UK Hospitality estimated last year that businesses in this industry have accumulated £2n in rent debt and £6n in loans and other finance. That is far too much.
If the government had acted more decisively to manage the pandemic, more businesses and jobs would have been saved. The industry should not be shackled with debt that they incurred through no fault of their own.
That’s why Liberal Democrats are clear - the Government must now step in with an immediate rent relief package.
"Under our rent relief proposal businesses could claim up to 80%
of their total rent costs, up to a maximum of
£5,000 a month, for six months"
Our rent relief proposal is modelled on a successful scheme in Germany, designed to support small pubs and hospitality businesses with up to 10 employees. Under this scheme, they could claim up to 80% of their total rent costs, up to a maximum of £5,000 a month, for six months.
This is the support our pub and hospitality industry needs, not pub passports which would be burdensome, divisive, and illiberal.
The Government should be focused on getting people back through the doors as safely as possible, not asking publicans to enforce a system that is open to abuse, would force customers into a two-tier system, and would undoubtedly ruin family reunions.
It is only bold business thinking that can help rescue our hospitality sector, not more half-baked ideas thought up at the last minute by the Government.
With every day taking us closer to pubs and restaurants reopening their doors, it is imperative that we get on top of this now, so they can keep their doors open for good.
Daisy Cooper is MP for St Albans and Deputy Leader and Education Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.