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Hospitality Sector Minister

Volume 809: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to appoint a dedicated minister for the hospitality sector.

Responsibility for hospitality is currently split between BEIS and DCMS. Both departments are working closely together to ensure that the sector’s interests are strongly represented in government. The power to create a new ministerial post rests with the Prime Minister; however, whatever is decided, we will work to ensure that the sector is in the best possible place to bounce back from Covid-19 so that it plays a leading role in the UK’s economic and social recovery.

My noble friend is well aware of the crucial importance of the hospitality sector to our economy, to employment and to our general quality of life. While I completely acknowledge the unprecedented levels of support provided by this Government, the sector still faces massive uncertainty and challenges when we finally emerge from this terrible pandemic. Rather than responsibility being split between different departments, is there not now an overwhelming case for it to be brought under one dedicated senior Minister whose sole focus is to work with the entire sector on recovery? The sector is asking for this through its online petition, which has now attracted 209,000 signatures.

I well understand the point my noble friend is making but, as I have said, BEIS and DCMS work closely together. The split in responsibilities reflects the fact that most hospitality businesses are SMEs, and BEIS is very experienced in supporting them. However, hospitality accommodation is more closely aligned with the responsibility DCMS has for tourism. We are co-ordinating our activities closely.

My Lords, throughout the pandemic the Government have recognised the importance of the hospitality sector and provided funding accordingly. I would be interested to know why they have so far resisted the idea of a dedicated Minister, as we have for sports and the arts. Will the Government at least consider an interim position, as suggested in the other place, of an industry recovery Minister, which could then be made permanent if it were found to be working well?

As I said in my previous Answer, the responsibility for creating new ministerial positions rests with the Prime Minister. I think he has responded in writing to some of these questions from the Liaison Committee on that matter.

My Lords, the hospitality industry has suffered more than just about any other sector over the last ten and a half months, being closed for more than half that period. Does the Minister agree that the Government should provide a road map, as the CBI—of which I am president—has recommended? This would guide businesses on the opening up of the economy, including whether a tier system is going to return and the use of rapid mass tests. Does he also agree that business support needs to be extended for the hospitality industry in particular, including extending the furlough scheme until the end of June and the business rates holiday, so that there is no March cliff edge?

An unprecedented package of support has been given to the industry; unfortunately it is impossible for us to say at this stage when hospitality and entertainment businesses will be able to open safely and therefore it is impossible to have a road map. We are hoping to set out more details as we go through this month and the data becomes clearer.

My Lords, as I am sure most noble Lords know, the hospitality industry is worth £150 billion a year to the UK economy. This is not counting the wider supply chain. It provides entry-level jobs as well as livelihoods for older workers. With the prospect of foreign holidays receding, this sector could play a major role in the start of a recovery. Therefore, will the Government consider establishing a forum with employers and unions to help secure the future of the sector and a bargaining council composed of Unite the Union and industry representatives to find sector-wide solutions?

[Inaudible.]—in new solutions, but I very much suspect that only a small minority of workers in the industry is actually represented by Unite in particular. We have regular meetings with the sector, many of which are small businesses, and I totally agree with the noble Baroness’s point that they will have an important role to play in the recovery.

VAT and business rates have already been mentioned, which are two important issues to be clarified as soon as possible. There have also been several extensions to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Is it not time to state clearly that it will be extended until the end of the year, particularly for businesses that continue to be restricted by either social distancing rules or travel restrictions? Given the advice of the WHO, that a 1 metre distance is as effective as 2 metres, are there any plans to consider that as part of the opening-up strategy?

We are keeping matters closely under review and if there are any extensions, the Government will want to announce them as quickly as possible. We are dealing with a fast-moving situation, but we recognise that the past few months have been very challenging for businesses in a wide variety of sectors and hospitality businesses in particular. We have provided an unprecedented package of support for businesses during this time of crisis.

My Lords, I think the Minister might acknowledge it has been rather more than challenging, because UKHospitality found that sales in the sector fell by 54% in 2020 and now 650,000 businesses fear collapse over the next three months. Will the Government bring forward a comprehensive national plan for the hospitality sector as a matter of urgency, so that the recovery is not choked off? Are the Government actively considering an extension of the VAT cut to 5% for a further month? If a recovery plan is generated by the Government, can they please consult extensively across all sectors and ensure that nations and regions are considered?

We keep all of these recovery measures under constant review and if we need to extend them further, we will of course do so. With regard to the recovery plan, it is impossible to say at the moment when we will be able to reopen the sector, but we should be able to be clearer on this towards the middle of this month.

My Lords, hospitality matters for so many reasons. It provides jobs and opportunities for business and it offers social interaction, enjoyment and stimulation for our well-being. Does my noble friend the Minister agree with me and other noble Lords that we need a clear road map for the hospitality industry—a route showing how we can ensure that hundreds and thousands of businesses can survive through these challenging times and emerge through to the other side?

My noble friend is totally correct in terms of the importance of the hospitality sector. I can assure her that we will not keep restrictions for a day longer than is absolutely necessary, but we cannot have a road map at this stage because we do not have enough data as yet to know exactly how soon it would be safe to reopen. The picture should, I hope, be clearer by mid-February.

My Lords, I heartily endorse the call of the noble Lord, Lord Caine, for a hospitality Minister, who could co-ordinate the national response right across the United Kingdom. In the meantime, can I urge the Minister with responsibility to take on board the need to extend the VAT cut, which has applied from July through to 31 March? Most hospitality businesses have been closed for a large proportion of that time, and it would not make any sense that, as they reopen, that cut would not be available to help them through the very grave difficulties that they will face.

The noble Lord made his point very powerfully, and I will ensure that his comments are passed on to the Chancellor.

My Lords, I have had a look at the websites of the two departments that are supposedly responsible for the hospitality industry—BEIS and DCMS—and there is a total of 13 Ministers, including three in the House of Lords. Whereas the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, has responsibility for ceremonials and the noble Lord replying has responsibility for the Ordnance Survey, not one of the 13 is listed as having responsibility for hospitality. Is this not embarrassing for the Minister and his department, and what will he do about it?

There are two Ministers—Minister Huddleston in DCMS and Minister Scully in my department—who look after the interests of businesses and others in the sector, so the noble Lord need have no fears: the concerns of the hospitality sector are well heard in two government departments.

My Lords, I welcome the additional support made available by the Government for the hospitality sector in the form of the closed business lockdown payment and the additional restrictions grant, but both of these do not appear to support many of those working in the wedding hospitality sector. While I hear what my noble friend has said about planning, could he tell the House what engagement the Government have had with the wedding sector in particular? What plans, if any, do they have for allowing weddings beyond the current arrangements, which allow them only in the most exceptional circumstances?

My noble friend makes a very powerful point. My ministerial colleague, Minister Scully, is closely working with the sector to hear its concerns. He has had a number of meetings with the sector—if that is not right I will correct that for my noble friend—to listen to concerns, hear about plans for reopening and do whatever we can to work with it in this extremely difficult and challenging time.