When I was asked to write a blog capturing our year (in true December tradition), I suddenly found myself 500 written words into a diatribe about the extraordinary and brutal challenges for hospitality, writes Mark Stretton, Managing Director of Fleet Street Communications. How very 2020.
So, dear reader, I carved it out and gave it its own blog, here. You are so welcome. The actual ‘our year’ blog from a Fleet Street Communications perspective can be found elsewhere via this link.
Given the work we do in leisure and hospitality, not least as the communications agency for UKHospitality, we wave goodbye to 2020 with a mixture of positivity and pride and not a little frustration and anger.
It’s been great for all the goodness that has come out of this year – hospitality has shown itself to be a collegiate, collaborative mutually supportive industry that leans into adversity and is an enormous force for good, only too ready to help the needy and vulnerable at a moment’s notice.
On the flip side, there’s frustration in the fact that clearly, in government, we have not always had the leadership that we needed. We feel this most starkly now and we must hope that 2021 will bring a different approach, with cogent, longer-term planning, more openness and honesty, and proper economic safeguarding that recognises the clear ROI proposition of acting to protect businesses and jobs, now.
And if Christmas can bring us one wish, please (please, please) let it be less populist, nannying, opinion poll-led, flip flopping around by those that are paid to lead the nation.
In terms of anger, this is palpable amongst leisure and hospitality folk right now. Especially when just before Christmas, the Government’s response to a spike in infections, on the back of a lockdown, was to impose more sanctions on hospitality, which had been shut and could not possibly be responsible for the rise.
It spoke to a general bewilderment at a tier system, which seems to guarantee economic harm but not to deliver a reduction in the infection rate, and offers no economic support to ensure that jobs are protected in the long term.
There is utter befuddlement that while the Job Retention Scheme protects peoples’ jobs today and gives them income, it cannot safeguard their jobs unless there is an equivalent safeguarding for the employer. And this has not been forthcoming. In France, companies are being compensated 20% of their typical revenue – still a pittance versus normal trade but probably enough to ensure survival.
The Government was right to abandon the lunacy of allowing Christmas bubbles – the ultimate super-spreader event – but to do it so late when it was for so long, so obvious that it could not be allowed to happen – was mean and cruel. It should have been scrapped much earlier.
The hospitality industry’s dealings with government changed around the summer time. Actually, reverse that; the Government’s dealings with hospitality changed around that time, when they stopped communicating. To this point, while hospitality had not always been granted its wish, the relationship had felt constructive, consultative and collaborative. That stopped, and the Government started introducing on-the-hoof policies and, without the sounding board of industry, started making mistakes. A clear example was the 10pm curfew, which had far greater economic harm than they envisaged and actually had a reverse impact in bringing crowds together on public transport and in the streets, at the terminal hour.
I’ve read enough from epidemiologists to understand that the cornerstones of managing through a pandemic are testing, tracing and reducing hazardous contact. Without wanting this to be a complete moan-fest, testing and tracing has been lamentable.
In terms of reducing hazardous contact, and I say this while conscious of our position, I genuinely believe that hospitality is part of the solution in offering the appropriate conditions that allow us as human beings to sate that deep need to be in each other’s company, but in a controlled and safe way that acknowledges the challenges of the pandemic, and the need for space. Scientifically, it must make more sense for us to meet in well-controlled and ventilated commercial spaces for limited amounts of time, rather than in each other’s homes.
Another cornerstone of managing through, in a developed society, must surely be policies that recognise the importance of economic protection for the long-term health of that society and its people. Prior to March, hospitality alone was responsible for generating £39bn of public money annually to fund vital services such as the NHS; in order to repair the country’s finances, it needs to be there to participate in the recovery.
As Kate Nicholls and UKHospitality have said countless times, this is a straight ROI calculation: if the Government invests a third of this annual tax take back into protecting businesses now, then the sector can return to that contribution in record time. If it does not, then a great chunk of the support provided so far will have been wasted and our shot public finances will take far longer to build back. Large elements of hospitality – the businesses that account for its constituent parts – will have been lost forever.
Mark Stretton is Managing Director of Fleet Street Communications