It’s been a long week. Without wanting to sound too much like Boris (who would want to do that?) there’s little doubt the sector is once more on a war footing, writes Mark Stretton.
The last time I contributed to Propel’s Friday Opinion, we were about to go into lock-down and it was clear that many hospitality and leisure businesses faced an existential battle. And whatever you wish to call it, we are back there again; it’s a different phase and, for many, it’s a matter of survival. The mood has certainly flipped from the sector’s reopening in July and the dizzy days of Eat Out To Help Out in August.
We’re still taking stock of yesterday’s speech from the chancellor when he outlined his winter support package for the economy and for jobs. While all, and any, support is, of course, welcome, for the first time there were no rabbits pulled from Rishi’s hat. To many, it looked like he might have made a very significant number of hospitality workers redundant. People who would have jobs when the world normalises, but don’t have them right now.
The initial reaction to the announcement from the sector’s leadership was palpable anger and frustration. It was all the worse, of course, for coming on the heels of the illogical 10pm curfew that was foisted on the sector this week. And the prime minister’s somewhat risible address to the nation, including a directive for people to stop getting back to the office and to resume working from home where possible, effectively abandoning many city centres.
There is also little doubt in my mind that having spent most of the past few days in an understandably reactive mode, many of the sector’s leaders will now turn their attention to positive and proactive action; what to do, how to make it work and how we pull our businesses through. It was one of the things that was so impressive in the dark days of March – how quickly the sector’s leaders were able to absorb and process what was happening, and react accordingly.
What to do now must include a continuation of the concerted and co-ordinated campaign to make the seismic challenges facing hospitality matter as political issues. We must make the case for the chancellor to go further in his support for the industry, and to make hospitality a special case – not least for jobs, for the recovery and growth, and for the career paths and opportunities we provide to thousands (millions, actually) of young people.
Since March, spearheaded by UKHospitality and the indefatigable Kate Nicholls, the industry has been making the headlines and been a key part of the news cycle. A glut of industry leaders have stepped up to speak on these national platforms including, to name a few, Will Beckett, Zoe Bowley, Graham Cook, Jonathan Downey, Ann Elliott, Simon Emeny, Natalie Feary, Tim Foster, Charlie Gilkes, Des Gunewardena, James Hacon, Robin Hutson, Luke Johnson, Karen Jones, Mark Jones, Charlie McVeigh, Hugh Osmond, Alex Reilley, Matt Snell, Brandon Stephens, Phil Urban, Martin Wolstencroft, and many, many more. Apologies to all those missed.
We must now go again. As an industry, it’s crucial we maintain the very vocal and visible presence on television, on radio and in our national newspapers. We need our leaders to be making the case in every key news programme and current affairs programme, to continue to educate and articulate what is happening in our industry, and the positive and constructive support we need in order to come through this crisis, and to be able to protect jobs and our businesses, so that hospitality and leisure can full participate in the recovery. Not to mention the idiocy of the curfew.
The reason why is because it really makes a difference. When one of our leaders is on the 6pm and the 10pm BBC News, or the Today programme, it matters. When The Sun takes an interest in hospitality, the government has to, too. It was tremendous to see Peter Borg Neal of Oakman Inns on Question Time on Thursday (24 September).
We must harness the media to implore the government to act and go further. The sector also desperately needs a more measured approach – to put a stop to this jittery approach of announcing rules, then leaving the industry to interpret them with no notice. To provide some evidence for what they are doing and to apply the common-sense test to any measures or restrictions.
Many parts of the hospitality industry are now not able to operate in part or in full because of covid-19-related restrictions. Some are closing early, some are in business districts with no customers and some, in the case of nightclubs and theatres, are unable to open at all. These businesses and the jobs attached to them deserve help, and we need the chancellor to go further.
As Peter Borg Neal said on Question Time: “There is a difference between a business that isn’t viable and one that isn’t allowed to operate.”
This article was first published in the Propel Friday Opinion. For more Friday Opinion articles click here.
Mark Stretton is Managing Director of Fleet Street Communications, and part of the UKHospitality communications team.