The Budget is arguably the most important day in the history of the hospitality sector.
What Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces when he stands at the dispatch box on March 3 could either give some desperately-needed hope to our battered sector or it could crush thousands of hospitality businesses in a single, devastating blow.
What the Chancellor says, and does, will demonstrate the importance the Government places on the survival of a large proportion of the sector – and whether the loss of thousands of hospitality businesses and hundreds of thousands more jobs will just go down as regrettable collateral damage.
We will learn whether this Government truly understands the invaluable role our sector – pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels – plays in everyday life. We will also learn whether the enormous contribution hospitality makes, both economically and in terms of employment, is recognised, and most significantly, respected by the chancellor.
‘The industry needs more than warm words’
This industry, which is a massive employer of young people and in normal times an absolute economic powerhouse producing millions in taxes to fund public services, needs more than warm, sympathetic words. We are not looking for an extension of existing support measures.
We need meaningful measures that ensure hospitality businesses can genuinely survive until they are permitted to reopen – and have a future.
The furlough scheme has been amazing for our employees but the need for businesses to support the scheme when most have no revenue makes it feel far from supportive for the employers.
It’s helped businesses hold onto their teams, and we have a workforce that can be reactivated, but given the cost of employers’ NI and pension contributions we have had to bear since November, I wonder how many businesses would have been forced into the heart-breaking decision to lay off staff in order to preserve cash had they known they wouldn’t be able to reopen until May 17.
This is particularly true of thousands of hospitality businesses that haven’t traded since November 4 because they went from lockdown straight into Tier 3. Many have not taken a penny for 120 days and will not for a further 74 days – more than half a year of trading lost.
It’s a huge ask for those companies to find the cash to keep contributing to keep their teams. That said, hospitality is all about looking after people and you can bet that the last penny spent before the cash runs out will be spent on supporting staff.
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The plight of small businesses in our sector is desperate and continues to go largely unrecognised. Business failure in our industry has always been notoriously high but it’s rare that very good, viable businesses fail.
Sadly, another travesty of the pandemic is that this is already happening on mass as small businesses, that had a bright future pre-pandemic, go under through no fault of their own. They have simply run out of cash.
Without more support, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Is this chancellor going to let a generation of hospitality entrepreneurs and their businesses, some of which could be the big businesses of the future, just slip under the water? The worrying fact at the moment is we simply don’t know and sadly we suspect he might.
The sector has felt increasingly marginalised by a Government that simply doesn’t feel the need to listen. We hope the chancellor rediscovers some of the affection he showed towards the sector back in June last year and throws it the lifeline it so desperately needs. He needs to provide enough support to enable hospitality to survive, heal and repair.
Everything hinges on this Budget statement. Many hospitality businesses are in the Last Chance Saloon – it is the busiest bar in town.
What do you think needs to be done to support hospitality businesses? Share your thoughts in the comments section below