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UKH urges Government to provide hospitality with clear reopening roadmap

UKHospitality is calling on the Government to provide businesses with certainty and clarity in its reopening announcement next week as it presents its own roadmap for the hospitality sector to emerge from lockdown and restrictions.

The hospitality industry lost £72bn in sales in 2020, its worst year on record, and from 8 March, the earliest day for any end to the current lockdown, hospitality will have been closed nationally for more than half of the year – 28 weeks since the middle of March 2020.

The roadmap features a 10-point plan to enable hospitality to successfully and sustainably reopen from the start of April, based on vaccination levels and infection rates. UKHospitality argues this should build on the Covid-secure measures that hospitality introduced when it reopened last July – rather than being seen to start from scratch. This should be transitionary, before restrictions are removed in the summer.

The trade association’s plan highlights the significant investment the industry has made to ensure its venues are Covid-secure alongside a raft of new protocols.

Additionally, it calls on Government to continue to boost consumer confidence and a return to cities throughout the UK and underpin future recovery with business support including extending the lower 5% VAT rate, coupled with a business rates holiday for the remainder of 2021, to stimulate economic activity and help companies repair their balance sheets.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said, “The success of the vaccine rollout thus far is hugely encouraging and offers not just hospitality but the whole of society a clear exit from this current lockdown.

“However, a delayed reopening will come at the cost of even more jobs and more business collapses – this is an industry that is clearly already on its knees and that has already lost one million jobs, including those lost amongst our ailing supply partners.

'Prolonged closure risks the longer-term economic recovery and also makes no sense on the grounds of safety. There is no valid reason for hospitality to be at the back of the queue as data shows hospitality venues are very low risk due to the exceptional investment that businesses have made in creating safe and Covid-secure environments.

“It’s clearly important the government follows the data, and we understand the point, but the data is showing that we can move swiftly, safely and sustainably to reopen hospitality in April. Businesses need firm dates to plan their reopening strategies, so they can bring back staff, negotiate their rent with landlords and re-engage with all their suppliers.

'We urge Government to provide that certainty and to underpin the recovery with business support: extending the 5% VAT rate and the business rates holiday will stimulate consumer demand and help reduce costs. These measures are vital in returning hospitality to being an engine of economic and employment growth.”

UKHospitality’s roadmap to recovery
1. Focus on reducing infections, hospitalisations and deaths: the hospitality sector knows it will not be in a place to re-open while health harms remain high. It is incumbent on the Government, the sector and the wider public to do all it can to recover from this wave of the virus.

2. Link hospitality reopening to vaccines and the preservation of life: the rollout of vaccines has been a great success thus far and offers protections from coronavirus deaths. From the start of March, the cohort that makes up 88% of deaths will have received protection from their first dose. By mid-April this will be the case for the group that makes up 99% of all deaths, allowing greater freedoms.

3. Recognise the safety of hospitality: companies and individual business worked with Government to develop and put in place a range of operational measures to ensure their premises are Covid-19 Secure, and crucially these have been shown to work in practice from summer 2020 onwards. Hospitality businesses will not be starting from scratch but from a high baseline standard of safety already in place and proven to keep people safe.

4. Set clear reopening ambitions on 22nd February: businesses and consumers want to have as much information to plan with as possible. On the 22nd there will be a wealth of data for Government to clearly communicate its reopening plans. This is particularly important for businesses that have a lead-in time, such as holiday bookings. It would also open up the opportunity of Easter trading if the data allowed this.

5. Begin gradual regional reopening once top-4 priority groups are protected: Government has hit its target of vaccinating the most vulnerable by mid-February. With three weeks for full protection this should ensure that this group, which has made up 88% of deaths, are protected by early March. Movement through the existing tier system should be considered from this point.

6. A time-limited transitionary system from early April: at the end of March existing tier legislation falls away and all over-50s and the vulnerable should have been vaccinated, with infections due to be below 1,000 per day, as per August. A transitionary system, building on the measures introduced in July 2020, would enable a return to trading with minimal health risks. These could be reviewed in two-three weeks, with rules relaxed as appropriate. Local, tailored measures will be available to deal with outbreaks.

7. Revert to a national system of controls from mid-June: everyone over the age of 50 and vulnerable should have received their second doses by mid-June. Infections should have fallen to very low levels, potentially in the low hundreds per day. This is the time for a more normalised trading regime.

8. Explore a safe way to open up international travel: while it is important to get the domestic economy moving it is critical for the hospitality sector, and the wider economy, that international travel returns. Government must work with the broader travel and tourism industry to develop a strategy to allow international movement. This should minimise disruption, while protecting the country from infections, and could involve testing, a targeted approach to different nations and limited quarantines.

9. Foster consumer confidence and a return to our great cities: consumer confidence remains low across the country, and particularly in certain groups. Government should work with business and consumer groups to reinforce safety measures that are in place and ensure people feel safe. This will help both tourism and a return to office working and help to rebuild our city centres.

10. Underpin the recovery with business support: extending the 5% VAT rate, and applying it to a wider scope of hospitality, coupled with a 100% business rates holiday will stimulate economic activity and reduce costs. These measures, alongside steps to rebuild businesses such as dealing with rent debt, will be vital in returning hospitality to being an engine of economic and employment growth.