Hospitality, if you can recall, is really very nice. The nicest. In fact, to channel Blackadder, it’s nicer than Mr Nice drinking a nice cup of tea on a nice Spring day in international nice year. In Nice.
But it has to be or it loses the hospitable title. So you can see the problem when it’s put into situation which is not so nice, by, to conjure a scenario, a government which is not so nice to it.
By coincidence, this happened this week – in the UK no less – when dishy Rishi and his fancy hoodie announced his latest Budget to make everyone love him, with the love being somewhat lightly spread for hospitality, even though Sunak had chatted with Gordon Ramsay only last week.
After a year of not being fully aware of what hospitality is the Chancellor came up with a few sops to help the sector feel like he had at least noticed it. After all he had produced a nice video of himself chatting with Gordon Ramsay, so he is now fully briefed. Try and ignore the comments he made about average rents for a “typical” restaurant or pub being between £14,000 and £20,000 (UKHospitality data puts the average rent at £35,000).
But, aware that the public would react badly to their pubs closing – a study from CGA and AlixPartners found that 30 pubs were closing per day since December 2019, permanently – Sunak turned his attention to looking like he understood hospitality.
The result was twofold. One, a ’restart’ grant to help retail, hospitality and personal care businesses reopen from April, which offers up to £18,000 per property, for the top rateable value of £51,000. If anyone reading this has a hotel with a higher rateable value than £51,000, don’t all raise you hands at once because we don’t want to get into a butterfly wings/hurricane scenario but much worse.
Secondly, it was all about can kicking. The business rates holiday was extended to end of June 2021 and there was a continuation of the reduced VAT rate. No word on any solutions to these issues, particularly the outdated rates regime. And no word at all on what was going to be done about all that back rent which is due. Back rent which, if unpaid, is going to make rates and VAT irrelevant.
The sector welcomed these scraps in a hospitable way, because that’s what it does, being hospitable. It has very little choice, being at the whims of a government which has no need to curry favour for another four years. In France, where the country votes next year, support has been deeper and generous landlords rewarded.
So there’s very little kickback. Or is there? Fuller, Smith & Turner’s CEO Simon Emeny has been outspoken in his poking at the government, pointing out the lost tax take. But when you spend £22bn on Track and Trace and you plan to claw this all back from, amongst others, freelancers, is it that much of a loss?
A more satisfying (satisfying, not petty) response would be a withdrawal of hospitality. Yes, yes it goes against everything the sector believes in, but picture Sunak unable to get his fancy self-heating tea cup refilled. Ever again. Boris Johnson being turned away from every restaurant he wanted to get bangers and mash in. Matt Hancock unable to find a bed in Cornwall for his much-yapped-about holiday.
Hospitality has been there for everyone throughout the pandemic, in every way that it has been allowed. But the UK government wasn’t there for it. Don’t forget to prick those bangers before they explode, Boris.