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Hospitality can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, but desperately need targeted financial support to survive

Hospitality can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, but desperately need targeted financial support to survive

Emergency cash grants are not reaching the sides of the financial hole many businesses find themselves in, writes Becky Wilkes. | PA Images

Becky Wilkes

Becky Wilkes

5 min read

It’s great to finally have provisional dates to work towards, but without financial support many venues may choose to stay closed until indoor hospitality is permitted.

The hospitality industry employs 3.2 million incredible, passionate people, of all ages and walks of life. Our industry produces £130 billion of economic activity and is the third largest private sector employer. When people say ‘he is JUST a Bartender’ or ‘she is JUST a Waitress’ I’d like to invite them to do their duties for a day to see the talent, knowledge and patience needed to work in hospitality.

Hospitality has been hit hard over the last year. We’ve seen businesses collapse and thousands of jobs lost. Emergency cash grants are not reaching the sides of the financial hole many businesses find themselves in, and a recent survey found one in ten hospitality businesses fear they will be forced to make staff redundant in the next few months.

More than a million people working in the hospitality industry are still on furlough. We desperately want to protect our staff but with no certainty if we’ll be able to trade or have support extended, we have no ability to plan ahead.

Venues spent thousands of pounds last year to ensure their premises were Covid safe. But the introduction of the one household rule, 10pm curfew, and substantial meal rule was a frustrating blow that ultimately ended with businesses closing again.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve received a lack of clarity from government about when we can trade and have been subject to last minute decisions and U-turns. Some were wholly avoidable and caused many businesses to waste money preparing to reopen – only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us.

Newspapers have nearly always heard about restrictions before the industry, and we’ve even been forced to debate whether or not a scotch egg can be classified as a substantial meal!

Press leaks have not helped the mental health of staff, who have been worried for their jobs and preparations needed for rumoured closures/openings that didn’t end up happening. The uncertainty created a constant fear of job losses. We are mentally exhausted and trying to stay positive but have felt stripped of being hospitable – which is what we are employed to be.

We are not seeking special treatment over furlough, simply equal treatment with others

What a lot of people don’t realise is that hundreds of thousands of hospitality workers in the UK are paid part of their earnings through a Tronc system. Unfortunately, these payments are not covered by the furlough scheme. The financial support we are receiving isn’t a percentage of our full earnings but a percentage of our ‘house pay’ which drastically drops each month.

The exclusion of Tronc in the furlough calculations is unfair and is causing great hardship for many employees. Taxi drivers and hairdressers have received government support on declared tips. As hospitality employees we are not seeking special treatment over furlough, simply equal treatment with others.

I worry that hospitality is losing some absolute superstars from the industry because they need a proper income. They are leaving the industry and when we reopen can we really rely on them to return given the uncertainty and constant stop/start approach we have endured in the past year?

Being on the board of Manchester Hospitality Network, we have lobbied various campaigns from ‘Cancel the Curfew’, to ‘Fair Furlough’ to ‘Seat At The Table’. We are praying that the government hears us because decisions are still being made with no evidence or real reasoning.

If they saw what 9.45pm looked like on our sites, the stress that it caused our staff and the repercussions on the streets, the 10pm curfew policy would never have been introduced. If they saw the payslips of the staff who get Tronc payments as part of their salary only bring home a third of their pay in furlough money, they would have to look at making up the difference. If they saw how sad the wet-led pubs looked when the substantial meal was brought in, and saw the pure heart break from the staff, they would have thought again.

With the new roadmap out of lockdown announced yesterday, it’s a relief to see the 10pm curfew and substantial meal dropped and great to see provisional dates to work towards. We can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

However, operators who can trade outdoors won’t break even, let alone make a profit. They may need to apply for outdoor seating from the council – which may be declined. Operating at such a low capacity, they may not be able to cover rent, rates and bills or afford to bring back staff from furlough. Many venues may choose to stay closed until indoor hospitality is permitted.

The Chancellor must introduce focused financial support for the hospitality industry in the budget next week. In Manchester, we have had restrictions since 31st July and been shut since 5th November. Support needs to be back-dated. Manchester has had restrictions longer than other big cities and people wonder why we are so exhausted and socially unfulfilled.

We are a hard-working, flexible and agile industry with a proven track record, but to survive and thrive we need support.

 

Becky Wilkes is the senior sales and marketing manager of the North, D&D London and co-founder of Manchester Hospitality Network.

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