A government minister has said the UK’s hard-hit hospitality sector will be able to reopen “soon” because of the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
Pubs, restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs are currently only allowed to offer takeaway services, excluding alcohol, under Britain’s national lockdown since early January.
Small business minister Paul Scully fuelled hopes in the sector of swift reopening in comments to MPs on Tuesday.
“It’s important that we work together with the sector on reopening it, allowing it to recover, and growing the resilience of the hospitality sector as well,” he said in the Commons.
“That’s not just the support, but with the 12.3 million vaccinations that have gone out to date, then we will soon be able to re-open the hospitality sector and allow it to bounce back.”
He had been asked by Rachel Hopkins, Labour MP for Luton South, to create a recovery strategy for the sector, including extending the furlough scheme and introducing rapid testing for hospitality staff.
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Taking questions from MPs, minister and new business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng faced repeated calls to extend and expand support for hospitality and other sectors.
Several government lifelines due to expire in the next few months, and many workers are excluded from income protection schemes introduced during the pandemic.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said firms faced a “£50bn bombshell” in April as furlough subsidies, VAT cuts, tax deferrals, rate holidays and other support comes to an end.
He warned the Budget next month would be “too late,” with companies making decisions now about their futures and those of staff. Miliband highlighted criticism by Confederation of British Industry’s new director-general Tony Danker, who said companies had been “left in the dark” over the government’s plans on support and re-opening.
Meanwhile some Conservative MPs also heaped pressure on their cabinet colleagues.
Beaconsfield MP Joy Morrisey called for Kwarteng to ensure the government continued to offer support. Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney urged him to talk to the chancellor about supporting hospitality companies including wedding businesses with action on VAT and business rates.
Kwarteng repeatedly highlighted the government’s “unprecededented” economic support measures, totalling more than £280bn in wage subsidies, grants, guaranteed loans and other policies since the pandemic began. He said he was in regular talks with the Treasury and business leaders including hospitality on supporting the sector.
UKHospitality’s CEO Kate Nicholls had warned earlier this week the “overwhelming majority” of hospitality companies were under huge pressure after months with little or no income.
She welcomed greater flexibility in repaying Bounce Back loans, but said companies’ cash was “fast running out” and they were sat on an “ever-increasing debt pile.”
“The survival of thousands of businesses and the ability of the hospitality sector to play a full part in the nation’s economic recovery hangs in the balance,” she said on Monday.
“What’s urgently required is a clear roadmap to reopening, a solution to the ongoing rent debt issue that continues to cast a huge shadow over the sector, along with an extension of the business rates holiday and VAT cut.”
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