Following a 90-minute debate on 11 January, the issue of appointing a dedicated minister for the hospitality sector reached the House of Lords on 3 February.
The issue initially made Parliament’s agenda after more than 200,000 sector supporters – including celebrity chef and pub operator Tom Kerridge, James Martin and Angela Hartnett – signed a petition.
The #SeatAtTheTable campaign highlighted the UK hospitality industry is responsible for about 3m jobs and generates £130bn in activity, resulting in £38bn in taxation but, unlike the arts or sports, does not have a dedicated minister.
In response to an initial question by Conservative peer Lord Caine, Parliamentary under-secretary of state, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Lord Callanan explained that responsibility for hospitality is currently split between BEIS and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
“Both departments are working closely together to ensure that the sector’s interests are strongly represented in Government,” he said. “The power to create a new ministerial post rests with the Prime Minister; however, whatever is decided, we will work to ensure the sector is in the best possible place to bounce back from Covid-19 so it plays a leading role in the UK’s economic and social recovery.”
Lord Callanan’s comments echo those made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson following the initial debate on whether or not to hire a dedicated minister, when he appeared cool on the idea of a new appointment.
“We are doing everything we can to support it [the hospitality sector], and the Chancellor, business secretary and I meet regularly with representatives of that sector,” Johnson said on 13 January.
“The best thing for the hospitality sector is we all work together to defeat the virus, in the way I’m absolutely certain we can, with disciplined action and the vaccine roll out, and get it back on its feet, and I am sure that is the best thing for it.”
Interim position or new forum?
In response to Lord Callanan, Lord Caine asked that in light of the “massive uncertainty” faced by the sector and responsibility being split between different departments, “is there not now an overwhelming case for it to be brought under one dedicated senior minister whose sole focus is to work with the entire sector on recovery?”
What’s more, Baroness Sanderson of Welton pressed to know why the Government has thus far resisted the idea of a dedicated minister, as have been appointed for sports and the arts.
“Will the Government at least consider an interim position, as suggested in the other place, of an industry recovery minister, which could then be made permanent if it were found to be working well?” she asked.
Additionally, peers pressed Lord Callanan on further support measures for the sector, with Confederation of British Industry president and Cobra founder Lord Bilimoria pushing for a post-lockdown Government roadmap for the sector.
What’s more, highlighting that the hospitality industry is worth £150bn a year to the UK economy, Baroness Blower asked: “Will the Government consider establishing a forum with employers and unions to help secure the future of the sector and a bargaining council composed of Unite the Union and industry representatives to find sector-wide solutions?”
‘Is this not embarrassing?’
Further weighing in on the issue, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock added that of the 13 ministers across BEIS and DCMS – including three members of the House of Lords – not one is listed as having responsibility for hospitality according to the departments’ respective websites.
“Is this not embarrassing for the minister and his department, and what will he do about it?" he added.
Callanan replied: “There are two ministers – minister Huddleston in DCMS and minister Scully in my department – who look after the interests of businesses and others in the sector, so the noble Lord need have no fears: the concerns of the hospitality sector are well heard in two Government departments.”
These comments came after a survey of nearly 1,000 Brits by global intelligence platform Streetbees found that just 17% of respondents had faith in the Government to save community venues such as pubs from closure during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
A further 61% of those quizzed said they don’t have faith in the Government to protect pubs, while 21% “aren’t sure”.
Additionally, more than half (57%) of those questioned by Streetbees agreed the hospitality sector should have a dedicated cabinet minister.
The Hospitality Sector Minister debate in the House of Lords can be read in full here.