NTIA: Covid inquiry a waste of money without sector insight

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Pandemic investigation: Covid inquiry 'waste of money' without sector input (credit: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)
Pandemic investigation: Covid inquiry 'waste of money' without sector input (credit: Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Related tags Covid Legislation Coronavirus Government Social responsibility

Failing to include representation from the hospitality sector in the Covid-19 inquiry will be a waste of taxpayers’ money, according to the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA).

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the investigation the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme implemented in summer 2020 that encouraged people to dine at pubs and restaurants at a subsidised cost during a relaxation of lockdown rules “protected millions of jobs”.

NTIA chief executive Michael Kill​ said: “The current Covid inquiry must ensure it includes representation from the hospitality and cultural sectors to truly address the questions and issues that people are seeking answers to.

“Without a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by businesses in these sectors, the inquiry risks falling short of providing meaningful insights.

“Omitting representation from the nightlife and cultural industries would not only undermine the credibility of the investigation but also render it a futile exercise, ultimately wasting taxpayers’ money.”

He added it was “surreal” to see initiatives such as Eat Out to Help Out as “saviours” of the industry and job creators when they failed to encompass the diverse landscape of businesses within the sector.

“The scheme’s narrow scope marginalised wet-led establishments and late-night venues, offering disproportionate support and leaving many businesses unsupported,” Kill argued. “The lack of consideration for scalability in the financial models used during the programme has resulted in a broad-brush approach, burdening numerous businesses with debts that will linger for years to come.”

Nuanced understanding

He concluded voices from all sectors affected by the pandemic must be heard in the inquiry to ensure a “nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by businesses in the hospitality and cultural realms”.

“Failure to do so not only risks perpetuating misconceptions but also compromises the inquiry’s ability to deliver the answers and solutions our industry urgently needs.”

On the subject of EOTHP, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak​ told the inquiry: “My primary concern was protecting millions of jobs of particularly vulnerable people who worked in this industry. All the data, all the evidence, all the polling, all the input from those companies suggested that unless we did something, many of those jobs would have been at risk with devastating consequences for those people and their families.”

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin​ told the Mail Online: “A sensible and speedy analysis of the lessons of the pandemic is clearly now needed.

“We ended up with some idiotic policies, with doubtful contributions to health, including curfews, moonshots, rules of six and other pointless soundbites.”

Night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord​ said: “The one single mechanism that 100% saved businesses and jobs, was when they reduced vat to 5/12.5%. That’s what we need back.

“That would stabilise the sector and allow breathing space. It would certainly save many smaller independent hospitality businesses.”

Treated so badly

He added: “We need to shine a light on why hospitality was treated so badly.” And cited “ridiculous policy decisions”, including a 10pm curfew on pubs – which pushed everyone out of venues at the same time – and a requirement to have a ‘substantial meal’ with alcohol, and the tiered system of restrictions that saw people visit nearby cities en-masse via busy trains.

However, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls​ said: “Let’s not forget it was 12 days in August to try to get businesses back on their feet.

“The package of measures undoubtedly saved many thousands of businesses and millions of jobs over that time period.”

She added: 'Venues were operating with extensive mitigation measures in place, such as Test & Trace, reduced capacity, staff wearing PPE, table service only, no cash payments and one-way systems, to ensure it was as safe as possible for both staff and guests.”

Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond​ questioned: “If Eat Out to Help Out encouraged spread of virus in UK, how come the charts of cases over same period look the same or worse in other European countries that didn't have EOTHO? Did EOTHO somehow affect the French and Germans and Dutch?”

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