Kate Nicholls: ‘Pick battles wisely stand your ground and fight them’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Standing up for the sector: Trade body leaders talked politics at the NTIA Summit (Credit: Elspeth Moore)
Standing up for the sector: Trade body leaders talked politics at the NTIA Summit (Credit: Elspeth Moore)

Related tags Night Time Industries Association Legislation Manchester

Hospitality trade body leaders called for a reduction in VAT and opened up about the challenges of negotiating with politicians at the 2024 NTIA Night Time Economy Summit last week.

The panel, called ‘Navigating the Political Minefield in Support of the Industry’, took place on day one of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) conference at Escape to Freight Island in Manchester last week (8-9 February).

The panel was comprised of NTIA chief executive Michael Kill, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Emma McClarkin and Institute of Hospitality chief executive Robert Richardson.

It was chaired by Ojay McDonald, CEO of The Association of Town Centre Management (ATC).

He asked the panel, if you could have one thing for the industry, what would it be? Nicholls said her “one ask” would be a slashed rate of VAT. Across Europe, she said the UK was the only country without a reduced rate of VAT.

Kill added that a VAT cut had to be all encompassing and include alcohol. “Anything outside of all-inclusive is not something that’s fair and inclusive of the industry,” he said.

'One song but many voices'

McDonald asked how they dealt with the ignorance of policy makers when trying to get changes across the line.

“The challenge you get is white noise,” said Kill. He said hospitality trade bodies had to be the strongest [voice] in terms of the fight forward.

He added that the industry was misrepresented by policy makers and talked about a movement towards ‘non-blame’. He said: “Imagine an approach in the UK where something went wrong in a venue and the venue wasn’t to blame,” he said. “From our perspective it has got to be all-encompassed or nothing.”

Nicholls said the sector had to work together to make sure there was “one song but many voices singing it”.

McClarkin added: “We need to do everything we can to educate people – we’re a big engine to fire up the economy.”

In terms of speaking out and criticising politicians, Kill said: “I’m probably the one that’s upset the most at people”. He was taught by a special advisor that “MPs have got rubber necks”.

He continued: “You have to be direct but respectful and not personal. The collective strength is in the people we represent”.

For instance, the NTIA has got more data and case studies than it ever had in the pandemic.

Political relationships

For Nicholls, it’s about making sure you’ve got the right message and right voice fronted in the right way at the right time.

She takes a commercial approach to it. You want to be in the room, not shouting in the press, before that decision gets made, she said.

She explained that you discuss what the mutual objective is, then say ‘let’s work towards the best way of achieving that’. She has an iron fist and velvet glove: “I can hit them nicely but I can hit them hard too.”

She added: “You pick you battles wisely, but you pick them, you stand your ground, and you fight them.”

Richardson speaks to politicians from a place of statistics and education, and McClarkin has been a politician before so sees both sides.

She explained that sometimes the tough decisions are had behind closed doors, and the BBPA tries to manage those relationships as best as it can.

It can’t get it right all the time, and not all members will always be happy, but it comes from a passion for the industry, she added.

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