United We Stand

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls on the Coronavirus crisis

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls on the Coronavirus crisis

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With most of the hospitality sector now on lockdown, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls assesses the Government's response to the Coronavirus crisis so far

You’ve put questions to the government on its wage relief - what answers have you received so far? 

We got the much-needed confirmation that the Government will roll-out a Job Retention Scheme providing grants to cover 80% of wages. We had been pushing the Government very hard on this and it was absolutely vital that support was provided to ensure that employees would still receive money and businesses supported. We are still awaiting detail on the scheme, which we will, obviously, be cascading to our members and anyone who signs up to our daily alert. The Government has responded rapidly and helpfully, and we do understand that with such a fast-moving, emergency situation, it’s always going to be a matter of making general policy and filling in the gaps as and when questions arise. 

What are the key things that industry needs more clarity on in terms of its job retention scheme, business loans, grants – when will things become clearer? 

We would like clarity on just how fast businesses will be able to access the money that has been earmarked for them. Ringfencing money for businesses is no use if there is a delay in it getting through to where it is needed. The crisis has developed so rapidly that businesses need to be able to access support without delay. It is also crucial that there is clarity around furlough periods: for example, how will employees risk their support from Government if they take other paid roles during their furlough? 

How important to the sector is getting a lease forfeiture moratorium?  

It is hugely important. It is going to mean life or death for some businesses. The sector has effectively ceased to operate so there is no cash coming into businesses. If they are still expected to pay rents, then these businesses have no chance of survival. 

What are the key things that you and UK Hospitality are still pushing the government to act on? 

Our immediate focus is about delivery of those things already committed to and provided by Government, which have been hugely welcome but need to hit operators as soon as possible in order to safeguard jobs and businesses. Also, many of these provisions are for set periods and will fall under review before long, so we need to keep our finger on the pulse, knowing what problems operators are having, and horizon-scanning for potential new issues and challenges, so that Government can act with more notice and breathing space in due course. 

How would you rate the Government’s response in terms of the hospitality sector so far? 

The response has been positive from the Government. It has listened to us and acknowledged the scale of the problem that the country is facing and acted swiftly to mitigate the impacts. It recognised the unique impacts and urgency faced by our sector, as a provider of social spaces, and acted accordingly. But we are in virgin territory here and, of course, there were hiccups. The initial recommendation that businesses close, without mandatory closures, did cause some confusion, in particular when some businesses looked to claim insurance. Since then, though, the Government response has been rapid and positive for the sector. 

How effective do you think the announced measures will be in helping safeguard jobs and also the hospitality industry?

Time will tell. We have already seen significant numbers of jobs lost already, and the likelihood that more will be compromised. There have been casualties and there will probably be more. However, the safeguards introduced have given many businesses a fighting chance of survival over the coming months and given employees some security as they wait out the crisis. We are hopeful that once the crisis has passed, however long that may take, the sector should be in a decent position to pick up from where it left off and play a vital role in bringing jobs and investment back to communities. 

What more could Government realistically do to further help the sector?

Listen now to inform for future provisions in future weeks and months. We are all more in the swing of how swiftly the conversations for legislations, reliefs and provisions need to be. Listening to us and continuing to afford our sector the special provisions it needs to protect millions of jobs and thousands of businesses is all we can reasonably ask at this stage.

For updated guidance on the hospitality sector, follow Kate Nicholls on Twitter @UKHospKate or visit its website



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