What can business expect from Boris Johnson’s new administration, bolstered as it is by a solid majority and heading full tilt forwards Brexit?
There’s a nervousness in some quarters, reflected in the article in The Times at the start of the year that reported on business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s apparent plan to shelve weekly meeting with the five largest business groups, including the CBI and IoD in favour of a wider monthly meeting as the Government prepares to start trade deal negotiations.
In reality it looks like that will be good news for sectors like hospitality, which should increase its representation under such a plan. As UK Hospitality’s chief executive Kate Nicholls observed on Twitter: “Wider, broader, deeper engagement reflecting [the] make-up of the economy could be more effective…hospitality is [the] third largest employer, [a] key export earner and touches all consumers.”
As leader of the sector’s own trade body, Nicholls is its top advocate, on a seemingly endless round of broadcast and press interviews, as well as intelligently putting the case to ministers and Whitehall officials for more support for hospitality and leisure. Just follow her on Twitter to understand her work-rate.
One of the upsides of the long-running Brexit saga, particularly under the May Government, is that organisations like UK Hospitality have already won more access to Whitehall decision-makers. We will see if that actually increases.
How much this contact will influence Government thinking and policy also remains to be seen, as the priority so far appears to be to keep new Conservative voters in the North and Midlands onside so that they don’t defect in five years time.
Business rates reform is promised, but we have already seen an increase in the living wage, which I suggested would happen in my column last month.
While business owners will want Government to hear their representatives and act accordingly, they often have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved. So, perhaps the most valuable aspect of contact with Government is the regular, high-quality intelligence that Kate Nicholls and her team are able to bring back, forewarning of policy developments to give member companies a chance to prepare. That’s another reason for industry leaders to get involved and attend briefings, if that’s not a sales pitch.
To maximize influence requires at least two things: more active and visible involvement from business leaders to support campaigns, as Nicholls and her team can’t do it all; and to work with the grain of ministerial thinking.
The fact that the Johnson administration is looking beyond the South East could be good news for hospitality with its expected emphasis on regenerating struggling towns, and most vitally improving communications, especially rail links. Having lived until recently in a northern seaside resort for the best part of a decade, I wonder if it’s not already too late for some communities. If not, then it is going to be a very long haul to restore former glories. Lobbying for better road and rail infrastructure to allow people to live and work where they want will bring quicker returns.
On the leadership front, it can’t have escaped people’s notice that the National Farmers’ Union has gained many more headlines since Minette Batters, a working farmer from Wiltshire, became its president and leading voice. Front-line authenticity is a thing.
Of course, the hospitality sector already has its own high-profile personality in the shape of Wetherspoon’s outspoken chairman and founder Tim Martin.
He has very much ploughed his own pro-Brexit furrow in recent times, and he’s not to everyone’s taste. But encouraging him back in the tent may not be a bad move. His support for Brexit has always been about sovereignty, not restricting trade or the flow of labour, so there is common ground with the rest of the industry there – and he does appear to have influence.
But perhaps more important is the case that can be made that it wasn’t Workington man that won the election for the Tories, but Wetherspoon man. No not Tim himself, but the thousands of ordinary folk, a real cross-section of Britain, that can be found in his pubs up and down the country that likely decided to give Boris a chance and put their cross against the Conservative candidate.
As Kate Nicholls says the country’s pubs, restaurants, hotels and leisure attractions touch all consumers – they are where the public goes to relax and work. Perhaps that is the single biggest lever the sector has to coax Government in the right direction?
Why the Jamie saga will run and run
Talking of another high-profile face, Jamie Oliver is back in the news again – of course.
A report by KPMG has revealed that lenders and creditors are likely to lose most of the £80m owed to them following the UK collapse of his Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain last year.
This ought to be the end of what has been a sad episode for Jamie’s, its customers, its out-of-pocket suppliers and the market as a whole. It won’t be though, as the Jamie’s collapse has been seen as emblematic of a wider malaise in the casual dining world, and the bones will continue to be picked over.
There are many lessons to learn: it’s a complex and multi-layered story. For one thing, the branded restaurant market is far from being dead. New entrants continue to fill the gap left by Jamie’s and other big name concepts that have hit the buffers, by delivering new and exciting experiences - much in the way Jamie’s Italian once disrupted the sector.
The collapse was not just about outside market forces and legislative pressure, as it has been portrayed, but the failure of a brand to navigate changing times too.
What also irks many people is that Jamie himself has quickly bounced back, appearing on TV, in the newspapers, being lauded on Radio 4’s Food Programme and opening new restaurants away from Britain. He will continue to spark debate, and everyone will have a view.
Sad though the collapse is, it shouldn’t define the market. Like many entrepreneurs before him, Jamie Oliver took the risk to try something new. It may have ultimately failed, but the market is still a better place for having had his restaurants in it.
Hearing the voice of Wetherspon man
What can business expect from Boris Johnson’s new administration, bolstered as it is by a solid majority and heading full tilt forwards Brexit? There’s a nervousness in some quarters, reflected in reports on business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s apparent plan to shelve weekly meeting with the five largest business groups, in favour of a wider monthly meeting as the Government prepares to start trade deal negotiations. In reality it looks like that will be good news for sectors like hospitality, which should increase its representation under such a plan.