Repeat after me. The Government is not our friend. It might like to think it still is, but it has proved far too unreliable, inconsistent and devious a companion for that.
Now that’s not to say, we shouldn’t perhaps try to be civil and ready to do business – but a lot more openness and honesty on our political leaders’ part needs to be forthcoming before trust with the hospitality sector is going to be restored.
If I had written that just a few weeks ago, I would have been labelled even more of a cynic than usual. Then the Eat Out to Help Out initiative was in full swing, and even now it would be churlish to argue that the scheme was anything other than a massive short-term fillip for the pub and restaurant sector.
Its objectives were to encourage and reassure the public that it was safe to go out again and to give the industry a financial leg-up. It succeeded, but then ministers pulled the rug, first partially with the rule-of-six and then completely with this latest hotchpotch of trading restrictions.
No matter how headline grabbing, for any marketing campaign to be classed a success it needs to demonstrate sustainable long-term benefits – it needs momentum. That has now all been lost, and the hospitality sector is left to see what can be salvaged from the wreckage.
And salvage something it must – it’s in its entrepreneurial nature. But it will have to do it alone. Depending on the Government is off the agenda. Do we really need to remind ourselves we are dealing with an administration that changes its mind overnight, turns a blind eye to its chums bending the rules (Barnard Castle is not going away), is happy to break the law itself, and fails to deliver on so many of its ‘world-beating’ promises.
It goes without saying that this week has been a colossal set-back for hospitality companies – and many more will now not make it. The business casualty list will only lengthen, with all that means for lost jobs and livelihoods.
On the political front we should not let Boris off the hook, and it was telling after all the weekend press speculation, when frustration among hospitality industry leaders began to spill over in torrents, how the push-back was delivered.
Oakman Inns’ chairman Peter Borg-Neal may have publicly accused health secretary Matt Hancock of ‘either deliberately or accidentally’ misleading the nation with his suggestion that pubs and restaurants were one of the key places of coronavirus transmission, but he hit back coolly and precisely, quoting back Public Health England’s own data.
Those figures, as we all know now, showed that in week 37 out of 729 new incidents reported, just 34 were linked to food outlet or restaurant settings, compared to 313 incidents in care homes, 193 from educational settings and 110 from workplaces. Pubs and restaurants are not the problem.
Other leaders, from Hugh Osmond to Simon Emeny to Jonathan Downey, followed up in similar fashion, using an armoury of reliable statistics to counter the bluster of ministers. They also called for proper parliamentary oversight of any new measures.
That doesn’t mean that Government shouldn’t feel the sector’s anger and bewilderment at the apparent randomness of its decision-making. It should.
It’s hard to resist throwing a few insults in these circumstances, as I have just proved above. But if the Government, and some of the leaders of our big cities like London, can’t be rational, the hospitality sector can be, continually marshalling facts and figures to counter these, and possibly future, arbitrary measures – and there’s plenty of hard data out there, not least from consumers’ regularly showing their confidence in the safety measures that Britain’s pubs and restaurants have implemented.
Yes, you can argue that approach hasn’t worked well so far, as 10pm closing still went ahead, but we’re in for a long haul. We have to keep challenging and giving others ammunition to use too.
It means not just demanding that our political leaders justify their actions, and to share with the public the data and calculations they are based on, but we should also ask for what it believes the industry and individual operators must do to get these restrictions lifted.
It may also mean polishing off all those old arguments we made back in the early summer to get the sector reopened, when I wrote in this very space: “Perhaps the ministers need reminding why licensed premises exist in the first place? They are licensed so they can be regulated to provide a safe and supervised environment for the sale and consumption of alcohol. At present it seems the public can drink anywhere but.” Looks like that will hold true again in coming weeks when the street parties break out.
We all know too well the damage that will be done to the industry, our urban centres and to individual lives, if we don’t keep up the pressure.
But leaders also need to focus on the day job. How to stay afloat and to keep teams and customers engaged and reassured just got a heap harder. How industry leaders are seen in their dealings with the media and the Government will be part of that, as if you needed reminding. Cool, calm, intelligent, rational, reassuring and in command of the data is not a bad look.
Peter Martin: Time for cool heads and hard data
Repeat after me. The Government is not our friend. It might like to think it still is, but it has proved far too unreliable, inconsistent and devious a companion for that. Now that’s not to say, we shouldn’t perhaps try to be civil and ready to do business – but a lot more openness and honesty on our political leaders’ part needs to be forthcoming before trust with the hospitality sector is going to be restored. If I had written that just a few weeks ago, I would have been labelled even more of a cynic than usual. Then the Eat Out to Help Out initiative was in full swing, and even now it would be churlish to argue that the scheme was anything other than a massive short-term fillip for the pub and restaurant sector.