Following the publication of the government’s voluntary rent code of practice last week – considered as little more than a token gesture by many – UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls has reassured operators that the code is just the starting point for further rent support.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Nicholls acknowledged that despite a few changes having been made to strengthen the code, “it’s far from perfect,” but said that it was only “the start of a process, not the end.”

Although large numbers of hospitality operators will be allowed to reopen on 4 July by law, faced with the prospect of having to pay accumulated rental debt upon reopening, the proposed date will not be a viable option for many.

Aware of this reality, Nicholls said that with the code as a starting point, she is optimistic that the next week or so will provide an opportunity to lobby government for sector-specific, meaningful, intervention on rent for those industries forced to close in March.

“This is a code for homeowners and all commercial property,” she explained. “And I think it’s part of the parcel of the government trying to flush out some of the other parts of the economy that are asking for help on rent when there’s no real need for it.”

“The government was overwhelmed by the rest of the economy jumping on to what were hospitality-specific issues, but now that we’re coming out of that, they might look again at hospitality and tourism-specific interventions to provide the additional support we need.”

Although the Chancellor’s upcoming 8 July announcement is set to focus on economy-wide revival, Nicholls said that the trade body’s lobbying efforts leading up to this date will emphasise hospitality’s unique position of first in and last out of the crisis.

Alongside various other trade bodies and the British Retail Consortium, UK Hospitality will be putting a proposal to the Treasury suggesting how the rental code could be used to unlock funding for rental debts, as well as how it could introduce a “space furlough.”

Other support measures being discussed include an extension of the business rates holiday to April 2022, a tourism VAT cut, and a marketing campaign to encourage consumers to feel confident returning to hospitality spaces.

“It’ll be quite challenging for us as a sector to be just looking at reopening while the rest of the economy is looking at revival,” she said. “But all the conversations we’ve had with the Chancellor have been very positive.

“It’s all about smoothing the path. The government needs to smooth it out for hospitality to avoid creating further areas where you’ve got pinch points and redundancies might follow.

“I’m confident that we will get additional sector-specific support.”