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  • Writer's pictureFarah Benis

60,000 At Wembley But 250 In The Pub: Double Standards?

The hospitality industry has traditionally been one of the biggest employers in the UK. Understandably, it has also suffered the most due to the events of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent safety restrictions. But could the government be doing more to support the sector?

In a pre-pandemic world, around 3.2 million people worked in the UK hospitality industry. Such trades contributed more than £59 billion to the UK economy in 2019. But as pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels were forced to close, or operate at severely reduced capacity, hospitality has been plunged into crisis. A crisis in which it remains deeply entrenched.

Hospitality Hit Hardest Of course, everyone is struggling. At the end of 2020, the UK unemployment rate had jumped by almost 5% compared to pre-pandemic numbers. More than 800,000 people in the UK have been left unemployed by the pandemic. But according to the Office for National Statistics, hospitality was responsible for more than a third of those job losses.

While other sectors have also faced significant job losses and business closures, the hospitality industry has been subject to the strictest measures. Total closures in the early months of the pandemic. The introduction of extremely strict COVID-19 compliance measures. More lockdowns. It has all stacked up. The pain seems set to continue, thanks to what people in the sector feel is a lack of government leadership. The latest setback came earlier this month, with the decision to extend pandemic restrictions in England beyond June 21st. Those within the hospitality sector feel they are already at breaking point and have had enough. Last week, almost 50 different companies from the sector wrote a joint appeal to the Prime Minister.

Legal Action The open letter carries the threat of legal action, should the newly-proposed July 19th reopening date be extended further. Greater Manchester's Night Time Economy adviser Sacha Lord is the most prominent signatory on the letter, which bemoans "the repeated closures and reopenings, the ongoing lack of certainty, draconian social distancing measures and the illogical rules implemented and then removed."

The letter also highlights the "illogical and arbitrary" nature of the COVID-19 restrictions, which "demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of how their various sectors function". This lack of logic is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating elements of the saga. It feels as if there is a double standard, with the hospitality sector usually on the wrong end of things.

And the frustration continues to grow. Allan Henderson, director of the McGinty's group which runs a string of pubs, restaurants and bars in Scotland, accused the Scottish government of "scapegoating" the UK's hospitality sector.

"It is the one industry again that has been scapegoated. There are restrictions which are unnecessary. We keep getting told it's based on data rather than dates, but when they don't have the data they still pick on our industry."

Preferential Treatment For Football? You can certainly see his point of view. Just this week, news broke that the final of this year's European Championships, due to take place at Wembley Stadium on July 11th, will see an attendance of up to 60,000 fans (75% capacity). The game will be the largest gathering for a sporting event in the UK for 15 months.

Not to mention the 2,500 UEFA and FIFA officials, as well as other politicians and delegates, who will be allowed to enter the UK for the final. With a proposed 2,000 foreign supporters too, 4,500 people will be able to enter the country without needing to comply with quarantine regulations. Let's not pretend that these people will simply sit around in their hotel rooms when not attending the game.

There remains a 50% cap on the capacity of pubs and other indoor venues. That means a maximum of 250 people in a pub, but Wembley stadium can host a 60,000 crowd during the same period. Not to mention the thousands of people flying in from who knows where for the match, without isolating. It makes no sense.

Double Standards Why does this double standard exist? It is still against the law to open a nightclub. Pilot re-openings have taken place, but the government seems unwilling to share the results. Why are festivals cancelled as potential health risks, but we can host the latter stages of a major football tournament? Arbitrary indeed. The UK hospitality industry saw a fifth of its employees lose their jobs in 2020. That's around 660,000 redundancies. This four week COVID-19 roadmap extension is predicted to cost the sector a further £3 billion. But the government has already said there will be no further support for businesses. Furlough and rates relief schemes will not apply during this period.

There has never been a bigger need for the government to provide a clear and decisive strategy. Football may be coming home, but without support for the hospitality industry, a few economic chickens may be tagging along for the ride.


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