Clos­ing time

Min­is­ters are clue­less about hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor’s im­por­tance to the econ­omy

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - Jeremy Warner

Sup­posed ju­di­cial over­reach has come in for a lot of stick in re­cent years, not least when the Supreme Court ruled that gov­ern­ment at­tempts to pro­rogue Par­lia­ment were un­law­ful, prompt­ing some Brexit cam­paign­ers to la­bel its judges “en­e­mies of the peo­ple”.

But much of the time, the courts do us all a favour in call­ing the ex­ec­u­tive to ac­count. Par­lia­ment can­not al­ways be re­lied on to do the same. That’s par­tic­u­larly the case at the mo­ment, when thanks to Covid re­stric­tions we don’t have a prop­erly func­tion­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive assem­bly.

Out­side in­creas­ingly ex­as­per­ated Tele­graph colum­nists and their read­ers, the sham­bles of the Gov­ern­ment’s Covid re­sponse goes sub­stan­tially un­chal­lenged, with a cowed BBC, like some Soviet era pro­pa­ganda ma­chine, only too will­ing – pre­sum­ably with one eye on the threat to the li­cence fee – to feed the un­hinged non­senses of gov­ern­mentspon­sored hys­te­ria.

That’s why the fast dis­ap­pear­ing hos­pi­tal­ity, entertainm­ent, re­tail and sports sec­tors need ur­gently to seek a ju­di­cial re­view of the Gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach. For many firms, the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin was Boris John­son’s wholly un­nec­es­sary warn­ing that re­newed re­stric­tions could last for six months. If it were pos­si­ble just to moth­ball un­til the mad­ness sub­sides, they would, but most land­lords would rather bankrupt their ten­ants than forgo rental pay­ments. They must ei­ther con­tinue rack­ing up ru­inous losses or liq­ui­date.

Just as ter­mi­nal for large parts of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor is the 10pm cur­few. Un­til we learn the ghastly Amer­i­can habit of din­ing at 5pm, which is ab­hor­rent to Euro­pean mores and in any case in­com­pat­i­ble with most peo­ple’s work­ing lives, this pretty much sounds the death knell of the sec­ond sit­ting, to­gether with the vi­a­bil­ity of many pubs and restau­rants, al­ready strug­gling with the lim­i­ta­tions of so­cial dis­tanc­ing, the rule of six, re­vived work from home mes­sag­ing, and re­newed lo­cal lock­downs.

What’s so galling about the cur­few is that no re­motely plau­si­ble jus­ti­fi­ca­tion has yet been ad­vanced. The lat­est surge in in­fec­tions is not down to hostel­ries, which have been largely com­pli­ant with so­cial dis­tanc­ing in­struc­tions, but is in homes and hos­pi­tals, the for­mer of which have acted as a spillover for cus­tomers forced out of the pubs early into less safe en­vi­ron­ments so as to carry on drink­ing. From the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, Andy Burn­ham, the Manch­ester mayor, sug­gests ban­ning the sale of booze by re­tail­ers from 9pm on­wards to pre­vent de­ter­mined drinkers from load­ing up af­ter be­ing booted out of the pubs. One mad­ness breeds an­other.

As for hos­pi­tals, why are we again wor­ry­ing about over­whelm­ing them? The cor­rect strat­egy is surely to have them treat other ill­nesses nor­mally and con­fine Covid pa­tients to spe­cial­ist cen­tres such as Lon­don’s now moth­balled Nightin­gale. This ap­proach has worked well in China, both as a way of quar­an­tin­ing Covid spread­ers and treat­ing suf­fer­ers.

Min­is­ters and civil ser­vants plainly have nei­ther a clue how the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor works, nor its im­por­tance to the econ­omy. Hos­pi­tal­ity is a fall back and sup­port for all kinds of creative and ed­u­ca­tional in­dus­tries, not just in terms of sus­te­nance, but as a source of tem­po­rary or part-time work for strug­gling stu­dents, mu­si­cians, ac­tors and other forms of in­se­cure em­ploy­ment.

There are some fast-grow­ing al­ter­na­tives, to be sure, home de­liv­ery be­ing the most ob­vi­ous ben­e­fi­ciary of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor’s de­fen­es­tra­tion. But is there not some­thing morally rep­re­hen­si­ble in the idea that those forced out of hos­pi­tal­ity and entertainm­ent into de­liv­ery jobs should put their lives at greater risk so that the home work­ing mid­dle classes can be put at lower risk?

Mean­while, the pub­lic sec­tor – about a fifth of the work­force – sails blissfully on with­out im­ped­i­ment to ei­ther jobs or in­come. Apartheid in em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tion is again fast be­com­ing the or­der of the day. It’s all very well mak­ing hos­pi­tal­ity bear the brunt of the pain, but where’s the com­pen­sa­tion for forced clo­sure, com­men­su­rate with the pro­tec­tions of­fered to pub­lic sec­tor work­ers?

The end of the fur­loughed work­ers ini­tia­tive, and its re­place­ment with a less gen­er­ous Jobs Sup­port Scheme, only makes sense for an econ­omy where lock­down is be­ing eased.

As long as the econ­omy was grad­u­ally open­ing up again, there was plainly some merit in com­pa­nies bring­ing work­ers back on the re­duced hours ba­sis the scheme is meant to en­cour­age. If there are no jobs for them to come back to it just doesn’t work. In many cases, it will cost firms more to em­ploy two peo­ple part time than one full time.

As on much else to do with the Covid re­sponse, the pol­icy wasn’t prop­erly thought through. Like­wise with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, trum­peted as a great suc­cess by the Gov­ern­ment when it was op­er­at­ing. But now that re­stric­tions are be­ing im­posed anew, it turns out to have been a com­plete waste of money; its last­ing im­pact is pre­cisely zero.

To be fair, even the most sure footed and com­pe­tent of gov­ern­ments would have strug­gled with the chal­lenges of Covid. The densely pop­u­lated, ser­vice-ori­en­tated na­ture of the UK, to­gether with the high lev­els of so­cial and fam­ily con­tact among some eth­nic mi­nori­ties, may have made it par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to the virus.

There is no hid­ing from the grim re­al­ity; by the look of it, the UK is go­ing to end up with both the worst per capita death rate and worst hit to the econ­omy of any in­dus­tri­alised na­tion. All those re­stric­tions seem to have prof­ited us noth­ing.

Through­out it all, the Prime Min­is­ter has ap­peared clue­less and paral­ysed by events. Sorry to say, but even the hap­less – though dili­gent – Theresa May would have been bet­ter suited to the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges of this cri­sis. A mass vac­ci­na­tion pro­gramme is at least a year away, and even then we can­not be sure of its ef­fi­cacy. Yet if we carry on like this, there will by then be no econ­omy left to re­vive.

‘The pub­lic sec­tor sails on with­out im­ped­i­ment to jobs or in­come. Apartheid in em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tion is the or­der of the day’

The pedes­tri­anised Union Street in Dundee, Scotland. But for many high street busi­nesses, the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin was the PM’s warn­ing that re­newed re­stric­tions could last for six months

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