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