UKHospitality: Data not dates

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, call for a reopening of sector come 19th July...

The announcement of the delay of the final easing of restrictions was a bitter pill to swallow for the sector. My previous column highlighted the importance of the rapid easing of restrictions to the contract catering sector and in particular the return of workers to offices and live events.

The consequences of this decision from government are huge for the sector and the wider economy. We are still pushing ministers for further support in light of this delay and keeping the pressure on 19th July  being delivered and seeing a full and final lifting of restrictions.

The findings recently revealed from the Events Research Programme following several test events such as the BRITS (which I had the good fortune and pleasure of attending) are extremely encouraging and further ammunition to hold the government to its stated roadmap. ‘Data not dates’ has been their consistent line – and the findings that no widespread outbreaks occurred as a result of these test events must give the government confidence to proceed with the dropping of all restrictions this month.

Understandably, for many people the findings will also cause a degree of frustration, as they have in many ways confirmed what we already knew and have been repeating since the summer of 2020: that venues across the hospitality sector have put in place world-leading Covid-secure protocols to create safe and enjoyable experiences for customers. It also highlights again how businesses that are reliant on events have been hit disproportionately hard by the restrictions in place on operating venues.

However, with the continued success of the vaccination programme and the data continuing to suggest that the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths has been severely weakened, if not ultimately broken, we are close to leaving this crisis behind. The sector must use the results of the programme not just to communicate to government but also to consumers. Our recovery will not happen overnight as there will remain a significant proportion of the population that is likely to be hesitant or concerned about attending live events, or returning to their workplaces or other public spaces and venues. Therefore, we need to work together, in partnership with government, and use the opportunity to reassure those still unsure that it is safe to return.

The sense of caution that we’ve seen throughout this pandemic has been understandable and unsurprising. However, if we are to bounce back strongly and bring light and colour back into people’s lives, then the messaging must change so that the government enables our sector to recover. We need thriving cultural, leisure and sporting venues; we need workers to return to their workplaces; and we need students back at college and university. Life must now get back to normal.

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