- October 12, 2021
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Clive Chesser, chief executive of Punch Pubs, told Sky News’s Big Ideas Live event that the “celebratory” tone of the Conservative Party conference last week did not match the reality facing businesses.
Business reporter @JPFordRojas
Tuesday 12 October 2021 17:54, UK
COVID-19 is not in the “rear view mirror” for Britain’s hospitality sector and it still has symptoms that are “very real”, a leading pubs boss has told Sky News.
Clive Chesser, chief executive of Punch Pubs, spoke about the challenges facing the sector at a discussion on the UK’s recovery with leaders from across the economy at Sky’s Big Ideas Live event.
Mr Chesser said the “celebratory” tone of the prime minister’s speech to the Conservative Party conference last week did not match the reality facing hospitality businesses.
He was speaking during a detailed discussion on jobs at the Sky News event, where topics ranged from training and inflation to taxes and investment.
Mr Chesser spoke about how hospitality was seeing an uneven recovery across the country, with staycation hotspots such as the southwest of England bouncing back strongly over the summer but others seeing a slower upturn.
He also spoke of “frustration” about not being able to meet demand at times.
“We’ve got pubs that are struggling to find the staff that we need,” he said.
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Meanwhile, he added a “huge amount of costs” are being added and absorbing those without passing them on to customers was “getting more difficult”.
However, Mr Chesser, whose business includes 1,300 pubs across the UK that employ 20,000 people, added that despite the “fragile” picture in places, “the underlying position is one of optimism”.
But, he added: “We need to continue to get the support from government through the COVID pandemic beyond the current measures that are in place and longer term and to have a real transition plan.
“I thought that the tone of the conference last week and the prime minister’s speech felt quite celebratory as if COVID is now in the rear view mirror and it’s been and gone.
“That is not how it feels.”
He echoed a previously-used analogy that the industry was suffering from “long COVID”.
“Fundamentally we’re back up and running, we’re out of hospital, we’re healthy, we’re open, but we’ve still got some symptoms that are very real and we need the support from government, for our sector, in particular,” he said.
He called for a VAT cut during the pandemic to be extended, help with beer duty, and business rates reform.
Lord Bilimoria, president of the CBI, echoed the call for continued support following on from the huge taxpayer sums to protect the economy during the pandemic.
“Government mustn’t give up now,” he said.
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“Government must work with business to support the recovery so we can have that growth.”
The peer – founder of Cobra beer – also emphasised the need for high skills, high investment and high productivity alongside high wages.
“You can say you want high wages but unless you have all the other things it is going to lead to high inflation,” he said.
The discussion also turned to the issue of automation.
Carl Ennis, boss of industrial firm Siemens UK, which employs 8,700 people, pointed to the importance of adapting automation in order to boost productivity.
Alveena Malik, chief executive of One Million Mentors – which matches up young people with mentors from business – highlighted the importance of preparing people for the world of work from when they are in school.
She said: “What we need is…a collective effort like we have never seen in the UK before, which is bringing business into schools and supporting young people alongside education.”
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