With an estimated worth of £46 billion, the UK’s hospitality sector employs 5.5 million people directly and indirectly and is the fourth largest industry in the UK
“And yet it is very clear that when it comes to having a voice within government, our sector drops between a number of government departments at the moment. So there’s the ‘Department for Culture and Media’ but it also sits within the’ Business, Energy and Industry’ department as well as other areas.
“What tends to happen when you are speaking to government advisors, is that it becomes very clear they only have one part of the picture – they don’t have the full story,” explained Robin, who is Chairman and CEO of the Pig Hotels group and the five star Limewood Hotel in the New Forest.
Since writing to the Prime Minister at the start of the pandemic to voice his concerns, Robin was invited to join the PM on a Zoom call and participate in an information exchange group – and he is still involved in weekly discussions.
Described by The Caterer as the UK’s second most powerful hotelier, Robin admitted he wasn’t particularly comfortable to find himself wading into the political discourse but needs must.
“I do think they have had an enormously difficult job but to a large extent a great deal of what the sector has asked for has actually happened. We have got the extension of furlough for the industry, a reduction of VAT and of course the original 2m distance was cut to 1m. There is a desire to do the right thing but there have been mistakes made along the way. The 10pm curfew was clearly put in as a kind of sop to appease opposing factions within government but they didn’t understand the nuance and ramifications of their action.”
While he has been happy to feed into the discussions around a way forward, Robin is clear he has no political pretensions himself.
“I’m an armchair government minister like we all are but I am the worst sort of committee person. I’m not really built for it – I have no political desires.
“I have long been a supporter of the fact we should have a minister for tourism and hospitality. We are a very small island and when you go to the Caribbean you find the Minister for Tourism is the second most important person after the Prime Minister.
“It has been very well documented over the post war years that there has been a steady decline in more traditional industries and yet hospitality has plenty of growth left in it. In the previous 45 years I have never heard the word hospitality uttered by a politician but now you can’t stop people talking about it,” he said.
Recent news of the success scientists are seeing with the development of a vaccine, has given Robin cause for optimism and he is looking at mid 2021 for the full effects to start being felt. But he still has concerns for the ripples that have yet to be absorbed from the pandemic.
“We still have the rent issue hanging over us. An awful lot of restaurants, bars and clubs work to a lease model. While staff have been supported through furlough payments, rents have been accruing and no solution has been found by the government to intervene. This will be a major problem and that’s what will lead to more businesses having to fold,” he said.
With just under 40,000 signatures collected so far, the petition still has a way to go and Robin is keen for more young people to get involved.
“We need to appeal to more youngsters and I am having a zoom meeting with our trainees to see how we can change the narrative and attract more signatures by using different platforms,” he added.
If you would like to show your support for the hospitality industry, you can sign the petition here