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Insider: No Budget for change

This week saw an unprecedented level of rage from the normally hospitable folk of the hospitality sector in the UK, as the government underlined Boris Johnson’s ‘f*ck business’ comment by taking the Budget and proving that, indeed, hotels could go and f*ck themselves. Chancellor Rishi Sunak used fancier words of course, that’s why he’s there, but the total level of assistance that the sector will be getting in these hairy times is covering two weeks’ statutory sick pay and a year off from paying business rates for properties with a rateable value of up to £51,000. Happy times for SMEs – many of whom already enjoyed a number of tax breaks – but meaningless to anyone larger.

One could see this as part of the continuation of Theresa May’s hostile environment strategy, which dealt with the tricky issue of overstaffing at hotels very effectively. Johnson then piled in with Brexit, followed by an immigration policy seemingly designed to prevent anyone not born in Surrey from working within 10 miles of a hotel. One doesn’t want to be paranoid, but really, what does the Conservative Party have against the hospitality sector? There was that incident with David Cameron and the pig, but need that taint a whole market?

Choice comments after the Budget included HVS’s Russell Kett commenting that he didn’t want to go back to the 1990s, HOSPA’s Jane Pendlebury saying that there was “nothing” in the Budget for larger businesses and Collier’s John Webber complaining that “the silent majority is side-lined yet again”. It is this silence that we need to end.

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The UK hospitality sector accounted for 3.2 million jobs through direct employment in 2017 and 2.8 million indirectly, with £72bn of gross value added directly and £86bn indirectly. With this Budget, the government has seemingly decided it can live without this.

Johnson has made a big play of the UK being open for business post-Brexit, but if you were a global operator, would you be tempted? The vulture funds are circling, waiting to gnaw at the distress, but for anyone wanting an operating business, the effort may well outweigh the reward.

But away from the UK and to the EU and sing hosanna, for Accor has described itself as ‘agile’ which can mean only one thing; a glorious return to the deal-making days of yore and how this beleaguered industry needs the type of lift only an Accor buying spree can deliver. What will they buy? Will we understand why they bought it? Will it save the company from being broken up? Will it keep Sébastien Bazin in a job? We hear rumours around Rotana and a move into distribution and it makes our little hearts glad to know that there will some good news – and bargains aplenty – in the coming months.

What, no mention of COVID-19 I hear you say? Unlike some, this hack is not one for ignoring the experts and I defer to this week’s Inner Circle columnists. Take it away the two Thomases: Thomas Page, Global Head of Hotels and Leisure, CMS and Thomas Emanuel, director, STR.

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