What a year by Kate Nicholls

20th December 2019

What a year by Kate Nicholls

What a year it has been – 2019 will be remembered for many things, from the highs of the rugby and cricket to lows of unprecedented economic turbulence and, above all, the Brexit saga.

We have had to navigate an unexpected and challenging landscape so it has never been more important to speak with one clear, loud, united voice. This time last year I wrote a Friday Opinion about the impact of UKHospitality’s creation on our sector’s relationship with government and the work we were doing to help politicians and the media understand our economic, social and cultural contribution. Creating a single, united voice representing the whole sector has not only given us a seat at the table but also ensured our voice has been listened to – and we have seen real and meaningful action in response.

This year has been transformational as hospitality joined the five other major industrial sectors in briefings with the prime minister and chancellor. We have had ten meetings with Number 10; 75 ministerial meetings pressing for the change we need to thrive; taken part in 52 government working groups including tourism and food and drink councils to shape the political environment in which we operate; given evidence to 11 select committees and all-party groups on issues as diverse as business rates, tourism tax, allergens, seaside regeneration, plastics and duty – all on top of our weekly Brexit planning meetings. We have been in the thick of it.

Never have those hard yards been more important than this general election year. We secured some big wins, saving the sector more than £3.2bn in costs it would have had to find if ministers had not heard and, crucially, listened. We also achieved all the ambitions we set out at the start of the year – a future Brexit agreement and migration policy that will keep our teams supported, prices low and choice for consumers; a tax regime that promotes productivity and competitiveness and incentivises investment in people and property; and an industrial strategy that put hospitality front and centre in the drive for growth, business support and investment.

The new government was elected on a manifesto that answered many of our key asks – root and branch reform of business rates, additional support for high-street hospitality, a cut in employment taxes and reform of NICs, action to tackle the digital disrupters and, most importantly, a fair migration regime for all skill levels. We look forward to working with ministers to deliver on their ambitious programme of investment and regeneration that was outlined in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

Our message to government? Unleash hospitality’s potential and you unleash the potential of local economies across the country. We are a world-class, world-beating sector of growth champions. We are outperforming the economy and investing in high streets and communities across the country. Our tourism sector attracts £27bn of foreign spend – an export earner that is larger than all food and drink exports put together and with significant growth potential. It gives us our social and cultural capital and sense of identity, our pubs and cafes create community hubs, our hotels are regenerating our seaside towns, and our tourist attractions are lifting and changing the face of many towns.

However, that success can’t be taken for granted. We can only continue to make that positive contribution if we tackle the regulatory costs and burdens that stand in our way. Our pledge to government – free us up to do what we do best and we’ll deliver our forecast 6% growth, 30,000 additional jobs and 200,000 apprenticeships.

Earlier this year we secured the government’s backing as an engine of economic growth and career of choice through our ground-breaking Tourism & Hospitality Sector Deal – only the tenth sector to achieve that. This is more than symbolic, it’s an explicit endorsement of the sector as a career of choice, delivering good-quality jobs at all skill levels. The importance of government backing for an industry-led, three-year careers and recruitment campaign and new in-work training to improve productivity cannot be overstated and can’t come a moment too soon.

All this is a powerful and vivid demonstration of our core message – that hospitality is a substantive force for good addressing the concerns and challenges we face as a society. Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year to all Propel readers from all of us at UKHospitality – and thank you for your continued support.

Kate Nicholls is chief executive of UKHospitality. This article is a version of her speech at this week’s UKHospitality Christmas lunch

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