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Liberal Democrats

F33: Supporting Hospitality, Retail and Leisure in the Face of Omicron

Motion as Amended Passed by Conference

Proposed by: 10 members

Mover: Sarah Olney MP (Spokesperson for Business).

Summation: To be announced.

Conference believes that:

  1. Small businesses across a range of sectors continue to be impacted by the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, which has been made worse by the new Omicron variant.
  2. Supporting business and especially small business during the Covid-19 pandemic is essential for the UK’s economic recovery.
  3. The hospitality, retail and leisure sectors are among the most exposed to the unpredictable effects of the pandemic and require special attention from the Government.
  4. Hospitality, retail and leisure are sectors of strategic importance, contributing massively to UK jobs and GDP, and forming the core of our local communities.
  5. Creating a sense of certainty and security among all businesses and workers during the pandemic requires clear messages and a cohesive strategy from Government.

Conference notes with concern that:

  1. Small businesses are already in a difficult position after a 21-monthlong pandemic, with one in three small employers now considering major staff cuts by the middle of 2022.
  2. The Omicron variant and the Conservative Government’s protections damaged consumer confidence, leaving hospitality with a 40% drop in sales over the Christmas period compared to 2019.
  3. This risks longer-term damage to hospitality as the Christmas period is essential for hospitality, accounting for about a quarter of the sector’s annual revenue, according to UK Hospitality.
  4. Low consumer confidence and decreased footfall in high streets and town centres had a huge impact on the retail sector, wiping nearly 4% of sales compared to the month before.
  5. Omicron and Plan B have hit businesses in the culture sector during a key trading period, with the Society of Independent Theatres reporting Christmas bookings down by 20% to 50%.
  6. Four in five businesses depending on inbound travel and tourism – such as tour operators, accommodation providers and attractions – reported Christmas cancellations due to new travel restrictions.
  7. Omicron is exacerbating the effects of the ongoing staff shortage crisis, with hospitality businesses reporting mass staff absences due to Covid infections and self-isolation requirements.
  8. The Government didn’t reopen the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme until the end of December, by which time many businesses were already struggling with staff absences; and workers earning less than £120 per week still don’t qualify for SSP.
  9. The Government issued conflicting health advice, further damaging consumer confidence; allowed a situation where trading restrictions were effectively in place without any business support; was late in introducing new support; eventually made available just £1bn which fails to match the disruption caused by Omicron and Plan B; and has published no long-term economic plan to create certainty and security.
  10. Government failures opened previous Covid support to significant levels of fraud, with the British Business Bank estimating that 11% of emergency loan applications were fraudulent; and the Treasury writing off £4.3 billion of the £5.8bn of Covid grants though to have been claimed fraudulently or in error.

Conference reaffirms Liberal Democrat commitments to:

  1. Provide financial assistance to small businesses that experienced loss of revenue due to Coronavirus restrictions on their trading capacity or ability to stay open.
  2. Fix the broken Kickstart scheme and develop a strategy to tackle unemployment among young people from a black and ethnic minority background.
  3. Develop a long-term economic strategy, setting out how the UK will invest in new industries, jobs and training, that will create a fairer, greener, more regionally balanced economy after the pandemic.
  4. Raising Statutory Sick Pay and expanding it to the two million workers earning less than £120 a week.

Conference calls on the Government to:

  1. Reinstate the emergency 5% rate of VAT for hospitality, accommodation and attractions, at least through June 2022.
  2. Reintroduce 100% business rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, at least through June 2022.
  3. Urgently dispatch the £1.5bn Business Rates Relief fund for firms that don’t qualify for full business rates relief – to support those in the hospitality and retail supply chains that will be indirectly impacted by Omicron.
  4. Consult with businesses in the culture, travel and tourism sectors about the impact of Omicron and Plan B, to determine what further tailored support is necessary.
  5. Maintain the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme at least until the end of 2022, to support SME employers with the cost of SSP for workers that are ill with Covid.
  6. Explore innovative solutions to make hospitality, retail and entertainment spaces safer, such as supporting businesses with the installation of ventilation equipment.
  7. Take serious actions to help firms with crippling staff shortages, including fixing the kickstart scheme, boosting apprenticeships in the worst-affected sectors, and removing arbitrary salary thresholds for foreign workers.
  8. Set out clear guidance on which activities are considered safe and which aren’t in light of Omicron, providing all necessary support to the affected businesses; and commit that any additional restrictions will come with commensurate support, such as the targeted reintroduction of the furlough scheme.
  9. Set out a long-term economic strategy on supporting businesses through the pandemic and growing the economy beyond that.
  10. Take serious action to crack down on emergency loan fraud and furlough fraud, and invest in HMRC’s capacity, in order to recoup as much misallocated money as possible.
  11. Develop and publish via the National Risk Register an assessment of the potential impact of future crises on business (for example, natural disasters and cyber-attacks), as well as relevant emergency response strategies.
  12. Publish a ‘good practice’ report on lessons learned from pandemic support schemes, to assist in quickly rolling out future support whilst minimising errors, fraud and the exclusion of key groups such as the self-employed.

Conference further calls on the Government to fix the broken Statutory Sick Pay system by:

  1. Making SSP available to the estimated two million workers earning less than £120 per week.
  2. . Increasing the rate of SSP so it’s at least equivalent to the national minimum wage, allowing someone over 23 working seven hours a day to claim £62.37 per day (pro rata) rather than the current £19.27.
  3. Making SSP available from the first day of missing work rather than the fourth.
  4. Exploring how to support the smallest employers with SSP expenses.

Applicability: Federal; except b) and c) (lines 69–74), which are England only.

Mover: 7 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes.

For eligibility and procedure for speaking in this debate, see page 9. To submit a speaker’s card go to: www.libdems.org.uk/speakers-card.

The deadline for amendments to this motion is 13.00, Monday 28 February; see page 12. Amendments selected for debate will be published in the Conference Extra and Sunday Conference Daily updates to the Conference Agenda.

The deadline for requests for separate votes is 09.00 Saturday 12 March; see page 9.

Amendment One - Passed

Submitted by: Young Liberals

Mover: Janey Little.

Summation: to be announced.

After G. (line 37), insert:

H. Research by Europe Economics commissioned by the Campaign for Real Ale shows that there would be significant increases in sales and jobs as a result of introducing a preferential rate of Beer Duty for draught beer, helping to save our pubs.

After g) (line 87), insert:

h) Introduce preferential duty rates for draught beer.