Coronavirus will touch all our lives, not least those working in the tourism, events and hospitality industry. I have been contacted by many people working in Bristol’s hotels, tourist sites, theatres, bars, restaurants, clubs and festivals, who are desperately worried about how the virus will affect their lives and livelihoods.
So far, the government has failed to ban events or order the closure of pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses. At the same time, the government is instructing people not to attend these public places. This puts hospitality businesses in an impossible position when it comes to claiming on their insurance.
Even if the government were to order events to be cancelled, this would not guarantee insurance companies would pay up. I am particularly concerned that insurance companies are insisting that standard business interruption cover – which a majority of firms purchase – does not include forced closure by authorities. This is unacceptable as this is exactly why people and businesses pay for insurance. I raised this point on the BBC2 programme Politics Live yesterday and will continue to question ministers on this.
Beyond insurance, many people will be affected financially, by both social distancing measures and the long-term hit on the economy. This includes bar staff, door staff, delivery drivers and many others who are on zero-hours contracts. As a matter of priority, the state must support the millions of people who are at financial risk due to the COVID-19 crisis. The future of these businesses, their workers, independent contractors and the many supply chains are dependent on a clear statement of support from the government.
Clarity on these matters must come as soon as possible. Every day that the government refuses to give firm statements of support for all workers, as they have in many other European countries, the crisis gets worse. I will continue to push the government for this support and scrutinise new measures as they are announced. My test will be: Does this truly help all businesses and people of Bristol West?
There are many other ways that local and national government could help hospitality businesses in this situation. To name one idea, more flexible licensing arrangements could help, particularly when it comes to events which may need to be postponed or altered. My team is in contact with Bristol City Council to discuss such proposals.
I am compiling a list of concerns, questions and challenges businesses are sending me and I will put these to the government. If you have a business in Bristol West which will be affected, however small, please get in touch.
It is becoming increasingly clear that our way of life is going to change drastically over the next few months. The way we spend our leisure time may change the most. Yet I am optimistic that we can get through this stronger. If anyone has the creativity to adapt, the endlessly creative people working in tourism, arts and hospitality must be well placed.
But in this effort we will need to work together more than ever. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.