Your country needs you: to get out and eat out

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BY HOLLY WHITBREAD

Following the Chancellor’s inspired Summer Economic Update, I cannot wait to do my national duty and take up the offer of cut priced meals throughout August. After four months of home-cooked dinners, I am excited to eat out once again.

The ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme will see food and soft drinks in participating restaurants up to 50% cheaper on Mondays to Wednesdays during August, the Government will cover the other 50% of the bill and pay it back to the business within five days. There is no voucher required for the customer and the generous scheme will be available for restaurants, cafes, and pubs of all sizes. This is just one of the measures being put in place to incentivise people back to restaurants and the wider hospitality industry as we move out of lockdown. VAT will also drop from 20% to 5% for hospitality and tourism from 15 July 2020 to 12 January 2021, meaning it will be cheaper to visit hotels, takeout food, go to the cinema, the zoo, or a theme park.

The Chancellor’s Statement was designed to spark life back into the parts of our economy paralysed by the pandemic and gently persuade the public to take back the freedoms it has had to surrender in recent months. It has provided a much need boost to the hospitality industry which is hoped to increase public spending and help protect jobs, as we work to re-invigorate our economy as lockdown eases.

Whilst, I will certainly be supporting the local eateries in my area, one of the big challenges is building up wider public confidence to ‘eat out’ and return to pre-coronavirus habits. Although confidence will naturally build as cases of COVID in the UK decrease, the gradual loosening of lockdown is an anxious time for many. People must be sure that every possible action has been taken to reduce their chance of contracting the virus.

As restaurants, cafes and pubs reopened last week, in my area, there was a sense of community spirit, partnership working between business, the local authorities, and customers to ensure people could enjoy themselves in a safe environment.

I was impressed with the efforts of local businesses to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Social distancing, increased hygiene, screens at the bar and apps to order, where just a few of the measures taken to ensure premises were COVID secure. Most businesses strictly limited numbers, some with reservation only and scaled back services, to ensure effective operations. I was heartened to see specific space marked off for the elderly and more vulnerable customers, who had reserved a table, and technological innovation to reduce staff contact with the public.

Understanding our own personal responsibility is vital to ensure the hospitality sector can return safely. As the Government slogan states, we must stay ‘staying alert’ as we move out of lockdown, remaining conscious that the virus is yet to be defeated. People must keep their distance, wash their hands regularly and abide by premises rules, as well as being sensible and sensitive to those around them. From my experience, the vast majority, are currently doing so.

With my Councillor hat on, we have helped support the re-opening of High-Street businesses, by facilitating alfresco dining by widening pavements to allow outside seating areas. I am pleased that the Government has taken action to enable local authorities to provide flexibility to businesses, so they can operate safely, at a social distance, whilst attracting enough business to enable them to survive this difficult time. In addition, to providing grant funding, to help authorities shape safer high streets. Through this ‘COVID Culture Change’ people can enjoy a meal and support the economy without exposing themselves to the virus.

I am hoping come August, many of these outdoor tables will be populated with people taking up Rishi’s 50% Meal Deal.

To support businesses and jobs eating out is the easiest and most enjoyable way to help the national effort towards COVID recovery. On a local level, it may well be what is needed to resuscitate our local businesses and the high streets in the short term. In the weeks ahead, businesses and the government must continue to work hard to rebuild public confidence and convince people that it is safe to return, providing premises are COVID secure and subject to the necessary personal precautions.

Holly Whitbread is the Deputy Chair, Political of Epping Forest Conservatives and the Deputy Chair of Conservative Young Women. As a District Councillor, she is the Cabinet member for Housing. Follow her on twitter: @HollyLWhitbread


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