Suppliers to the foodservice and hospitality sector should receive urgent government support ahead of the reopening of the sector, a committee of MPs has said.
Money to support consumer-facing hospitality businesses would be “wasted” if the government does not aid suppliers who have not received the level of financial support offered to the pubs, bars and cafés that rely on them, according to a report by the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs (EFRA) select committee.
Giving evidence to the committee’s inquiry into covid-19 and the issues of security in food supply, James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said the lack of sector-specific support had been “devastating” for businesses. Wholesalers that have stayed open during lockdowns in order to supply public sector customers such as schools and care homes were doing so at a loss, he said.
Bielby noted that suppliers “have had no business rates relief […], no access to the retail, leisure and hospitality grants […] [and] no support for the millions of pounds of excess stock” that is very difficult to shift.
The hospitality industry and its suppliers have been hit hard by the pandemic with sector revenues declining by over £72bn and some suppliers losing up to 100% of their trade. The MPs said the government must urgently recognise the impact of the sector's closure by providing additional financial support to hospitality suppliers, and particularly small businesses, during the period of reopening.
"When pubs, bars and restaurants closed, their suppliers’ market evaporated overnight,” said Neil Parish MP, chair of the EFRA select committee. “They have worked admirably to pivot to new customers, but many businesses, particularly small ones, are struggling to survive. We are all looking forward to hospitality beginning to re-open on Monday, but the reality is that without support for their suppliers, many venues may struggle.”
In the report, MPs also highlighted the almost 1 in 10 households who have experienced food poverty during the two most recent national lockdowns and urged the government to appoint a new minister for food security and consult on a national 'right to food' in England.
It is estimated that 5.9 million adults in the UK experienced food poverty in the six months prior to February 9th 2021, while 1.7 million children live in households that are food insecure. MPs called on the government to provide ongoing support to charities working to distribute surplus food from the farm gate to frontline food aid providers.
They added the government should ensure that families with children eligible for free school meals continue to be able to feed their children and said lessons should be learned from the “unacceptable food parcels provided by some suppliers in January”.