Skip to main content

News & Insights

Business leaders networking at the Peach 20/20 Conference  

29 Nov 2023

All change? Kate Nicholls on politics and hospitality

With a General Election looming, 2024 will be a big year for hospitality in the political arena. So what’s the outlook and where are the priorities and challenges for our sector? Here’s what UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls had to say about the hot topics when she spoke to Peter Martin at Peach 20/20’s Leaders Summit.

On… Business rates

UKHospitality has been lobbying hard for changes to business rates for years now, and the General Election could be the chance to finally achieve it. “The new government of whatever political colour could come in with a mandate to reform rates, and the Labour party has included it in its manifesto,” Nicholls said. While we wait for that, businesses deserve relief on likely rates hikes in April. “Business rates bills will increase significantly unless the Chancellor does something… it needs proactive intervention, which is why we’re talking about reliefs before we talk about root-and-branch reform.”

The urgency is reinforced by a recent UKH survey of members that found three quarters (75%) of businesses would be less stable and sustainable if rates rose, while two thirds (67%) would cut investment. “The message I take to government is that you’re going to have a hit across the whole of this sector… you’ll hammer investment,” Nicholls said.

On… A potential Labour government

If the polls are correct and Labour comes into government, the early signs on support on rates and other business issues are positive. “How do you get growth going in the economy? The answer that comes back from [Shadow Chancellor] Rachel Reeves and her team is that it’s about the everyday economy—and hospitality is the foundation economy because it’s where most people work, live, play and spend.” If Labour are elected, UKH will be pushing hard for quick gains on things like rates and apprenticeships—though legislation for more meaningful change will take time. “Giving us back 40 or 50% of our apprenticeship levy would really help us accelerate the recruitment of people into hospitality and the training-up of people.”

On… Uncertainty

Whatever the outcome of the Election, 2024 will bring more challenge and change, Nicholls thinks. “Every business wants long-term certainty, but we're not going to get that. The next year will be uncertain globally and geopolitically, and the UK is no exception.”

On… Rail strikes

Hospitality businesses, especially in London and other big cities, have been blighted by rail strikes this year. They’re now casting a long shadow over Christmas, with estimates of up to £800m of missed sales. UKH has had a couple of encouraging wins here—working with unions on a deal and getting hospitality included in plans for minimum train service levels—but getting progress means walking a political tightrope. “Whatever the rights and wrongs of the strikes, hospitality is a huge sector of the economy that employs a vast number of people and is critical to our cultural, social and economic wellbeing. You can't make it a political football but nor can you make it collateral damage.”

On… Changing work and leisure habits

Rail disruption has also hit the post-Covid return of workers to offices. But while after-work footfall is still far below pre-pandemic norms on Fridays, there have been positive changes too, like an upswing in weekend leisure visits to cities, and London in particular. Trains need to adjust to changing habits, Nicholls argued at the Leaders Summit. “We need to make sure that we've got services running at the times people want to use them. Letting people get back home on late-night services is really, really important.”

On… Regional politics

UKHospitality is increasingly active in local-level lobbying, ensuring that hospitality is recognised in places where policy and budgets—especially around jobs and skills—are devolved. Nicholls said: “You can't just do it [lobbying] on a centralized government basis—you've got to do it with regional and devolved administrations. We're juggling many plates and making sure that hospitality is represented in the mayoral regions as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… and if we get a Labour government that's going to be ever more important.”

On… Sustainability

Hospitality has been at the front of efforts on sustainability in recent years. Its work isn’t lost on people—younger ones in particular—who are committed to environmental change. “All the initiatives that we're doing around sustainability—on energy, food, people—are vital,” Nicholls said. “We need to be better at telling our story and championing what we do, because I think we are so much further ahead than many other businesses.”

On… UKH membership

UKH now represents 95% of the hospitality industry, but it wants to add that 5% to membership so it gets even more clout within government. “If you're not a member become a member and be actively supportive, because we need our messages to government reinforced in the press and to local MPs,” Nicholls said. There will be some great chances to do that during Election campaigning. “We need everybody on the ground talking and delivering the same messages.”

Peach 20/20 thanks its headline partners on the Leaders Summit: CGA by NIQDiageoFourthNutriticsWireless Social and Zonal. Premium partners were Chapman VentilationCoca-Cola Europacific PartnersHarri and Uber Eats. Event partners were AirshipBrakesCardlyticsFreethsFresh DirectGreene KingLucky Saint and Toggle

View all News & Insights