'We are reliving March 2020': Mixed Govt messages on Xmas parties 'killing' hospitality

2 December 2021, 16:08 | Updated: 7 June 2023, 08:56

Hospitality bosses have hit out at the Government for confusing Christmas party guidance
Hospitality bosses have hit out at the Government for confusing Christmas party guidance. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Mixed messages and "uncertainty" from the Government is "killing" trade, hospitality experts warn after ministers caused confusion over Christmas parties.

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Experts have reported companies are cancelling office Christmas parties after fears about the Omicron variant's rise, prompting pleas from pubs, bars and restaurants for clearer messaging on festive celebrations.

A raft of major firms have reportedly scrapped large Christmas parties with hospitality experts blaming confusing advice from Government ministers for causing "unnecessary uncertainty" to customers and staff.

It comes as business minister George Freeman told LBC today that he had cancelled his in-person Christmas party with staff this year, but added he did not want to be telling businesses what "they should or shouldn't be doing" in terms of festive celebrations.

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Mr Freeman said: "I can tell you that my parliamentary team and I normally have a Christmas party.

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"We've decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won't be the best party in the world.

"But... we don't want to be telling every individual business what they should or shouldn't be doing. It is a matter for them."

But his decision to cancel the in-person party contrast with Health Secretary Sajid Javid's advice, who yesterday told LBC that there was "no need" for the public to change festive plans.

Mr Javid said: "There's no need to change your plans.

"Unless they have been affected by the new rules we have put in place, so if you are asked to self-isolate for example because you have come into contact with someone with a suspected case of this new variant, then of course your plans are going to be affected.

"Other than that, just follow the guidance."

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Boris Johnson also echoed similar messages to the Health Secretary whilst speaking at a Downing Street press conference early this week.

The Prime Minister said said the Government doesn't "want people to cancel such events" assuring the public it was not "necessary to change the overall guidance".

That came despite Dr Jenny Harries, who heads up the UK Health Security Agency, suggesting people should limit their socialising to stop Omicron getting around.

She said people should try to "decrease our social contacts" and avoid mixing "when we don't particularly need to".

Whilst Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said people should enjoy Christmas, she added: "I don't think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe."

But she added that the government was working hard so we can all enjoy a "knees-up".

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Gillian Keegan, Minister for Care also told LBC people should "go about their plans" with Christmas parties and ski holidays to Europe but warned advice can "change quickly".

The mixed messages and guidance from the government has caused anger and frustration in the hospitality industry with Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, saying the "chilling talk" from Dr Harries could hammer the sector ahead of its busiest period.

Ms Nicholls said pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs "are safer places in which to socialise with family and friends than at home this Christmas" due to safety measures introduced by venues.

Echoing this, Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industry Association, told LBC: "At the very moment operating costs are at their highest, we are now faced with another poorly-conceived communications strategy from Government which has and will severely impact businesses.

"Christmas bookings and advance ticket sales have already been hit following the announcement of the new Omicron variant.

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"The Government needs to recognise that, while restrictions are not in place for the hospitality and night time economy sectors, we are reliving the moments of March 2020 where the Prime Minister asked people not to go to pubs, bars, clubs and theatres.

"It is surreal and extremely frustrating to see healthcare advisers publicly telling people not to socialise, giving unnecessary uncertainty to our customers and workforce."

No 10 today stressed it does not want Christmas parties to be cancelled, despite Government departments opting to do so.

Asked why Government departments were cancelling festive celebrations despite Boris Johnson urging people not to, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has been very clear on this.

"On Christmas parties, we don't want people to cancel such events. There is no Government guidance to that end.

"It is right that post-Step 4 (of the road map out of lockdown), we returned to the position where people can use their individual judgment, but there is certainly no Government guidance to that end, and the Prime Minister has been very clear."