At the close of 2021, the Chancellor unveiled grants of up to £6,000 for the hospitality and leisure industry and said some 200,000 businesses would benefit.

Clearly it was not enough.  The problem is that hospitality and leisure businesses now go into the New Year not having been able to reap the rewards of November and December.  

It takes me back to divinity lessons at school.  In Pharaoh’s dreams, he sees seven fat, beautiful cows and seven heads of full, ripe grain growing on one stalk.  Then he sees seven very thin and bony cows and seven thin, dried-out heads of grain.  The thin cows eat the fat cows and the thin heads of grain swallow up the seven good heads of grain.

Joseph, of course, was able to tell Pharaoh that the two dreams meant the same thing – that the seven fat cows and the seven full heads of grain meant seven years of plenty, and the seven thin cows and the seven thin heads of grain mean seven more years of famine. He advised Pharoah to choose a wise man and put him in charge of collecting food during the seven good years so that the Egyptian people would not starve during the following seven bad years when very little food would grow.  Pharaoh liked the idea and chose Joseph to collect the food, and to store it.  

And lo, Egypt was saved from seven years of famine.  

The leisure, entertainment and hospitality sectors, on the other hand, didn’t get to enjoy the benefits of their “fat year”.  The run up to Christmas was wrecked by the lockdown by stealth.  While firms weren’t legally required to close, Chris Whitty’s advice that people should limit their socialising to people and events that “really mattered” led to dramatic falls in the number of people going to pubs, restaurants and shows. 

Eventually, the Chancellor unveiled their grants but it was a case of too little, too late.  What can be done to help workers in these sectors now the damage has been done?

The hot take from hospitality bosses is to urge consumers not to desert their local pub during “dry January”.

Less prosaically, Simon Lyle, the MD of career development and outplacement firm Risesmart UK says “particularly progressive organisations have started looking at ‘talent sharing’ with complementary businesses that do still have demand for staff to stave off redundancies.”  But, he adds, “the private sector can’t do it all.”  He wants to see more targeted support to help sectors that really need it to allow affected employees, ideally involving “support with reskilling would set them up to fill the in-demand vacancies in the New Year if their original employers can’t fully re-engage them.”Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said the chancellor needed to go back to the drawing board. “We need a new targeted furlough scheme that covers at least 80 per cent of workers’ wages, and that guarantees that no-one furloughed is paid less than the minimum wage.”

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) called for, among other things, the extension of rates relief for all travel businesses in the financial year 2022-23, as well as help for businesses which have to repay loans at the time of no income, and tailored winter resilience grants for the travel sector.

Given these sectors are facing some proverbially lean years – venues have not built up the cash reserves they need to survive the typically quiet January and February – without the benefit of the fat cows and stores of ripe grain to fall back on, it’s time for the Chancellor to look again at what can be done for leisure, entertainment, and travel.