UK hospitality sector declines at fastest pace since lockdown

Tourism and recreation experienced the fastest fall in output of any UK business sector last month, the latest data shows.

Well done hospitality spokesman and champion, Simon JUpp. – Owl 

Mabel Banfield-Nwachi 

Output in the sector, which includes pubs, hotels and restaurants, declined at the fastest pace since February 2021, when the UK was last in lockdown, with a tracker score of 36.3 in September, according to the Lloyds Bank UK Recovery Tracker. Any reading below 50 indicates contraction.

The drop was caused by demand falling for a fourth consecutive month – to a tracker score of 38.5 last month – as consumers reined in spending amid rising inflation.

However, five of the 14 UK sectors that make up the tracker reported faster growth in output in September, compared with just three the previous month. A tracker reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Output growth was highest among software service providers at 55.8, down from 63.1 in August, followed by healthcare firms, rising to 53.6 from 47.8.

The tracker showed that overall input cost inflation for businesses intensified in September for the first time since May. The increase was driven by rising energy prices for manufacturers, which exceeded a previous peak during the 2008 oil price shock.

Jeavon Lolay, the head of economics and market insight for commercial banking at Lloyds, said: “While we expect UK inflation to remain stubbornly high in the coming months, there are clear signs of an easing in pipeline cost pressures in our latest UK Sector Tracker report.”

Between the second and third quarters this year, the average pace of input cost inflation slowed in all 14 sectors monitored by the tracker. This was supported by easing wage and shipping cost pressures – with reports of higher shipping costs reaching a 21-month low in September. The pace of inflation in prices charged to customers slowed in 12 sectors.

“That’s not to say that businesses won’t continue to face intense cost pressures, but suggests that peak inflation is near,” said Lolay. “This will be welcome news for both businesses and consumers.”

However, he said the recent news that the energy price guarantee scheme from April would prioritise support for the most vulnerable means that what happens to wholesale energy prices will, again, have a significant bearing on UK inflation from then on.

“The Bank of England will need to assess carefully prospects for both inflation and growth as it considers just how much more tightening is needed,” he added.

Fracking farce

Labour dig a Heffalump trap in plain sight.

What do the Heffalumps do? 

Walk straight into it.

(Careerist Jupp does his duty). – Owl

Peter Walker 

A crunch Commons vote on the future of fracking has descended into mayhem after more than 40 Conservative MPs failed to back Liz Truss’s government, with MPs alleging ministers physically pulled some wavering Tories into the voting lobbies. [The chaos was great that even the voting numbers remain unclear Pippa Crerar now writes: Initially it looked like Liz Truss herself had missed the vote, but we’re told she did in fact vote… just forgot to swipe her pass.

Shortly after the vote, there were reports that the chief whip, Wendy Morton, and her deputy, Craig Whittaker, had lost their jobs. However, Downing Street later cleared up the rumours by saying the pair “remain in post”.

The government victory, by 326 votes opposing the Labour motion to 230 backing it, was marred by claims of intimidation and bullying on a turbulent night in the Commons.

While ministers successfully defeated the Labour motion, which sought to set up a vote which would formally ban drilling for shale gas in England, a total of 40 Tory MPs failed to support the government.

While some, like Boris Johnson, are simply away, the rebels included Tory MPs who had promised to defy a three-line whip, including Chris Skidmore, the former minister who heads up Truss’s review into net zero policies.

Other confirmed rebels included another former minister Tracey Crouch and MPs including William Wragg and Angela Richardson. No Tories voted directly with Labour.

Tory whips had written to MPs in the morning to warn that the vote was being seen as confidence measure, meaning the government would collapse if it lost and rebels would lose the whip.

However, near the end of the debate, with several MPs saying they would risk losing the whip, the climate minister, Graham Stuart, told the Commons: “Quite clearly this is not a confidence vote.”

Shortly after the vote, the Labour MP Chris Bryant used a point of order to tell the Commons that he saw Tory MPs being “physically manhandled” into the government voting lobby. He asked for a formal investigation.

In the wake of the chaos, Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader, was seen trying to calm a group of mostly female MPs who had gathered to discuss what they witnessed. Mordaunt was seen encouraging witnesses to send her evidence or further details on WhatsApp.

One Tory backbencher said it was “the most bullying, screaming and shouting” they had seen in the voting lobbies, with Morton and Whittaker being engaged in a “full-blown shouting match”.

Another said Whittaker had been seen telling colleagues: “I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more.”

Afterwards, whips were said to have been gathered for an urgent meeting, with several parliamentary private secretaries deciding they would tell Morton and Whittaker to go.

Veteran Tory backbencher Charles Walker, who is due to step down as an MP at the next election, said the scenes on Wednesday were “inexcusable”. “I think it’s a shambles and a disgrace,” a visibly shaken Walker told the BBC, before railing at the “talentless” people in the cabinet.

He added: “I’m livid and I really shouldn’t say this but all those people that put Liz Truss in No 10, I hope it was worth it, it was worth it for the ministerial red box, as it was worth it to sit round the cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.”

However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business and energy secretary, disputed this, pointing to the government’s majority in the vote. He said: “This is a government that is functioning well.”

The bedlam risks obscuring a potentially even more significant Tory fracture over the disquiet of many government MPs about Truss’s decision to overturn the moratorium on fracking in England.

Skidmore, a leading voice of green Tories, said earlier he was willing to “face the consequences of my decision” to not back the government, even if this meant losing the whip.

“As the former energy minister who signed net zero into law, for the sake of our environment and climate I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 general election,” he tweeted.

Crouch retweeted Skidmore’s message with the added word, “Ditto”, as did Richardson.

Despite efforts by Rees-Mogg to quell MPs’ fury by setting up a public consultation on fracking, a series of other Tories had told the debate that they were furious about the change of policy.

A number said they would only support the government because they felt Labour were trying to “play politics” with a motion that would give the opposition control of the order paper.

Ruth Edwards, the Rushcliffe MP, castigated the Tory frontbench for, she said, forcing her and colleagues “to choose between voting against our manifesto and voting to lose the whip”.

She added: “They should take a look at the faces of colleagues behind them, colleagues who have fracking sites in their constituencies, and they should hang their heads in shame. A Conservative government will always have my confidence, but its leadership today has severely tested my trust and the trust of many colleagues and I would advise them not to do so again.”

Simon Hoare, the North Dorset MP, said he would have rebelled but wanted to keep his “voice and vote” as a Tory. He warned, however, that fracking was doomed as a project. “It’s not going to happen. These are bald men fighting over a comb. No local community is going to grant consent,” he said.

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate and net zero secretary, said the government was pursuing a “frack me or sack me strategy”, saying fracking was “one of the most unpopular causes in the country”.

He added: “In normal times such an idiotic idea would have been dismissed out of hand but these are not normal times. But I say to the house and I say to members opposite, they all know that the prime minister will be gone in a matter of weeks, if not days, if not hours.”

The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised to maintain a moratorium on fracking unless there was new evidence on the risk of earthquakes from the practice. But Truss’s government changed this last month.

In a message to all MPs on Wednesday morning, Whittaker had said: “The second debate is the main event today and it is a 100% hard three-line whip. This is not a motion on fracking. This is a confidence motion in the government.”

Labour sources said Tory whips had walked into a trap set for them, and that although they did not expect to win the vote, the opposition had online adverts ready to go targeting every Tory MP who backed fracking.

Extract from Simon Jupp’s diary: Tuesday 18 October – meeting with Liz Truss this morning

It has been widely reported (BBC and Telegraph) that Liz Truss held a meeting with her “parliamentary private secretaries” (PPSs) on Tuesday morning, one indicating that it was billed as a “breakfast meeting” and only involved 20.

In the dying days of Boris Johnson’s premiership, a large number of PPSs resigned, hastening his departure. So keeping them “on side” in Team Truss would be vital. Could this be the reason for the meeting?

Many of these PPSs were first elected in 2019 and could be under serious threat of losing their seats the next time the UK goes to the polls.

Another source, London Playbook on Wednesday, claimed a senior Tory set out pretty much the worst kind of intel that No. 10 could hope to hear. “Every single MP I’ve spoken to basically says she’s got to go, apart from fanatics and the careerists, they said. Even some moderates who had accepted jobs under Truss are “schmoozing up to colleagues all of a sudden because they know which way the wind is blowing.” Outreach in the party was summed up as “mega shit” and whipping in the division lobbies “invisible.”

Although the role of PPS is unpaid, it’s considered an important stepping stone for ambitious MPs.

So is Simon a plotter, fanatic or careerist?

Last night we learned that he is a “fracker” so we can rule out the first possibility. – Owl

Government failings bringing us down – Martin Shaw

Chair, East Devon Alliance, writes in the Herald:

As the Conservative government disintegrates, they are bringing the country down with them. The shambolic failures of Liz Truss, like Boris Johnson’s lying and cheating, will have serious consequences for people in Devon. Whether or not Truss is still in office when you read this – she is so obviously a disaster that many MPs are actively trying to get rid of her – if this government clings on, we face a grim two years.

The appointment of Jeremy Hunt fills me with foreboding. As Health Secretary, he presided over a long decline in the NHS. It was Hunt’s cuts that led Devon health bosses to close community hospital beds in Axminster, Honiton, Ottery and Seaton, the folly of which became apparent when there was nowhere to send patients when the main hospitals overflowed in the pandemic (and Hunt had shelved the UK’s pandemic plans). Hunt’s aim of selling off ‘surplus’ NHS buildings encouraged managers to dispose of some of the sites, and only community protests stopped this happening.

Hunt’s warning of a new round of ‘efficiency savings’ (spending cuts to you and me) confirms that, as Chancellor, he will be Mr Austerity once again. It is not just the NHS, with chronic staff shortages, a failing ambulance service and 7 million people waiting for operations, which simply cannot be allowed to face new cuts. The vulnerable cannot live without an inflation-matching rise in benefits. Hard-pressed schools cannot cope with declining real funding. Councils desperately need real increases to look after vulnerable children and old people.

Hunt will tell us that there is no alternative (after Truss’s budget has made government borrowing more expensive). But Britain is still a rich country and new resources can be found: close down tax havens; end ‘non-dom’ status; introduce a proper windfall tax on oil and gas firms; tax wealth as well as income; and raise tax well above 45 per cent for the bankers with their bumper bonuses and the other people who receive hundreds of thousands or millions each year.

The truth is that cuts are a political choice from a government which is in denial about the damage it has done. Truss or her successor may drone on about ‘growth’, but she and Hunt have each been ministers while Britain has stagnated over the last 12 years. George Osborne’s austerity took the wind out of the recovery from the financial crisis, just as

Hunt’s threatens to end the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.

The biggest harm has come from Brexit, the red-tape bonanza which has strangled trade with the UK’s largest market, sacrificed our farmers, and deprived our NHS of European doctors and nurses. Even some Daily Telegraph writers now accept that the warnings against Brexit were right, but Brexit ideology – of which Truss’s ‘trickle-down’ economics is a part – is now the religion of the Conservative Party. They seem more likely to abolish the monarchy than abandon this failed experiment.

Despite all this, Devon Tories remain in thrall to their leaders. Last week Hugo Swire, the former East Devon MP who bailed out rather than face Claire Wright at the last election, jumped back on the gravy train by taking a seat in the Lords (courtesy of Boris Johnson’s resignation ‘honours’ list), while his successor Simon Jupp accepted a bag-carrier role in Truss’s government. I thought rats were supposed to leave sinking ships!

In this situation, it’s timely that Richard Foord, the Liberal Democrat who won June’s by-election, is speaking about his first months as an MP at an open meeting in Axminster Guildhall this Saturday (22nd) at 10.30 am. He will be interviewed by my fellow-columnist Paul Arnott, the Independent East Devon Alliance leader of East Devon District Council. This will be a valuable opportunity for us to discuss the future without Conservative rule, and I very much hope to see readers there.