Opinion

ANALYSIS: Solving Covid economic woes with an early-bird meal

The chancellor's "Eat out to help out" scheme offers 50 per cent discount for every diner, up to £10 a head, from Monday to Wednesday throughout August
The chancellor's "Eat out to help out" scheme offers 50 per cent discount for every diner, up to £10 a head, from Monday to Wednesday throughout August The chancellor's "Eat out to help out" scheme offers 50 per cent discount for every diner, up to £10 a head, from Monday to Wednesday throughout August

THE drinks are on Rishi. Well, he's paying for some of the food at least...

Chancellor Sunak's summer statement on fresh economic recovery measures represented another multi-billion pound giveaway to keep the lifeboat afloat and further mitigate against the impact of the Covid pandemic.

It included a stamp duty cut (the threshold for paying the property tax will rise from £125,000 to £500,000 until March 31 and be worth more than £300 to the average buyer or mover here), and a "job retention bonus" where employers are paid £1,000 for every furloughed worker they bring back. Boy, is this open to abuse, though that's a story for another day.

There was also a so-called "Kickstarters" scheme to create thousands of job placements for young people, but this won't apply here unless Conor Murphy uses some of the new Barnett consequential money to replicate the measures.

Given that the threat of rising unemployment, especially in the 16-25 years cohort, is at least as severe in Northern Ireland as it in in Britain, it's unthinkable our finance minister won't consider mirroring it in some shape or form.

But most imaginative from Sunak - or probably from any other chancellor in recent years - is his "eat-out-to-help-out" initiative which offers half-price, early-bird food from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Allied to a six-month cut in VAT from 20 to 5 per cent for the hospitality and tourism sectors, it is aimed at convincing consumers to get out, enjoy themselves, and most importantly loosen their wallets and put money in the tills of pubs and restaurants.

Of course it comes with a raft of caveats, not just for the businesses - they must register, then claim the money back in what could be a clunky process - but also for the customer. The maximum spend is a tenner a head, and booze isn't included.

So while it's certainly a headline-grabber, it's clearly gimmicky, and it remains to be seen how effective it will be and just how big the take-up is outside Belfast.

Gargantuan sums of money have already been committed in response to Covid, though this statement represents a start of moving away from blanket support to targeted support.

Many sectors will feel they've been overlooked by the chancellor, and opponents of his Commons statement insist a comprehensive 'back to work' budget is required rather than this piecemeal summer plan.

For now, it's about not throwing away the benefits already gained from previous fiscal schemes to avert an economic disaster.

An early bird meal should make it a little more palatable... now where's my voucher?