Over 35 million meals have so far been served under chancellor Rishi Sunak’s novel scheme that pays 50% of bills up to a maximum of £10 per person on food and non-alcoholic drinks from Monday to Wednesday in August, new figures released on Tuesday show.
The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, intended to help the struggling hospitality industry and encourage people to return to a Covid-secure sense of normalcy, is offered by over 85,000 restaurants across the UK, including several serving Indian delicacies.
A sum of £500 million has been allocated for the scheme that ends on August 31. Restaurants have reported ‘berserk’ business during Mondays to Wednesdays, but lower sales during the weekend.
Sunak said: “Today’s figures show that Britain is eating out to help out – with at least 35 million meals served up in the first two weeks alone, that is equivalent to over half of the UK taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector”.
“To build back better we must protect as many jobs as possible, that is why I am urging all registered businesses to make the most of this by claiming back today – it’s free, simple and pays out within 5 working days”, he added.
The scheme aims to help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to their local restaurants, cafes and pubs where social-distancing rules allow.
Official figures show that nearly 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.
The scheme has been widely welcomed, but some doubted its economic logic.
Jim Harra, chief executive of revenue and customs, questioned its value for money, writing to Sunak before the scheme was rolled out: “By nature, this is a novel scheme meaning there are also particular value for money risks surrounding the level of potential losses that could arise”.
The Guardian called the scheme ‘junk policy’ in an editorial: “As policy…it is glib, gimmicky and, even Mr Sunak admits, a waste of millions of pounds. Junk, then, served up by a politician who should know much better”.
“(His) error is in treating the slump in trade as driven by cost, rather than caution. Discounts and VAT cuts…will not lure out those diners who are worried that they may pick up a lethal virus, or that they may be about to lose their job”.
“Others will take up the government’s offer by enjoying a slap-up meal at a discount on a Wednesday night rather than at full price on a Friday, thus defeating the entire purpose of the policy”, the editorial added.