A PETITION started by a Dorset restaurateur to keep a low VAT lifeline for the hospitality industry has attracted enough support to force a response from government.

Andy Lennox – who started the Wonky Table pressure group for local food, drink and events businesses – set up the petition on Parliament’s website.

He has warned that many hospitality businesses could go under if VAT rises from its current five per cent to the normal 20 per cent as planned at the end of March.

As of Tuesday evening, the petition to extend the discounted VAT rate until March 2022 had attracted more than 12,300 signatures. Any petitions which attract more than 10,000 prompt a response from government.

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Mr Lennox’s petition says: “This is an essential lifeline for the hospitality industry’s recovery and perhaps the single biggest Covid-19 relief measure and must be extended if the industry hopes to have any meaningful recovery.”

He said the discounted five per cent VAT would help control inflation, encourage reinvestment in the industry and help businesses return to profitability so they would pay more corporation tax.

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“The VAT at five per cent will help save hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry where without this essential recovery mechanism many will not now reopen,” he added.

A recent round table event organised by the Daily Echo and NatWest also heard Dorset hospitality businesses call for the lower VAT rate to continue.

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Rosie Radwell, managing director of the Marsham Court Hotel in Bournemouth, said: “Giving me five per cent VAT when I’ve got to close the business is not helping me.”

But she said keeping VAT at five per cent when hotels reopened could help “recoup some of the losses”. “That’s our biggest thing at the moment,” she said.

“Now Brexit has happened, we will still be the highest paying country in Europe in VAT and taxes. It doesn’t attract people to come here if they’re paying 20 per cent VAT, it’s just not making it sensible.”

Mark Cribb, owner of Bournemouth’s Urban Guild venues and host of the podcast Humans of Hospitality, told the same event: “We were already a massively overtaxed sector, partly through beer tax, partly through VAT, partly through business rates. If you look at the amount of money that we bring into the economy as hospitality sector and you look at what we pay as part of the national contribution to the Exchequer, we were already massively overtaxed.”

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told MPs yesterday that he was working with chancellor Rishi Sunak on “what further support we can supply” after calls to extend support including a business rates holiday, furlough and the low VAT.

He said: “I’m in constant dialogue with the chancellor We’re looking at the economy, the situation evolving daily, minute by minute almost, and we hope that we can provide the flexible support that we have done in the last year.”

Shadow business minister Lucy Powell said: “Businesses face a £50 billion bombshell in April, yet many in hospitality, retail and services won’t even be open by then. Councils are sending out business rate bills as we speak and difficult decisions are being made now.”

The petition can be found at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/572283