Allegrini 2018

Non-repayable grants, tax moratorium, access to credit: the recipe of the catering industry

From the Fipe/Confcommercio Assembly, the requests of the sector to the Government to get out of the crisis
The catering recipe to overcome the pandemic

With the extension of the areas of maximum and high criticality, it has risen to 280,000 the number of bars, restaurants, pizzerias and farmhouses closed with the lock imposed by the anti contagion measures, which affects a total of over 3 out of 4 (75%) of those existing in Italy. A scenario completed by the merciless numbers of an unprecedented crisis for the sector, which, in the first half of 2020 alone, recorded a loss of turnover of 19 billion euros, destined to become 33 billion euros at the end of the year, for a picture that the president of Fipe - Federazione Italiana Pubblici Esercizi, Lino Stoppani, from the Assembly “hosted” by the social channels Fipe/Confcommercio, defines as “dramatic”. Result: 60,000 companies in the sector at risk of closure, and over 300,000 jobs in the balance. A drama not only from an economic point of view, because it clearly emerges, in the desert of villages and cities, “the essentiality of our activities, also on a social level and on the quality and model of life of the Italian system”, continues Stoppani.
What does the sector need? Further immediate interventions: reinforcement of non-refundable grants, stronger and more durable tax credits on commercial leases, tax and contribution moratoria, access to credit. In order to ensure long-term sustainability, professionalism and training must be a priority: the growth of unfair competition has led to an impoverishment of quality. These are the requests that emerged from the Fipe/Confcommercio Assembly, which was attended, among others, by the Minister for Fine Arts and Tourism Dario Franceschini, the Minister of Agriculture Teresa Bellanova, Premier Giuseppe Conte, the chef of the Osteria Francescana Massimo Bottura, the producer Maurizio Zanella, at the helm of the Franciacorta Ca’ del Bosco brand, and Carlo Sangalli, president of Confcommercio Imprese per l'Italia.
“The sector - resumes Lino Stoppani - must be helped with emergency aid and structural interventions in the future. On the first aspect we ask for a strengthening of the refreshments, important but insufficient compared to the needs imposed by the crisis. We need to do more on all fronts, and especially review the liquidity issue, combining measures that stimulate demand and investment. I am thinking, for example, of a temporary VAT maneuver, reducing the rate. As far as structural interventions are concerned, there is an excess of supply, which stems from the possibility of access to the market without too many limits, which lowers marginality and gives free rein to phenomena such as the movement and gang infiltration in the sector. We need to give institutional dignity to the sector - continues Stoppani - which must have only one Ministry of reference and be able to rely on a coordinated direction of food. And then, it is necessary to restore the principle: same market, same rules. Third aspect: human capital is missing, we need to invest in training because there is still too much improvisation. And again, if on the one hand there are quantitative limits to be restored, on the other hand we need qualitative limits to guarantee an offer that is up to the task”.
From the governmental front, the first answers come from the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini, who is only marginally involved, but who recognizes an important cultural role in the catering world, especially in terms of tourism. “From this passage we must understand how to build the after. It is not rhetoric to say that every crisis brings with it some opportunities. It is true that there is a lack of a single interlocutor for catering, as for other sectors, but from a tourism point of view, catering is one of the main reasons for choosing one place rather than another, a fundamental piece of the attractiveness of the Belpaese”, Franceschini points out. “Food is a piece of Italian cultural identity, like a church or a palace. The support measures will have to lengthen as the crisis continues, with differences between regions. Historic centers, for example, count on a greater measure, because tourism has already collapsed since the summer. The measures will always have to follow the measures, and at the same time the redundancy fund for the sector must be supported. There are some measures, such as the possibility of expanding public land without cost, so I have fought and moved quickly. The rule is valid until December 31. Cities, with outdoor tables instead of cars, are more beautiful and livable, not only in the historical centers, so I had a regulation approved that eliminates the need for authorization from the Superintendence, except for the premises near a national monument. If this becomes the norm, in the future you can lower rates by expanding the spaces”.
For the funds allocated for the redevelopment of accommodation facilities, stimulated by President Fipe Stoppani, Franceschini opens the possibility “to allocate a part of it for catering. We reason by sector, but for my skills the restaurant is not always connected to the flow of tourists, those to be included must be identified, as done with the activities of the cities of art”. And then, a message of confidence, because according to the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, “the desire to discover Italy will return with more strength than before. Until 2019 the problem was to manage the over booking, and all this will come back and the challenge will be to distribute the flows between cities and villages, so that the benefits are for everyone. The sector will also be supported by a demand that will be very strong. The refreshment policy helps companies to cross the desert, it is not a structural response”.
Minister Franceschini’s conclusion is linked to Maurizio Zanella’s speech, at the head of the Franciacorta Ca’ del Bosco brand (of the Santa Margherita Group). “Quality in this sector - said Zanella - must be the only possibility for agriculture and catering. I was struck by the fact that a Minister like Franceschini, whom I greatly esteem, said that the Relaunch Decree and the two reparations are the necessity to cross the desert. These three decrees are not even enough to get halfway across the desert, and I do not understand why people continue to talk about hot air without understanding that the support given to catering is insufficient to stay open. There are very important restaurants that are selling off their cellars in order to stay upright. The government seems not to fully understand the situation: 1.6 billion euros have been disbursed, and more than double that amount is needed. In France at the end of April, between 20 and 25% of the 2019 turnover had been disbursed to the current accounts of all restaurants. Germany, which does not have a great gastronomic culture, anticipates 70% of the turnover for the following month. I appreciate the project efforts, but it takes speed and certain funds. A wine company like Ca’ del Bosco - explains Zanella - that works with 80% of the horeca, and that in March and April 2020 lost 85% of its turnover, could enjoy a very simple measure, the lowering of VAT to 4%, like the rest of agri-food products. And then, young people: how do we train them? There are no situations worthy of the name, I suggest to the future Minister of reference of the sector, to worry about investing in the training of young people”.
An eye to the recent past, and one to the future: this is how Carlo Sangalli, president of Confcommercio Imprese per l’Italia, analyzes the moment. “We have worked in these dramatic months bringing home results, perhaps not exhaustive, but gained meter after meter. They are certain results to be improved and strengthened with adequate resources, based on the fall in turnover after the pandemic phase, resorting to the cancellation of taxes, a broad tax and credit moratorium, an increase in tax credit for commercial leases. These results are not to the advantage of a single category, because catering has a strategic value that crosses tourism, agriculture, agribusiness. When a restaurant or bar closes, a symbol of a country that cannot make it, when a young person has to give up the place for which he has made sacrifices, they are wounds that do not heal in people and cities. There is no urban regeneration without regeneration of the economic and social fabric of cities. Our enterprises - continues Sangalli - are irreplaceable generators of wealth, jobs and social sense. Each of our battles has a wider horizon, that of the general interest of the country. Every principle and every measure we have fought for has given an extra chance to all our enterprises. This has been the figure of our work”.
With a view to the future, adds the president of Confcommercio, “it is not a question of making the night pass, because the effects of the crisis will have important consequences on the coming years, which will not be easy to overcome. The worsening of the pandemic and the new lockdowns are weighing on an already tried and tested economy, and the risks also increase on the rebound of GDP, as well as the tightening of the accounts. Therefore, it is necessary to react, with adequate, timely and inclusive refreshments and compensation and extensive tax moratoria. It is also necessary to prepare the time for the restart. We call for a new season of reforms in the budget that looks at productivity and growth. What we will do is to continue building bridges, which means patiently finding the reasons that unite, working with hope, aiming at something more ambitious than a road and more difficult than a wall. Bridges that are called tourism plan, productivity increase, active policies for work, integration, legality, infrastructure”, concludes Sangalli.
To reiterate the point of view of the catering world is Massimo Bottura, chef at the Osteria Francescana in Modena, who, as the days go by, interprets the discouragement and growing concern of the entire sector. “If you do not think about the future, the climate becomes unsustainable, especially when you listen to so much bureaucracy that does not tell the truth. To sort out the Francescana we will be given 865 euros, but we have spent thousands. And the problem is not so much for us, that we are an economically solid structure, but for all the premises that nobody takes care of. When they talk to me about the old town centers and bonuses, I inhale, because gastronomic tourism is the first reason why they come here from abroad. We are good at doing things of quality, not quantity. Small restaurants like us, Alajmo, Cedroni, Romito, and many others, have become ambassadors of cheesemakers, fishermen, farmers and wine producers in the world. We are the image of Italy abroad, the engine of tourism and we do training: in Modena I have 2,890 internship applications to come and learn Italian cuisine. Now - recalls Bottura - we also have a social value, and even though we represent all this, we are abandoned to ourselves, abandoned to the mood of the moment, to chat, but in practice we have no support. The liquidity put in the balance sheet by the Government is parameterized to the turnover: we had 200% of 10% of the previous turnover, with a limit of 150,000 euros, and so we do not sell anywhere. Well the suspension of the second installment of taxes, but it comes after we had to pay the first one anyway, assuming it arrives, we are still talking about yellow, orange and red areas. The only positive thing is the redundancy fund, but it travels with monstrous delays. In the end, we are stuck on chitchat, instead we should start dividing the categories and situations, because bars and restaurants cannot be considered in the same way, we try to take catering to a certain level, we value who we really are. We do not know if we are crafts, tourism, commerce, culture: we are nothing, in the middle of a street, even though we are the backbone of our identity. For me, politics is made up of courage, imagination, the future: it must try to protect us and enhance those who must value us”, concludes Bottura, recalling that “in the USA they confirm that after Lima and Mexico we will open the Refectories in New York and San Francisco because we have found the spaces”.
Stimulus, and criticism, rather sharply, that collects the Minister of Agriculture, Teresa Bellanova. “We must continue to address the issues with rigour, we are acting in a difficult phase, no one had counted on having to face a pandemic. We are in the phase in which we must imagine and design the future, not only manage the emergency. I listened to Bottura, I like to share a passage from his letter a few days ago, in which he talks about the role of catering, which goes far beyond the kitchen. The signals”, replied the Minister, “are there, however, concrete and vigorous. I have fought a battle to keep restaurants open until 11pm, trying to take into account the social and cultural value of the sector, and respect those who have invested to continue working in a safe environment, combining safety and the right to work, and because the supply chain I deal with depends for 35-40% on catering, especially high quality. It is a battle that has combined the food and wine supply chain with the catering industry, and this must be the norm. Chefs are the ambassadors of this gastronomic wealth, in Italy and in the world”.
“We have subjected the food chain to a great effort, and the battle for the catering industry was born from the need to safeguard, in Italy and abroad, the characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet: the chefs are the ones who skillfully transform this wealth, so I took on the responsibility to convene a table to work together, a system that looks to the future, to get out of the pandemic with an even more united production system. This is how - remembers Teresa Bellanova - the fund of 600 million euros for products made in Italy purchased since August 14. Restaurants are an integral part of the food supply chain, and we need to communicate worlds that act on the same ground: we try to outline together the choices to be made when we come out of this pandemic phase. Assessing all the critical issues, but we must use the resources by the end of the year, we can not lose them, especially today that are even more fundamental. They also apply to closed premises, either with invoices for products already purchased, or by purchasing non-perishable products. For all the other issues, I say that we must act as a team, demonstrating to ourselves that we have the capacity: we are very good loneliness, but we must overcome them, otherwise we will not win the battle for a future of well-being for our country. The table must start again quickly, and the battle is also played out in Europe, especially on the origin labelling front. Without economic sustainability - warns the Minister of Agriculture - everything else is not there. Companies must make ends meet, or close, and goodbye environmental and social responsibility. The consumer must be clear what he is eating, and Italy is strong on this. We risk competition from counterfeit products, which create problems both for the food chain and for quality Italian restaurants abroad”.
These principles were also reaffirmed in the speech by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who lowered the condition of catering in the complex and difficult overall picture. “We are living through a difficult phase and a complex moment, from an economic, health and social point of view. The sooner we contain the contagion and the sooner we restore the confidence of the citizens to start again. The measures taken serve to contain the contagion, and after the first battle what we are facing is a treacherous challenge. The trade sector, industries, employees, individual citizens, must work as a team. I would like to thank Fipe for the spirit of collaboration, the Government took immediate action, adopting various support measures, which were recalled by the interventions that preceded me. From today the commercial activities of 29 historical centers, which have suffered a two-thirds drop in turnover, can ask for a further contribution from the Inland Revenue, which has proved to be the fastest mechanism. The disbursement has been fast, but we are aware that the depth of the crisis needs prolonged interventions. New inequalities will be created - recalls Conte - that as a government we will have to counteract and rebalance. There are civil servants who continue to work, even from home, and all those who do not have a fixed income who, instead, lose turnover and incur fixed costs often unsustainable. I am thinking of restaurateurs, with 60% of activities in the sector currently closed. I do not exclude the possibility of new resources, we are already at work, we know that what we have done is not enough to manage the coming months, but in such a complex phase we must not give up projecting our gaze and our industriousness on the future”.
Starting from the strengths of the Italian system, such as “the Italian ingenuity and know-how, which can be found in many solutions of chefs and artisans. Every activity brings with it an advantage for the community, it is its heritage and we must defend it. Trade and tourism are worth 5 million jobs, and guarantee the survival of many other sectors. But we have shortcomings. Structural limitations that weigh down, such as bureaucracy and its times, transport infrastructure and technology, a tax too complex. They will all be at the center of the government agenda for the coming months and years, because some reforms take years. Among the most important aspects to be resolved, an overcrowding of supply, and a lack of training. Yes, financial support, which will remain in 2021, is needed, but also other measures, at the center of the recovery plan that relies on the resources of the recovery fund. Such a strategic sector deserves an unequivocal response. We also need a new and agile way of being traders and artisans. The vaccine and its spread will be essential to return to normal, I know that after respecting the protocols of the summer you were disappointed by the new hold - says the Premier addressing the world of catering - but the numbers would overwhelm us. And this is as true for you as for anyone else. Certain innovations could remain, such as smart working, so this situation presents us with significant challenges, a change that we will necessarily have to face. Everyone, in order to create the conditions for the relaunch, must do their part responsibly, in a transparent and constant dialogue”.

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