APPGs exist in Parliament as a vehicle for parliamentarians and organisations to coalesce around a particular issue. They are a sounding board where concerns can be crystallised, relayed to government, and action can be taken.
The APPG for Weddings was recently formed as a response to the struggles that the industry has been facing during the pandemic. Chaired by Siobhan Baillie MP, this week’s inaugural meeting brought together MPs across the country, businesses from across the weddings industry and government ministers for a comprehensive and frank discussion.
Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt attended the meeting and explained that her (Cabinet level) role was to provide extra support to ministers where they need it. She was brought on recently to help solve issues that had arisen and provide confidence to the sector moving forward. She was aware that the constraints of the Covid reopening roadmap did not help the sector as it had for others, and appreciated how fragile this had made many businesses. The minister was well-versed in her brief and did her best to reassure attendees that the government was working flat-out to find solutions.
The meeting ran through many of the issues that had been raised by affected businesses. The financial strain and lack of available funding was cited repeatedly, and the difficulty that many had experienced obtaining discretionary grant funding from local authorities who were cautious about spending funding incorrectly. The inherent difficulty with a sector that has so many disparate strands is that there is no single Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for weddings - there are some types of businesses whose income ground to a halt completely, such as wedding venues, whilst there are other businesses who still had other, perhaps smaller streams available to them, such as florists. It was agreed that parliamentarians have a key role to play in demonstrating to local authorities that this is being actively encouraged by government, something that MPs are well-placed to do. The CLA is helping the UK Wedding Taskforce identifying reluctant local authorities, and welcomes examples from members whose grant applications are not being accepted.
The lack of parity between funerals and weddings was also brought up, and this will not change before step 4 of the roadmap. Recent studies at gigs and club nights have shown that the risk is equivalent to going shopping, and the aim is to use data captured via test and trace to show that there is no additional risk at weddings compared to other events.
The role of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the difficulties with insurance were raised. Confidence and insurance are like a chicken and an egg, but the Minister understood how crucial it is to the sector.
The uncertainty surrounding the final unlocking on the 21st June and how this undermines the notice that businesses need in order to plan ahead was reiterated, though it was acknowledged that the Indian variant had made instilling confidence more difficult, particularly as it appears that a final decision won’t be taken until the 14th June, just one week before the big day.
Overall a useful session, and something that the CLA will continue to be a part of.