A dedicated minister for hospitality would give the industry much-needed representation at parliamentary level and would provide the government with a clear understanding of how the sector works as well as an accurate picture of the wider benefits it brings, say leading chefs, restaurateurs and business owners.
The hospital industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors of the UK economy since the outbreak of coronavirus and many in the industry believe a lack of a voice in the cabinet has resulted in erratic policies, inadequate solutions and support that does not go far enough.
The hospitality sector is the third largest private sector employer, providing 3.2 million people with jobs and representing approximately 10% of UK employment. It produces £130 billion of economic activity and generates £39 billion in taxation for the government.
What’s more, hospitality is the largest sub-sector of the tourism industry, employing around three-quarters of its total workforce, and therefore contributes to a significant export industry that makes the UK an important destination for leisure and business.
Yet despite its size and contribution to the economy, there is no one at a senior, ministerial level to fight its corner. There is a tourism minister (Nigel Huddleston) and a minister for business, energy & industrial strategy (Alok Sharma), but nobody that understands the diverse nature of the hospitality sector.
David Moore, owner of fine dining restaurant Pied à Terre in London’s Mayfair, finds this surprising, commenting: “When you consider the size of our industry, it seems weird that we don’t have a minister, especially when you think areas such as sports, culture and media all do. We really should be having someone looking after our interests at a government level.
“It’s important because we have very little voice, actually no voice at all really. When the government is talking about closing restaurants or 10pm curfews, we’d like someone in the room saying ‘come on guys, where’s the evidence?’ because only 3% of covid cases are coming from hospitality. It’s that voice in the room that we don’t have.”
Of the same opinion is Robin Hutson, CEO and chairman of The Pig hotel group, which operates seven boutique hotels across the South West. He comments: “Hospitality is possibly the single most important industry in the UK today, a massive employer and trainer of young people, a huge contributor to the nation’s coffers and a significant catalyst for the mental health of our population.
“A minister for hospitality would give a dedicated voice for the industry at the top table to represent the sector without the compromising effect of having to balance other interests.”
Tony Sophoclides, strategic affairs director, UK Hospitality, believes the factors that make hospitality a national asset are as diverse as its offer, adding: “The interests of the sector lie within the remits of most Whitehall departments, with issues such as business rates, skills and employment shortages, digital economy, taxation, obesity, public security, tourism, food safety, licensing, import and exports and many more besides.
“Yet there exists no go-to place in the Governmental structure from where such diverse policy needs can be analysed, co-ordinated and addressed in a holistic manner. Policies crucial to hospitality’s fortunes currently sit within many government departments – there is no focal point.”
Two big questions that are on everybody’s lips are who would take up the role and what their responsibilities would entail.
Cyrus Todiwala, owner of London’s Café Spice Namasté, believes careful consideration is needed to select the right candidate and calls for someone who understands the industry, who has a hospitality background and who is open to discussions. He adds: “I am not sure one person can handle it as it will surely need a dedicated team that will feed into the minister and which, in turn, has a permanent secretary that appoints key members of the industry as advisors and help in policymaking.”
The industry certainly has plenty of strong candidates and many big voices, two traits needed for a minister who will be called upon to tackle the wide-ranging issues that Tony Sophoclides has already highlighted, such as business rates and VAT reductions, licensing reforms and obesity.
One area all hospitality members are united on is the need for immediate action to address the current skills shortage by emphasising the importance of education, by motivating young people and careers advisors and by lifting people’s appreciation of this valuable sector.
Namasté’s Cyrus Todiwala comments: “The very first issue I’d like government to tackle is to raise the profile of the entire industry and elevate it to the same platform as others. I want to clear the way of that age-old thinking of hospitality employing people of low IQ and of low education credentials.
“Young people should be motivated to look at hospitality as a first-choice career, and career advisors need to be fully briefed about how good and great this industry is and why it needs a minister to look after it.”
“I like to see the minister for hospitality pushing the government on the skills shortage we have in the sector and also better understand that this is employee-lead training on the job more so than in a college/classroom environment,” he remarks.
“I’d also like them to understand the wider ecosystem of what makes the sector work. Often this sector has a bigger success when more of it is focused on a destination collectively.”
With today’s news that hospitality and pubs face losing 750,000 jobs without urgent government support, the feeling is very clear that the industry needs representation now more than ever.
An online petition to create a minister for hospitality in the UK government has reached 28,850 signatures, surpassing the 10,000 needed for a response but still some way off the 100,000 needed for it to be considered for debate in Parliament.
Many believe that crisis or no crisis, the strength and pure might of the industry means a voice in Parliament is well overdue. Cyrus Todiwala comments: “The UK depends greatly on a continuous flow of tourism throughout the year.
“London alone benefits greatly from this surge in tourism and receives billions each year thanks to it being a world destination. But who looks after the tourists? Who gives them that moment of truth? Who gives them that experience so that they will come back again and again and not just but tell their friends too?
“The millions of people that dine out daily or order food in daily or get ready meals from their supermarkets and so on, all of that is hospitality in one shape or form.
“It touches everything and yet it has never touched the hearts of any government.”
Pied à Terre’s David Moore, remains optimistically hopefully, adding: “We’re asking for it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. We might find they do listen to us on this one.”