Britain’s hospitality industry is responsible for around three million jobs and generates £130 billion in activity, as well as bringing in £38 billion worth of taxes every year. Despite these contributions, the sector does not have a dedicated voice in Parliament. Unlike culture, media or sport, there is no Minister for Hospitality. And that means no one tasked with representing the concerns of hospitality workers to government.
As pubs, restaurants and bars across the UK continue to battle with coronavirus closures and curfews, a group of high profile chefs and hospitality figures – including Marcus Wareing, Angela Hartnett and Paul Ainsworth – is campaigning to instate a Minister for Hospitality. At a time when the industry has already suffered at least 100,000 job losses, the need for a dedicated hospitality minister in Parliament has never been more urgent.
The campaign began earlier this month, when Chef and Restaurant Magazine editor Claire Bosi started an online petition calling for the role to be introduced. The petition, which now has over 29,000 signatures, demands that a Minister for Hospitality be created for current and future governments, with the duty of liaising with industry representatives.
It goes on to state: “We believe such a minister would have been beneficial to government and industry during the pandemic. We need a minister who can listen to concerns on taxation and legislation and bring forward suggestions to the chancellor and policy makers on our behalf.”
Ainsworth, the Michelin-starred chef who has publicly backed the campaign, sees it as a way to work proactively with government. “There’s so much going on and the government has got the hardest job ever in trying to balance this,” he tells VICE News. “It’s very easy to bash them, but that for me isn’t what it’s about, it’s about being positive and putting a positive voice in there to help. What can we do to make things better? Rather than standing here pointing fingers and criticising.”
Bosi and Michelin-starred chefs like Ainsworth are not alone in backing the Minister for Hospitality role. Yuma Hashemi, chef patron at The Drunken Butler in London, says: “When you think about the size of the sector and the number of people it employs, it is unbelievable that we don’t already have a minister. I’m fully behind the campaign as it will ensure that we have a voice at the table when decisions are being made which will impact so many livelihoods.”
Martha Grilli, who is employed on the waitstaff at Pierino, a restaurant also in London, agrees. “The hospitality business has played a massive part in maintaining the UK’s economy and is suffering significantly as a result of the pandemic,” she says. “Recovering from this, I think it’s so important to have a dedicated minister to represent us when it comes to policy making in Parliament.”
Many hospitality workers claim that the industry would not have suffered as significantly in recent months had they had a dedicated minister to represent them. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s much lauded Eat Out to Help Out scheme resulted in the sale of 100 million meals in August, but many restaurants criticised it for not going far enough. Other policies, in particular the recent 10PM curfew, have been described as a “death sentence” for restaurants and bars. Both were introduced without formal consultation with industry representatives.
“Not having a minister has impacted hospitality massively,” Grilli says. “Eat Out to Help Out obviously made a difference but at the same time, the 10PM curfew was clearly instated without regard for our sector and I think had there been a minister this would have been considered more carefully.”
She adds: “I’m scared that without equal representation, and with lockdown measures being reintroduced, businesses may be forced to close again and this would be extremely detrimental to so many jobs.”
Support for a Minister for Hospitality is strong in other areas of the UK, too. In Scotland, where some pubs have been ordered to close in the last week, many hospitality workers want to see their needs represented in Parliament.
“The impact of a lack of a dedicated minister is quite clear, as it has become a bunfight between economics and health,” says Graham Suttle, managing director of the Kained group, whose venues include restaurants and cocktail bars across Scotland. “In doing so, the policy making is polarised between money and lives, ignoring what is in my opinion the most important area of impact – the human cost.”
Clearly, the hospitality industry is united in support of a Minister for Hospitality, which begs the question of why this role has not been seen in the Cabinet before now. Daniel Crump, proprietor of The Greyhound in Buckinghamshire, puts it down to the growth of dining out in recent years. “In the past, hospitality didn’t play the huge role that it does today,” he says. “Hospitality has come on leaps and bounds on every level in Britain, not only to feed people but to give an experience, create special memories, jobs and careers.”
The government is required to respond to any petition that receives more than 10,000 signatures. However, despite urgent pleas from hospitality workers, there are further barriers to seeing this role established within the cabinet.
Political communications expert Hamish Campbell-Shore explains: “The process of establishing a Minister for Hospitality is a largely straightforward one, if the government chooses to do so. Ministers are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, with a legal maximum number of paid ministers amounting to 109.”
However he adds, “should the Prime Minister decide to create a role for a Hospitality Minister, it is likely that this would come during the next government reshuffle, whenever that may be.”
The government’s furlough scheme is due to finish at the end of this month, leaving many hospitality workers fearing for their livelihoods. But the hospitality sector, which Bosi describes as “synonymous with excellence, innovation and inspiration” and a vital part of the UK’s economy, may not be able to wait.