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From the Editor

The first few months of 2011 have not been good at all for the industry, after a difficult end to 2010 with the heavy snow and bad weather contribut- ing to a steep drop in trade.There are clear signs already that the rise in VAT to 20% is hitting the restaurant sector hard. In an ideal world restau- rants would be able to pass the rise onto customers through higher menu prices, But in these tough times it is not possible to do that without driving customers away. After all everybody is struggling to make ends meet. This situation is made worse by the fact that the VAT rise, and inflation in world food costs, is putting up the cost of making many dishes.

In France they have adopted an inno- vative approach of reducing VAT, pro- vided restaurants pass on that at least in part to customers. Perhaps the gov- ernment needs to consider something similar or many restaurants will go out of business. This year’s Budget is just around the corner so we can only hope there will be some help included for companies in the hospitality and catering industry. After all a recent survey found that we are the only sector where business failures are still increasing.

The VAT rise affects all restaurants, but there is a particular problem for the curry restaurant sector and this is the government decision to impose tough new criteria for those wanting to bring in skilled chefs from overseas. We do understand that the government was elected with a mandate to reduce immigration. But the requirements now being imposed will make it almost impossible for restaurants who need

to bring in chefs to the kitchens to find the right people. More restaurants will have to close down and those that were hoping to expand will not be able to.

The government argues that we can find the right skills within the EU. But that claim is impossible to justify. Customers appreciate the finely honed skills of the curry chefs learned over many years, first from their mothers and grandmothers and then often in hotels and restaurants in the subcon- tinent. The instinctive measuring by eye and touch cannot easily be taught; it has to be passed on from generation to generation.

Chefs will need to be a graduate to be qualified to obtain the necessary work permit to work in the UK. The existing system is already really hard with the language test when we do not need chefs able to speak English fluently. They are in the “back office” and do not interact with customers at all. Now the situation is being made even more difficult, and everyone - including our customers - will suffer.

There is just not a ready available pool of chefs with the curry cooking skills available in the EU to replace those from the subcontinent. If we are to train up young chefs in this country and elsewhere in Europe it will take years and years before they are able to cook at the highest level, and what are we to do in the meantime?

Since Tony Blair was in government, Spice Business has been campaign- ing for sensible and practical solu- tions for the industry in bringing staff from abroad. With this latest system

I believe migrants will not stay in the kitchen for long. Being a graduate and having a work permit in hand, they will surely jump at any other opportunity which arises. The industry will suffer unless we find a solution for the long term, and this is not it. Please write to your MPs and get your customers to write. We have to build up momentum for a change in policy.

On a more positive note tickets have gone on sale for the 2012 Olympics which is now only just over a year away and there is a real sense of excite- ment about these events, which will bring many visitors to London and the UK generally. This will be a once in a generation opportunity for our sector to showcase itself on a world stage. We need to ensure that we are ready to ‘welcome the world’ and we have to start now to prepare.

Enam Ali MBE-FIH

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