Two British Government reports have sneaked out unnoticed recently, and both of them contain good news for the hospitality industry.
First, the Small Business Council, which I have had the pleasure to work with for the past two years, made its annual report to Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in the summer.
This is an initiative set up by the Government in May 2000. Its role is to advise the Government, particularly the Secretary of State at the DTI, on the needs and concerns of small businesses.
The Government has recognised that small business is, in fact, big business to the UK economy. There are a staggering 3.6 million small businesses in the UK - more than 99% of all business is small business.
So it is no wonder that William Sargent, chair of the Small Business Council, was in an outspoken mood when presenting the annual report. He strongly criticised both the Government and small businesses for their joint failure to deal with the issue of skills gaps and staff shortages.
In his address, Sargent called for the Government to pay for skills training in small businesses via Company Learning Accounts. While the detail of this system has not been hammered out, the principle of Government-funded learning in the workplace is one that I am sure many caterers would find very helpful and valuable.
Fingers crossed, this recommendation will be followed through. Last year, of 22 recommendations made, 17 were accepted in whole or in part by the Government.
The second "good news" report was published by Hewitt herself, in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine. They produced an independent report, with which I was involved, looking at modernising employment tribunals.
One of the points I made during discussions was that many small businesses find it difficult to keep up with the constantly changing demands of employment law. I pointed out that it is more often through a lack of knowledge, rather than intent, that small businesses face tribunals.
I also pointed out that small businesses can view tribunal applications as a form of blackmail, because they simply cannot afford the management time to fight the case.
I am looking forward to the Government's response to these recommendations, and I very much hope our efforts will result in a simpler and fairer system.