Just three weeks ago the industry was reeling from an apparent snub by Chancellor Gordon Brown for pulling out of the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress at short notice (Caterer, 9 July, page 21). The reason? He had other, more urgent matters to attend to. But Mr Brown has since made up for this by inviting 60 key industry figures to meet with Government ministers last week to discuss the New Deal (see page 12).
During the meeting David Batts, chairman of the London Tourist Board and founder of the London Hotels Training Centre, explained how the centre worked and its relevance to the New Deal programme. And Jennifer Lee, personnel and training manager of Jurys Hotels, outlined how the New Deal had played an important role in recruiting staff for the opening of the company's hotel in Islington.
Their voices were heard. Ministers at the meeting pledged to support a campaign to improve the image of the hospitality industry as a career.
Most encouraging was the turn-out at the meeting by ministers. As well as the chancellor, speakers were Education Secretary David Blunkett, Culture Secretary Chris Smith, Tourism Minister Tom Clarke and Employment Minister Andrew Smith.
Whether or not the meeting was a guilty reaction by the chancellor to recent cancellations is hard to gauge. But the fact that so many government ministers were able to co-ordinate diaries at short notice to attend the event was something of a miracle.
Whether miracle or good management, the result of the meeting puts hospitality high on the Government's agenda.
Many who attended the event will also have breathed a sigh of relief that Chris Smith has held on to his post in the cabinet reshuffle. Mr Smith is recognised as a driving force behind a change in Government attitude. He should provide continuity for the future.
But if Mr Smith is to continue to earn his keep he must help convert the Government's pledge into action. This will mean more than talking. If something positive is to emerge, the Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and provide funding to make things happen.
The first hurdle has been cleared, but this is just the beginning. It is vital that the dialogue is maintained, particularly as Roy Tutty, who became the first tourism adviser to the department three-and-a-half years ago, is leaving to return to the industry (Caterer, 23 July, page 9). He has paved the way for the dialogue and he will be sadly missed.
But his work must not be wasted. Chris Smith has called upon the industry to help identify a worthy successor. It needs to be someone who can manage a team at Whitehall while maintaining links with the industry. But above all it needs to be someone who can implement a drive that has only just begun.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper