Government must be flexible on tourism

26 November 2010 by
Government must be flexible on tourism

David Cameron's speech on tourism in August was indeed welcome: no prime minister has made plain such unequivocal government support for the industry. But, only six months into his premiership, are his words in danger of being overturned by his deeds?

Take immigration policy, for example. Immigration is a sensitive issue for the hospitality industry because it has always welcomed and employed a great variety of overseas workers - and the hospitality industry gains mightily from their presence in this country, in the same way that our young talent gains experience abroad.

Those from countries outside the EU have also come to Britain - many to settle down here. The number of Indian, Chinese and other ethnic restaurateurs is testament to this. Indeed, excluding quick-service restaurants, the number of ethnic restaurants - 10,800 - represents 42% of the total number of restaurants in the UK.

These restaurants make a significant contribution to the British economy, to the Treasury's tax revenues and to the general social fabric of UK society. They also represent areas and levels of skill and expertise that are not homegrown and cannot be recruited from the pool of talent within the UK industry. Already there are 10 or more ethnic restaurants with at least one Michelin star. London's reputation as one of the eating-out capitals of the world is bolstered by these establishments.

The existence of these restaurants - and, certainly, their future expansion - is endangered by a government policy that appears to accept the argument that while non-EU bankers, doctors, financiers and scientists can work in Britain, highly skilled and experienced ethnic chefs cannot. What is the difference? Is not tourism one of the great industries of the 21st century? Is this not what David Cameron stated in his August speech? Doesn't UK tourism offer the country the greatest opportunities for new job, new employment?

So why the reluctance to grant visas to highly skilled chefs who can take charge of a kitchen and prepare fine cuisine in the traditional way - a way that takes years of training? The chefs required are those at the top of their profession, with skills unavailable in this country.

And why does the Government introduce the very severe difficulty of allowing businesses to apply for visas only one month in advance, when opening a new restaurant can take at least six months? This makes no business sense at all - yet the Government claims it wants to support small businesses and help them to grow.

If it is to support the British tourism industry, the Government's policies should be flexible. At present, there are worrying signs that David Cameron's words are not matching his deeds.

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