In a world that is increasingly dominated by rules and regulations, the role of the British Hospitality Association has become increasingly important to its members. But have you ever wondered what it does? Janet Harmer found out
It's a tough industry. As well as providing hospitality for their customers, hoteliers, restaurateurs and caterers have to be rigorous about ensuring they run their businesses according to the laws of the land.
Keeping up-to-date with a never-ending stream of new and revised legislation, and ensuring that legislation is shaped to meet the needs of individual businesses and the industry as a whole is more onerous than ever before. But a problem shared is a problem halved.
Cue the British Hospitality Association (BHA), which provides significant benefits to its members - which now number more than 9,000 hotels, 11,000 restaurants and 19,000 contract catering units.
By working for its members within government circles, promoting and protecting the interests of all operators - from the largest multinational to the smallest independent - it ensures their voice is heard at local, national and international levels, influencing key decision-makers and helping to mould policy in order to minimise the burden of new legislation.
On a more personal level, the BHA also provides its members with a wide range of services designed to keep them informed of industry issues and up-to-date legislation, as well as offering legal advice and information that will help grow their business and save money and time.
A key element of ensuring that the BHA is acting in the best interests of its members is by maintaining a regular and efficient dialogue. To this end, the eight regional committees - Scotland, Wales, London, Eastern, Heart of England, Northern, South Eastern and South Western - and sector and subject committees - Restaurant Association, restaurant chains, restaurant group for central London, club, food and technical, food and service management, motorway service area operators, employment and finance - each meet three or four times a year.
In addition, the BHA Council represents the multinational hotel groups and food service companies, while the National Executive promotes the needs of the independent operators.
With just 14 full-time members of staff at the BHA offices in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields, it is within the committees, the council and the National Executive that the policy of the association is formulated. "Communication with members is of critical importance," says BHA chief executive Bob Cotton, who attends every committee meeting. "It's a very effective method of listening to which issues are of concern to members and for me to be able to tell members what we are doing.
"Sometimes the members look to me to provide which line we should take on a specific issue. For instance, they sought my view on the smoking ban, which was to take the moral high ground and go for a comprehensive, rather than a partial ban, which would be difficult to administer.
"Our first discussions on the Olympics took place within the BHA Council, which includes 15 members representing the big hotel groups with responsibility for 333,000 beds. We had to decide on whether or not we were going to support the Government's bid. We agreed that the sensible approach would be to actively support it. Doing so presented the BHA in a favourable light for discussions with the Government on other matters."
To make the BHA as representative of the industry as possible, it has widened its membership in recent years to include local hotel associations, organisations such as Farm Stay, representing farm holidays, and manufacturing and supply companies such as Brakes and 3663.
It is also encouraging more patron suppliers - like American Express and HSBC - to join. As a result, the association's annual income is now more than £2m, helping to boost the BHA's ability to represent its members efficiently at the highest possible level.
Once armed with views and information from the membership, Cotton and the key experts at the BHA - specifically deputy chief executive Martin Couchman and chairman of the food and technical committee John Dyson - set about lobbying government, whether in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Brussels.
As a result of the year he spent as tourism adviser at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Cotton knows which lobby route to take for different issues. "Sometimes we might directly approach a government minister, or maybe liaise with civil servants, hold a dialogue through the press, or work more discreetly behind the scenes," he says.
Any hotelier, restaurateur or caterer keen to influence the industry's representation with government is welcome to join the BHA. With a committee for every sector and region, there's an opportunity for every business - however large or small - to contribute.
A year of lobbying
Here are just some of the issues on which the BHA has actively lobbied over the past 12 months:
- Licensing (Scotland) Act - worked with other associations in a bid to reduce potential red tape, eg, over the training requirements for alcohol servers.
- Working Time Directive - lobbied European Commission on its Labour Law Green Paper, stressing that the directive was overcomplex and needed complete revision.
- Smoking: England - discussed signage and other regulations and secured some relaxation of requirements, while supporting the basis of the ban.
- Olympics - participated in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport group overseeing the tourism aspects of the preparations.
- Immigration points-based system - worked with Home Office to try to develop the least bureaucratic arrangements for immigrant workers and lobbied to ensure that hospitality occupations were included in shortage lists.
- National minimum wage - pressed Low Pay Commission to keep its 2007 recommendations at a much lower level than those in previous years, especially given the significant impact for many operators of the increase in paid holidays.
- Tourist/bed tax - continued lobbying of the Lyons Inquiry in England, the Welsh Assembly government and the Scottish Executive on the opposition to bed tax proposals resulted in success in England and Wales and partial success in Scotland.
- Taxation of tips and troncs - negotiated more favourable version of detailed guidance from HM Revenue & Customs.
- Carbon trading - responded to Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs proposals for trading scheme covering hospitality businesses with more than £250,000 of annual electricity spend.
- Hotel Building Allowance - took up campaign to save the allowance, threatened by abolition announcement in the 2007 Budget.
Who's who at the BHA
Bob Cotton, chief executive
Appointed in 2000, he took over the reins from former chief executive Jeremy Logie. He brought to the position a solid background in the contract catering industry through his previous role in corporate affairs and strategic planning at former contract caterer Gardener Merchant and experience as a former tourism adviser at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. His main responsibilities are lobbying on tourism and food issues
Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive
The unsung hero of the BHA over the past 14 years, Couchman has a wealth of experience and understanding of how governments operate and politicians think. He previously worked for the National Economic Development Office and today looks after the BHA's policies on employment, taxation and all major regulatory issues such as immigration. As a result, he makes about 10 trips a year to Brussels, where he has represented the BHA at numerous HOTREC (the European association for hotels, restaurants, cafés and bars) meetings.
John Dyson, Chair, Food & Technical Committee
Dyson liaises on behalf of the BHA with government on all food policy, environmental, health and safety and fire issues. He regards obesity as the biggest crisis facing the country for many years. "While people are responsible for their own lifestyles and the food they choose to eat, the industry has a role to play, particularly in the food service sector," he says.
Graham Grose, chair, National Executive
Managing director of the Thurlestone hotel in the South Hams, Devon, Grose is the latest member of his family to play an active role in the BHA. Both his father Peter and grandfather Bert were involved in the organisation. "The National Executive is the fulcrum of the association, feeding information about what its members - largely independent operators - are concerned about into the BHA Council, which comprises the big groups," says Grose. "The BHA is the voice of the industry, working on issues that are just as likely to have an impact on a large organisation as a small hotel or restaurant."
David Baldwin, chair, Restaurant Association national committee
The Restaurant Association has retained its own identity since merging with the BHA three years ago, a move which David Baldwin, proprietor of Baldwin's Omega in Sheffield, says was absolutely necessary to provide a united front to Whitehall. "Some of the issues concerning restaurateurs at present include signs of a bit of a recession in the provinces, the fixing of the minimum wage for just one year instead of the usual two, and the enormous inflation in the cost of fresh vegetables over the past two years," he says. "These are all areas where we can provide support and discussion for members and lobby Government, if necessary."
Tony Hughes, chair, restaurant chains group
"Not all new government legislation is very wise, but the BHA does a wonderful job in ensuring common sense prevails," says Hughes, managing director of the restaurants group at Mitchells & Butlers. "Much of the work on the restaurant chains group is concerned with legislation on licensing reforms, employment matters and health and nutrition."
Phil Hooper, chair, Food and Service Management Forum
Recent issues that have concerned the forum, chaired by Hooper, corporate affairs director of Sodexho UK, include negotiating an extension of VAT concessions for the contract catering industry, modernising the BHA's annual survey of the sector, and an increased dialogue with the Food Standards Agency.
Peter Owen, chair, Clubs Panel
There are 28 clubs - including traditional London and golf clubs - that form the clubs panel, which has been chaired by Owen, secretary and general manger of the Royal Air Force Club, for the past two years. "Belonging to the BHA is a useful means of finding out how new legislation is going to impact our specific operations," he says.
Michael Guthrie, chair, Motorway Service Area Operators Committee
The BHA has been working with the Highways Agency and Department of Transport in developing a new motorway services area policy. "We're hoping for greater choice, better value and increased capacity for cars, which will provide more opportunities for private investment to help further develop the network of motorway service areas," says Guthrie, deputy chairman of Welcome Break Holdings.