"Our industry has been undervalued and underappreciated for too long," were the words of Nick Varney today, British Hospitality Association (BHA) chairman and chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, speaking at the BHA Summit 2017.
In his speech, he outlined the association's agenda for the new government following the general election this week, which highlighted the need for hospitality and tourism to be moved to the remit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; no plans, promises or targets for the National Living Wage (NLW); a review of business rates; evidence-based immigration targets; and a reduction of VAT.
With the summit taking place three days after the terror attack on London Bridge, Varney offered his condolences to those affected by the attacks in London and Manchester and praised the bravery of hospitality workers.
"The next period is going to be very difficult, particularly in London," he said. "However as in the past, the hospitality and tourism sector will be at the forefront of telling the world not only that the UK remains open for business but also that the terrorists will not win."
Turning to this week's general election he criticised "the still unappreciated value of hospitality and tourism to the UK economy and its vital role in providing entry level jobs" and the "bidding war" between political parties for their "vote-winning policies" on minimum wage and NLW without considering businesses' ability to absorb the costs.
"We would all like to pay our people more, invest in more training and ensure they have pensions. The problem is that these policies are being dropped on us by politicians with little experience of business and even less understanding of the disproportionate hit to large people employers such as those in hospitality and tourism.
"Add to this the looming uncertainties of Brexit whether they be possible barriers to trade or visa restrictions on EU workers and you have a tax generating, core job creating, industry under serious threat of competitive disadvantage just when the economy needs it most."
He called for the industry to be moved to the remit of the Department for Business, Industry and Skills, rather than the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where it is currently a "second-tier priority". He also called for a review of business rates, and an evidence-based, phased approach to immigration restrictions.
When it came to VAT, Varney described a reduction in VAT as "the ‘silver bullet' solution" to numerous problems in the sector, and apart from security concerns said price is the major determinant of success or failure in the international tourism market.
"Reducing VAT on accommodation and visitor attractions now and restaurants later, will lock in the competitive advantage, allow the industry to better absorb cost pressures and be the much needed tonic to drive the revival of depressed parts of the UK such as coastal communities," he said.
"Our industry has for too long been under-appreciated and undervalued. We need to change this because the policy issues before us are existential for many of our members and of prime importance for our country's future, not least in the vital area of job creation."
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