With the General Election just days away, David Harris takes an in-depth look at what the parties are offering hospitality businesses, while The Caterer asks operators and suppliers what they'd like to see from the next government
If you want to know what is distinctive about any particular General Election, it is usually worth comparing it to past elections. The most obvious difference about the 2015 election compared to the 2010 one is the number of parties in serious contention. At the last election The Caterer, along with the wider media, covered the election in terms of the three main parties. The election debates featured David Cameron, Nick Clegg and
Gordon Brown; the supporting cast of parties featured only in the margins.
This year it has become commonplace to suggest that no single party is likely to be able to form a government. A coalition is not just possible, but likely, say some. Consequently, the views of not three but six or seven parties are perhaps more relevant than ever before to the outcome.
There are other big differences too. The increasing tendency of politicians to speak much while saying little has increased voter scepticism. It is now so routine for politicians to say what they want in response to questions, rather than answering directly, that most of us only occasionally remark upon it. Evading questions has became part of political culture. It hasn't always been like this, but to get the best sense of the change in one, you have to go back a bit. There is, for instance, an old newsreel clip of Clement Attlee interviewed on the election trail in 1950. He has so little to say in response to many questions that the interviewer is reduced to asking him: "Have you anything to add, prime minister?" To which Attlee replies: "No, I don't think so." Can you imagine any modern politician responding like this? It is enough to reduce those nostalgic for a less showy era to tears.
Despite this, the decline of straight talking is no reason to stop looking for straight answers. So, in an effort to get behind what the parties might offer to hotels, restaurants and pubs this time around, we asked seven parties a series of questions. The parties we approached are the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and UKIP.
Not all of the parties were able to respond fully, some for reasons that might seem understandable. While Labour, the LibDems and the SNP all seemed keen and provided full responses, others were less forthcoming. The Greens, for instance, were friendly, but pleaded that the party did not "have the capacity to respond to your questions at the moment" and pointed us towards their website. UKIP, conforming to the "rugby club on
tour" image referred to by its genial economics spokesman Patrick O'Flynn, said it was happy to help, but then came back very late with a limited response (although one UKIP policy not mentioned below is that it would like to see the return of smoking in pubs). The Tories suggested that its manifesto should answer most questions but then, at the last minute, did offer a spokesman for a chat.
A mixed bag then, with parties predictably stronger on broad policy intentions rather than specifics or funding. But what follows are the responses we received to a range of questions that affect hospitality, directly or indirectly. They are of uneven length, not because we have given any party greater space, but because some responded more fully than others.
Do you have any plans to change the current rate of VAT for hospitality businesses (either hotels, restaurants, pubs or all three)?
SNP We are supportive of a cut in the current rate of VAT for the tourism business. We believe it would generate a stimulus that would create a large number of jobs.
Labour We are committed to no increase in VAT. No Labour government has ever increased the standard rate of VAT.
LibDems We would not bring in any increases in VAT, income tax, national insurance or corporation tax. We recognise the need to tackle the deficit, but we do not think low and middle income earners should bear the burden through tax rises.
Plaid Cymru Yes, we favour a cut to 5%.
The Greens The Green Party would phase out VAT over a period of time and replace it with a system of environmental taxation measures (‘eco-taxes').
ConservativesWe are aware of the hospitality industry's campaign on this and are considering it, but we have no plans at the moment.
Does your party support the changes to the pub code that will see the beer tie scrapped for a large number of pubs?
LibDems The LibDems would scrap the beer tie and support the market rent-only option. We believe that this is a reasonable and gradual policy, and simply provides an option to tenants to choose at appropriate times whether they want to carry on with a tied agreement or to have a rental-only agreement.
SNP The SNP Scottish Government is currently considering this issue.
Plaid Cymru Plaid Cymru is considering the issue.
The Greens The Greens will reform "beer tie" arrangements to ensure a fair deal for consumers, allow local brewers to sell their beer to local pubs and deliver a sustainable future for Britain's pubs.
LabourLabour has called for a proper statutory pub code, giving tenants the protection they need and putting an end to the unfair treatment they have received from large pub companies. We believe there is a need for a free-of-tie option to protect local pubs.
Does your party have plans to raise the minimum wage?
Labour Labour will raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour before 2020. This long-term target will give businesses time to plan. And to help businesses pay their staff a living wage, Labour will introduce "Make Work Pay" contracts, providing tax breaks for firms who sign up to pay a living wage in the first year of the next Parliament.
Conservatives We approve of a gradual rise in the rate of the minimum wage, but take the position that this is best handled by the Low Pay Commission, so as not to compromise employment. But we would like to see the rate at £8 an hour and are committed to raise the personal tax allowance (the rate at which tax starts being paid) to £12,500 by the end of the next Parliament.
LibDems We are looking at ways of raising the national minimum wage, while ensuring that this does not damage employment opportunities. We understand the need for fairness for employees, which is why we increased the minimum wage this year to £6.70 per hour for over 21s.
Plaid Cymru Our aim is for a living wage by 2020. We define that as £7.65 outside of London.
SNP The powers over setting a minimum wage have not been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, despite the SNP calling for this to happen. The SNP believes it is vital that everyone in Scotland receives a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. We would support a fair minimum wage that rises in line with inflation.
GreensThe Green Party has called for the statutory minimum wage to be immediately lifted to living wage levels and for a £10 per hour minimum wage for all by 2020. The party has also said that every worker over 16 should be paid at least the minimum wage and we would abolish the age-based differential rates in place.
What is your party's policy towards zerohours contracts (the use of which is prevalent in the hospitality industry)?
Conservatives We have taken action already to ban exclusivity contracts, but we do not plan any further changes.
Plaid Cymru We want to see them scrapped.
SNP The SNP leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated that zero-hours contracts are not always appropriate and present many people with real challenges in managing their income. The SNP Scottish Government has been looking at options available to tackle the issue within its limited powers.
Labour There is a place for zero-hours contracts that will benefit employees as well as employers. But Labour will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts with new rights for workers to protect them. Under Labour, if you work regular hours, you will be legally entitled to a regular contract.
Greens Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.
Will your party relax immigration/visa restrictions for skilled chefs and other occupations where there is a skills shortage?
UKIP UKIP wants to restrict immigration and establish a points-based visa system based on that in Australia. Preference would be given to Commonwealth nationals and those with key skills.
Conservatives The Conservatives support the idea that those that fill skills shortages should be allowed into the UK, but David Cameron has promised to cut net immigration by tens of thousands. Under Tory plans, migrants will be barred from claiming benefits, such as tax credits and housing benefit for four years, as well as having entitlement to social housing reduced. Those from within the EU will also have benefit entitlements curtailed and will no longer be able to send child benefit to youngsters living abroad.
Labour A Labour government will introducea smarter system of immigration controls, so we get the top talent and investment we need and welcome overseas students who contribute to our economy, while controlling low-skilled migration.
LibDems We want to make sure that immigrants who come to the UK to work and contribute to the economy have the opportunity to do so. While the Tories are terrified of losing support to UKIP and say they want zero net migration, we recognise the value that immigrants bring to our country.
SNP Scotland's differing demographic and migration needs mean that the current UK immigration system does not serve our interests. However, as immigration policy is reserved to the Westminster Parliament, we are currently unable to amend the rules to make them better suited to Scotland. Scotland has a clear economic rationale for growing our population.
Plaid Cymru We don't see immigration as a bad thing, so we would be in favour of encouraging it for skilled workers. We have a lot of common ground with the SNP on this.
Greens The Greens migration policy would not discriminate directly on the grounds of race, colour, religion, political belief, disability, sex or sexual orientation. It adds that foreign nationals with resources or desirable skills should not be given preferential treatment.
Will your party continue to support free school meals and would you plan any other changes to the school meals system?
Labour Labour will continue with the universal free school meals initiative for all five, six and seven-year-olds in English primary schools.
LibDems We introduced free school meals for the under-sevens and now we want to take free school meals even further: we are committed to extending free school meals to all pupils in primary education.
Conservatives We have no plans to change the current regime, which we brought in.
Plaid Cymru We plan to continue the current system.
SNP The SNP has expanded the provision of free school meals to cover all pupils in primary 1-3. We encourage local authorities to offer fresh, seasonal, local and sustainable produce.
Greens The Greens have always supported free school meals for primary school children and have indicated that it will continue to do so.
What would your party do to help improve hospital food and food for care in the community?
SNP The SNP Scottish Government is investing £300,000 in helping health boards to improve nutritional care in hospitals, as well as increasing inspections of hospital meals and holding a consultation on whether standards for hospital food should be put on a statutory footing.
Conservatives We are very much committed to improving hospital food and food for care in the community.
LibDems The Liberal Democrats is the only party to make a credible commitment to safeguarding the NHS budget, ensuring that funding will be at least £8b higher in real terms by 2020. Putting the NHS on a stable, secure footing is the best way to make sure hospitals can make improvements - including food.
Labour Our food strategy will support a worldleading food sector and will ensure that everybody has the chance to eat safe, healthy, affordable and sustainable produce. Labour will encourage schools and hospitals, local authorities and agencies funded by government to source more food from local and regional British producers.
Plaid Cymru Providing decent food in hospitals and for community care has always been a high priority and will continue to be so.
Greens Proper healthcare for all and the responsible use of resources both require the continued provision of well-financed and publicly funded health services.
How significant would you make the representation in government of the minister in charge of tourism and hospitality? Would tourism get its own dedicated minister? Would that minister have a place in the Cabinet?
LibDemsWe will give higher status to tourism within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and strengthen the Hospitality and Tourism Council, with the business and culture secretaries as co-chairs. This will help ensure that the British tourism industry is able to compete with other major world destinations and be a key generator of growth in the UK economy.
Plaid Cymru In Westminster Hywel Williams is the MP who takes responsibility for tourism for Plaid.
Labour Labour recognises the important role that tourism plays in creating jobs and growing our economy. Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader and shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, has set out a comprehensive cross-departmental strategy to support and boost tourism.
SNP The Scottish Government has a ministerfor energy, enterprise and tourism, acknowledging the importance of the industry to the SNP.
ConservativesWe are not going to create a new ministry. Tourism is vitally important, but several ministers contribute to our policy on it and we believe that this is the best way to address it.