Last year, Porters English Restaurant in Covent Garden, London, celebrated its 30th anniversary. Its owner, Richard, Earl of Bradford, this year became the new chairman of the Restaurant Association. He spoke to Mark Lewis about his plans for his tenure.
Caterer What changes have you seen in your sector through your career?
Earl of Bradford We have a wealth of history in this country and now hospitality has created a whole new form of tourism. Look at places like Ludlow, Bray and Padstow. People are coming here as culinary tourists. We've created this sector, now we need help from government to make it work.
Caterer Does their track record fill you with confidence?
EoB No. They retain an unenlightened attitude to the importance of hospitality. Our nation can't compete in manufacturing any longer, so we have to make a success of the service economy. Britain has been slipping down the tourism league.
Caterer What will your priorities be as chairman of the Restaurant Association?
EoB There are so many challenges; it almost feels as though we're an industry under threat. We've reached a dangerous stage where costs have gone up and there's virtually no support for tourism promotion.
Caterer How could the nation promote itself better?
EoB The Government must think of tourism promotion as investment, not expenditure. I can't understand why so little importance is given to the work of the tourism boards. There's no way areas of Britain can promote themselves effectively overseas without government help. Central promotion is more effective.
Caterer Where do you stand on Scores on the Doors?
EoB The system should work on a "pass, fail or improvement needed" basis, as in Scotland. What could be clearer? Instead, we have a system that nobody understands. The basic premise should be to make sure diners are protected. Either a place is safe to eat in or not.
Caterer And menu labelling?
EoB You can see how the chain operators could offer more information about calories and so on, but what hope do independents have? As for trying to cover all allergies on a menu, it's practically impossible. We need to apply common sense.
Caterer Has the Government got its immigration policy right?
EoB The Government talks about cutbacks on immigration from outside the EU but they can do nothing to control what happens within it. Meanwhile, the ethnic sector struggles to find chefs.
Caterer Any other bugbears?
EoB Yes, the process of rent reviews; it's an entrenched and adversarial system. Also VAT, which is fine in itself, but not combined with high tax. We'll campaign for a reduction in VAT.