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‘You wouldn’t ask a car mechanic advice on a soufflé’: Scottish chefs explain why hospitality needs its own minister

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The Seat at the Table campaign has been petitioning to get a UK minister of hospitality. Julia Bryce spoke to Scottish chefs to find out what a position like this would mean for the industry…

The UK hospitality industry is responsible for around three million jobs, generates around £130 billion and pays around £38bn in tax every year.

However, unlike most industries there is minimal representation in UK Parliament with two ministers sharing the responsibility of the industry – the departments for business, energy and industrial strategy, and digital, culture, media and sport.

Launched online in November, the Seat at the Table campaign was established to help support an online petition which was filed in October and as a result of the campaign, more than 200,000 people have signed it.

Lydia Rigby, left, and Freya Morton of Seat at the Table are supporting the petition to get a UK hospitality minister in parliament.

Spearheading the campaign is UK hotelier Robin Hutson of The Pig Hotels group. Robin has tasked two of his staff members from his The Pig at Bridge Palace venue, Lydia Rigby and Freya Morton, to push the petition as far as they can, gathering support from more than 100 businesses across the UK on social media in one month.

Scottish chefs and hoteliers including Nick Nairn, Tom Kitchin, Dan Rose-Bristow, Gordon Campbell Gray, Craig Miller and Geoffrey Smeddle, to name only a few, were quick to back the initiative, sharing the petition online to encourage others to support it.

The campaign has also been backed heavily by Tom Kerridge and Angela Hartnett Murano.

200,000 signatures from customers to suppliers

Lydia said: “The petition was started by Claire Bosi in October and although it was initially quite successful, the momentum stopped around 35,000 signatures. At the start of November Robin asked if myself and a group of others, including Freya, could help get more traction on it. And Seat at the Table was born.

“We’ve been blown away by the support from those in and outside the industry through the whole supply chain as well as people who just enjoy hospitality. We’ve now got more than 200,000 signatures on the petition which is just fantastic.

Lydia Rigby of Seat at the Table.

“For us it is really important we have a complete formation approach. We need to have a dedicated experienced voice who can consolidate all of the industry voices in parliament. We launched the campaign via mass Zoom with hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs and we’ve had the backing of Robin, Angela Hartnett Murano and Tom Kerridge who have been instrumental in rallying support.

To support the hospitality industry you can sign the petition here.

Motion raised in support

Following a debate in parliament earlier this week, a motion to ensure the hospitality sector gets more support has been filed as a result of the positive feedback from MPs.

She added: “The campaign is nationwide and it is a consolidation of voices. Hospitality is very well represented by various groups and institutes. The dialog isn’t completely open between them and the government so we hope this has a big impact on every country in the UK.

“After the debate on Monday there has been an early day motion raised and there’s a number of Scottish MPs behind that. This is in regards to furthering support for the industry, rather than the ministerial position. This is just the beginning so we need to keep pushing and sharing voices so we are heard.”

Chef’s support

Craig Millar, owner and chef at fine dining restaurant 16 West End in St Monans in the East Neuk of Fife backed the campaign and shared the petition online to gather more support.

With hospitality being affected continuously throughout the coronavirus pandemic with a raft of continual restrictions heavily impacting the sector, Craig says it’s about time a hospitality minister was in place to relay the real constraints the industry is experiencing.

He said: “The industry really does need someone to fight their corner. Outwith the pandemic it is such a big industry and affects everyone. It affects suppliers and other industries too so it does need someone fighting for it.

Craig Millar, owner of 16 West End in St Monans.

“Some of the restrictions brought in, if they had someone who knew anything about hospitality, they would have said that they were ridiculous.

“I think the appointment has to start in the UK. They are the guys basically calling the shots. They say they have one already but it is shared between the minister for business, energy, industrial strategy and digital, culture, media and sport. How are they meant to know about hospitality? I mean you wouldn’t ask a car mechanic advice on a soufflé. You need someone who has some experience of the industry to know what they are talking about.

“They really just need the prime minister’s ear really. A direct link to the people making the decisions, which clearly hasn’t been the case as you can see from some of the decisions that have been made. They’ve backtracked and come up with different ones. It is a direct link to the decision makers.”

Debate for minister

Geoffrey Smeddle, who runs The Peat Inn near St Andrews with his wife Katherine, also agrees there needs to be a voice for hospitality at the table.

Geoffrey Smeddle of The Peat Inn.

He said: “We do believe it was right for there to be a debate on whether there should be a hospitality minister.

“We’re not saying that businesses should stay open at all costs, because clearly that’s not realistic or desirable in the face of a pandemic, but what people in hospitality want is for the government to understand the impact of their decisions, particularly when they’re taken at very short notice.

“If there was a clearer voice at the table speaking on behalf of hospitality, some of those decisions could have been made in a way that allows businesses to take the necessary steps and at the same time to do so without such an economic impact in the long run.”

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