Curry Sector Changes

Posted on In Focus Dec 2011 - by Tandoori Editor
Curry Sector Changes

With no let up to the changes being made to the regulations affecting the restaurant sector, Maria Fernandes casts her eye on what’s afoot.

It is no mean effort for restaurants struggling to provide high quality food at reasonable prices to continue to provide good value to cash-strapped customers.  The price of food has rocketed, the minimum has been raised yet again and there is a real shortage of staff. There are numerous raids on restaurants which are usually highly disruptive. The new rules have raised the salary threshold even further making the sourcing of a work permit holder a luxury.   
Permits for those coming from abroad, called Restricted Certificates are the most difficult to obtain. There is a monthly allocation of 1,500 per month and so far since April there is a surplus of 9,266.  This would at first glance suggest a drop in demand. The government would like to believe that their policies are working.
The truth is that the staff for restaurants are being squeezed out of the process. There has always been a view that there is rampant abuse in this sector. While it is certainly true that the system in the past has enabled false applications to be made more easily, the result is that genuine entrepreneurs keen to develop a unique place in the market are now being hampered severely by the lack of innovative staff to raise the bar.
Certificates for restaurants create so many hurdles and many exclusions that it is no surprise that very few restaurants are able to bring in staff.  As usual the big businesses win. David Cameron while accepting that small businesses are vital to the economy is failing to recognise their potential to give the economy a helping hand. In the meantime, the top handful of businesses enjoy the fruits of being a monopoly in the provision of nouveau cuisine and are able to charge a small fortune to diners who have deep pockets. The rest of the restaurants just have to make do.
Restaurateurs that have takeaways, no matter how small the proportion is, or if they have a buffet service (via a live kitchen) are not deemed to be of a high enough quality to qualify for a certificate. Any application for a certificate goes through a mincing process with almost no legal safeguards to ensure that applications are being properly and fairly considered. After complaints over this issue, there has finally been some agreement to provide reasons for refusal. 
The picture that is currently emerging is of restaurants poaching each other’s clients. This works to the advantage of one and the disadvantage of the other.  The pool of available staff is becoming smaller and smaller and it is inevitable that the quality of food and the innovation that chefs with backgrounds of five-star hotels bring will diminish. Britain will lose its reputation for its international cuisine. 
Recently the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) considered whether chefs should remain on the shortage list and concluded that there is still a shortage. There has been a clamour for years over these shortages. MAC, however, issued a warning that this is not a long-term position and that employers must make efforts to fund and develop resources for the future of this industry. This can work only if government schemes provide the investment along with the industry itself.  However, in the current economic condition this is unlikely to happen.  
Another layer of bureaucracy shortly to come into force is a Highly Trusted sponsor status which will introduce stricter rules on compliance and undoubtedly only be granted to a chosen few. Employers in this category will be able to bring in staff much more easily and this in turn will make it difficult for the others to get staff in. Details of this category will be available within the next few months.
Proposals are now being considered to restrict automatic settlement for Tier 2 applicants. The MAC has been invited to consider the economic consequences of doing so and there will be a call for evidence.   
The curry industry has been slow on the uptake of issues and where concerns are expressed the evidence is usually anecdotal. It is critically important for surveys to be carried out to establish the facts and for this evidence to be made available to the bodies such as MAC. Because the industry consists of small businesses there is a tendency to put their heads in the sand. 
If this industry is to survive it is vital to put forward their case boldly. Chefs have been a temporary reprieve as they have been classified as shortage occupations for now. This is an opportune time for the curry industry to band together as one voice so that considered and constructive views can be expressed. 
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