Insight from the experts

With each new year, comes new challenges, so Brookwood’s Sue Parfett looks at how politics is impacting the future of catering

Professor Cary Cooper has come up with a term for what I have self-diagnosed; acute post-bank holiday syndrome. New Year’s resolutions already broken, a promised ‘dry’ January and a full inbox. The giddy optimistic new year plans quickly dull in January.

The TV channels fade from the glitter of Strictly Christmas Special to the political fall-out from last year. Usually we can look at politics with a degree of detached interest. We are used to our politicians hitting us with the latest version of what they think will create a better, safer world. But this year will be different. The proposals coming down the track will have a massive impact.

It is very frustrating when the ‘greater powers’ expect (or demand) one thing from employers but then, politics take over and we are expected to operate in systems that work against this achievement. I have recently experienced one such conflict that has made me very concerned for our collective futures.

I realise this isn’t applicable across the country, but there are some areas in the south-east where it is extremely difficult to fill jobs. One of these is an area near Guildford which has a number of pretty villages, low unemployment and limited public transport. Attracting employees to work in a lovely prep school ought to be easy. However, there is a lot on offer – including cash-in-hand linked to the many domestic-related jobs.

Migrants […] generally do not receive, or expect, benefits so they want and need to work

Despite all these challenges we recently secured the services of a lovely lady. She was a good worker, looked smart, nice manner, loads of common sense and the children liked her. She was a keeper, and living locally, ideal for the post. But three weeks into the job she told us she had to leave. Why? She was going to be £60 a week worse off, with the deductions from her benefits and she just couldn’t afford to work. What?! Are we still saying that we would rather pay people, who want to work, to sit at home because they are better off? I would add, before all the doubters start shouting, that we already pay almost 15% more than the national living wage as well as a number of other benefits that fits with having been in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Employers list five times. Yet I am told time and time again that a significant proportion of applicants are only applying to comply with the terms of their benefits.

At a recent British Hospitality Association (BHA) meeting we discussed the future impact on employment post-Brexit. The BHA informed us that one of the key achievements the present government wants to deliver on is controlled migration. Any future visa arrangement is likely to hit hardest on unskilled jobs. It is easier to, politically, create restrictions here than, say, in those professions that require a high level of skills. So, according to the BHA, the potential outcome on the hospitality industry could be ‘catastrophic’. 

Many industries will be wanting to employ people from the same pool. Migrants, they told us, generally do not receive, or expect, benefits so they want and need to work. We employ a significant number of first generation immigrants, which is common in our industry. We have some fabulous long-term employees from this group who we have subsequently trained as chefs or progressed into management. (We have similarly developed more mature British-born employees who came out of our education system with few work skills). It is likely that those already here will be able to stay. But their money is now buying significantly fewer euros and the benefit of being in Britain has reduced. But, post Brexit, those moving back to their homeland, or elsewhere, will not be replaced.

And if that wasn’t enough, we face the apprenticeship levy in April. Another level of bureaucracy to deal with. I’m sure I will feel better after some leftover mince pies and those last few chocolates – purely for medicinal purposes!

Sue Parfett is Managing Partner of independent schools’ caterer, The Brookwood Partnership, part of CH&Co Group.


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