The takeaway industry is one of Britain’s most innovative sectors – politicians must take action to ensure that Brexit does not threaten its growth, writes Ibrahim Dogus
The way we eat is changing. Whether it be lunch in the office or Saturday night dinner with the family, the British public has never had so much choice at such convenience. The best of what the culinary world has to offer can now be delivered straight to your door with the touch of a button.
In a few short years, the British takeaway industry has become one of the country’s most innovative sectors, embracing the latest technology and becoming an engine of rapid growth. Spending on takeaways is touch close to the the £10bn mark this year and is projected to reach £11.2bn by 2021. This growth has been funnelled back into creating jobs, with 41,000 added in the industry since 2009, meaning the takeaway industry now employs nearly a quarter of a million people across the country.
As much as the industry has changed, much has remained the same – British takeaways are still overwhelmingly family-run businesses, rooted in their local communities. And, like other small businesses, they too face a variety of challenges.
Immigration and skills
Already, more than a third of restaurants are facing skills shortages, particularly in skilled kitchen roles. Of those restaurants reporting problems, 78 per cent say they have struggled to find chefs. Brexit looks set to compound the issue – potentially tougher immigration laws and tighter restrictions on working visas are likely to leave the industry struggling even more to recruit skilled chefs. These shortages risk stifling the culinary innovation that has made Britain’s food culture so vibrant and we need an immigration system that ensures this growing sector can continue to deliver jobs and growth.
The government has taken measures to address the skills challenge, and takeaways are broadly positive about the new ‘T-level’. 53 per cent of restaurants have said that the new technical qualification, aimed at boosting vocational training, will help address the skills shortage. However, issues elsewhere in the education system continue to have a negative impact on training and skills. There remains an underfunding of vocational training, and that could make it even more difficult for the sector to meet the skills gap at the high-skill end of the industry.
Despite business booming in recent years, there are growing challenges ahead. As many as 29 per cent of restaurants have said that they are not confident about the prospects for the United Kingdom’s economy. In addition to Brexit uncertainty, there is the looming threat of inflation hittingfood prices hard, and weakened consumer spending power could damage the sector.
Given these challenges, the government must do more to stabilise the business environment for small and medium-sized enterprises. Sorting out the complex system of business rates would be an excellent start. 35 per cent of takeaways feel they will be negatively affected by the recent review of business rates, which disproportionately hit smaller businesses, and the time is ripe for a fundamental review of the system to make it fit for the modern age. This problem is compounded by the fact that multinational outlets such as McDonalds are now diversifying their operations, with the fast food giant having recently launched a home delivery service, posing a threat to local takeaways.
More is also needed to protect takeaways from the poor practice of some of their larger suppliers. Late payments continue to set back thousands of small businesses every year and the Federation of Small Businesses has highlighted how late payments are a problem felt throughout the entire food supply chain.
Takeaways have embraced technological change like few other industries, seizing the advantages that have come with contactless payments, new apps and a plethora of other innovations. However, the lack of digital infrastructure in certain rural areas has unnecessarily held many takeaways and restaurants back. This points to the need for greater investment in rural areas to counter such issues, and the rolling out of superfast broadband should just be the start of future-proofing our economy and ensuring that every business benefits from the digital revolution.
The takeaway industry is diversifying more than ever, with outlets becoming adept at quickly responding to the needs and wishes of their customers. The public is rightly and increasingly conscious of the importance of a balanced diet and tackling obesity, and this has been reflected on takeaway menus across the country. 96 per cent of takeaways now include meat-free options, and around 60 per cent offer meals with reduced salt and fat content. However, in addition to the ‘hard’ challenges of the economy and skills, takeaways also face challenges around changing public perception of the takeaway and awareness of the broader range of options including healthier options which are now being included on our menus.
The British Takeaway Campaign has been formed to provide a coherent, united voice for a sector that is much loved but often underrepresented in discussions about policy. It is important that the media, in particular, look beyond their predominantly ‘middle-class sensibilities’ and understand that for many the takeaway provides the weekly treat, or the quick meal that middle-class people get from going to their expensive restaurants where they consume their calories in a different format. Obviously with more income then the ingredients can more exclusively sourced, but we need to avoid the classist preaching that we in this country tend towards and recognise the demand that there is for takeaways and respect the right of those on lower incomes to spend their incomes how they wish.
It is also important for politicians and the media to recognise that the industry is making incremental strides to address concerns about the quality of their product, but that pricing food out of the reach of families is not a long-term solution.
Ibrahim Dogus is chair of the British Takeaway Campaign. He tweets at @ibrahim_Dogus
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