Working towards the future

By Barbara Follett Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism

Everyone reading this will be able to remember occasions where a thoughtful detail, or a friendly smile, made all the difference to how we felt about a restaurant, shop, hotel or service. Equally, we can all remember how a sour look, a surly tone or a grumpy reception put us off a place or organisation for life

In these belt-tightening times, people are more conscious than ever of how, and on what, they spend their money. They want value for it and that means good service and high standards. If we are to provide them, and make the most of the once-ina- lifetime opportunity offered by our soft currency and lowered VAT rates, we have to make sure that workers in our sector have the skills they need to deliver them.

The work to deliver these skills is underway and has been, I am glad to say, well underway since the launch of the industry-led National Skills Strategy in 2007. This contains a ten-point plan to improve skills and staff retention, and good progress is being made in many areas.

The Government can, and must, play its part but we need employers to get involved too. No one knows better than they what the skills gaps are in their organisations and I am very pleased that more than 600 of them have now made a public commitment to train their staff by signing up to the Good Employer Guide.

I am also pleased that more than 28,000 people have registered with the industry’s online skills and careers resource, the UKSP. This is a great achievement butmore needs to be done to make sure that all of the key programmes are available in each region of the country. I will be raising this matter when I give a presentation on the Tourist Industry to the Council for Regional Ministers in June.

As the chair of the Monitoring and Implementation Group for the National Skills Strategy I want to focus on the messages that regional organisations give to small businesses, which make up more than two-thirds of the industry, on thesupport available to them in this crucial area. I know how difficult it can be for small and micro businesses to find the time to research and access the many  different schemes and projects available and I want to make sure that they get as much help and support as possible.

In April, the Secretary of State for Skills, John Denham, and I chaired a summit on the training needs of chefs in the Asian and Oriental sector. We decided to develop a plan,  with the industry,designed to get talented people from all over the United Kingdom to work in this area.

Proof of the vital role played by skills in the hospitality and tourism industries can be found in the Sector Skills Council’s State of the Nation report, which was released last month. This provides a comprehensive account of the trends currently affecting the sector and an analysis of the priorities for success in the future. I am glad that People 1st, as the SSC is known, has just been awarded a new licence from the government. This will allow it to continue the valuable work it is doing with employees and employers in the sector.

From the launch of the National Skills Academy for Hospitality to new diplomas for 14-19-year-olds starting this September, there is a huge amountof work being done to make sure our standards get higher and our service gets better. Let’s make sure that our employees and our industry benefit from it. We will not get a better opportunity.