No one would suggest that the last two years have been anywhere near the best for Britain’s beloved restaurant and takeaway industry.

As we all know too well, coronavirus and three lockdowns have imposed a strain on our sector that would have been unimaginable at the end of the last decade.

What we can say now, however, is that there is every reason to be upbeat and optimistic about the future of restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

The easing of lockdown restrictions and the hope of the nation emerging from the pandemic will restore growth and confidence to hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs and their staff – as well as millions more customers.

At the same time the ninth British Kebab Awards will bring together thousands of these businesses to celebrate our industry.

The toll taken by the pandemic means the event might look and feel a bit different to that of previous years – but I am delighted to say we plan to meet in person once again.

It is important we try to get together after such a difficult time.

As you know, Covid-19 had a huge impact on all of us. Many of my friends in the industry lost loved ones.

And the way we served customers also changed. The pandemic slowed down our growth but we kept going – in fact, we did more than that. 

Many restaurateurs and takeaway bosses have supported their local community by providing free meals to key workers during the lockdowns.

Now, as we emerge from the pandemic in an era of Brexit, staff shortages are becoming a major problem for small businesses in many sectors, including dining.

This is just one of many policy challenges facing the industry which, as you know, is made up largely of small and medium-sized enterprises.

These are the policy changes I want to see to help the SME community get back on its feet:

  • Extend to December 2022 the VAT reduction for the tourism and hospitality which is due to expire next month.
  • Restore to December 2022 a full business rates holiday and scrap the partial relief which is due to expire in March next year.
  • Restore tax forbearance for SMEs and end the injustice by which HMRC is slapping interest charges on small firms who delayed payment amid the pandemic.
  • Retain a reduced furlough scheme for sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as tourism and hospitality.
  • Revise the outdated system of business rates – an inflexible, fixed tax – and bring in a levy based on each trader’s turnover or profits.
  • Reform business taxation to level the playing field between the major online retailers and bricks-and-mortar SMEs.
  • Rewrite the rules on rents which are often the biggest bill for small firms. This should include a shift from fixed quarterly payments to a system based on turnover.

I will be saying more about these in the run-up to the British Kebab Awards, which take place on Tuesday 26 October at Park Plaza Westminster Hotel. 

We are grateful for the support of our sponsors who will help us put on this great event.

We are proud to work with Just Eat once again. Similarly, Unilever, Cobra, Big K, McCain Coca Cola, and Booker continue to support our awards and our industry through what has been an immensely difficult period. 

And I also want to say a big ‘thank you’ to the Awards judges as well as the industry and political leaders who have helped us speak up for the sector.

As a result of these discussions, we have launched the Kebab Alliance, the first trade body for the industry.  We are enormously grateful to our founding members Just Eat, Ben & Jerrys, Hellmans and McCain Food services as well as board members Star Catering, Savoy Catering, Ala Turka Doner, Skewd Kitchen, NARTS, Kismet kebab and Atalay Kebab.

By working together we will offer a bigger, louder and more united voice for the industry. Our restaurants and takeaways stood with their neighbourhoods throughout the Covid-19 crisis and now we will work with our staff, stakeholders and customers to ensure we come out of it with confidence and community spirit.