Conservative immigration policy could force smaller curry houses out of business, says leading restaurateur

Drop The Target: Cyrus Todiwala says Government shortsightedness is taking out money from education

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The Conservatives’ “short sighted” plans to increase charges for bringing skilled workers into the country could force hundreds of smaller curry houses out of business, a leading restaurateur has warned. 

Cyrus Todiwala, celebrity chef and owner of the award-winning Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant in London, told The Independent that new levies designed to restrict immigration will mean smaller businesses cannot compete with larger chain restaurants who can afford to pay higher wages. This will force prices up, he said. 

The Immigration Skills Charge, a levy imposed on organisations who employed skilled non-EU workers, was a particular burden as it priced smaller restaurants “out of competition” as many are operating on a “very, very tight budget”, he said.

The Conservatives have put a commitment to increase the cost of the levy from £1,000 per year per employee to £2,000 per year per employee by the end of the parliament in their election manifesto.

The party said the move is designed to encourage employers to invest in skills education. But Mr Todiwala said they cannot do that without government help.

The entrepreneur, who is a vocal champion of skills-based education, said: “The shortsightedness of it is that the Government is taking out money from education. 

“So while someone like us is trying very hard to promote Indian cooking education across the UK, the colleges come and say to me ‘Cyrus we cannot do it because our money has been taken away’.”

During the EU referendum campaign, Priti Patel claimed curry house owners would benefit from Brexit because they would be able to recruit more people from abroad (Getty)

His comments come as The Independent and Open Britain’s Drop the Target campaign calls on the Government to drop its tens of thousands immigration cap. 

Mr Todiwala said he was one of several entrepreneurs who set up the Asian and Oriental School of Catering with government help in 2000. But they had been forced to shut it down and assume all liabilities for its debts when state support was withdrawn five years later.

In the past 18 months over 1,000 curry restaurants have shut their doors for the last time, with the number in the industry expected to halve within the next decade.

Many Indian caterers have said they feel “betrayed” by claims made by the Vote Leave campaign that they would find it easier to recruit after Brexit, as the Tories promise to crack down even further. 

Development Secretary and arch Brexiteer Priti Patel urged restaurant owners to vote to leave the EU to end the Government’s “biased” immigration policy

But Mr Todiwala said the Government’s lack of understanding of the industry and its dependency on immigration went much further than this.

He explained that the traditional type of cooking practised in UK curry restaurants was not easily replicated by home grown staff. 

He said many chefs in India and Bangladesh learn from their parents, who in turn had the knowledge passed down over the generations, and are not keen to “teach” it to newcomers.

The businessman explained that most chefs learn by shadowing other people over several years, saying it was similar to the way specialist technical skills such as carpentry or masonry were historically treated in Britain.

UK staff also need extra time to develop the right palate to be able to get professional level Indian cooking right, he added.

Mr Todiwala said that instead of imposing blanket measures such as the levy, the Government should be introducing more skills-focused schemes. 

He proposed new measures that would ensure staff coming are required to work towards an English language qualification, or that they must also hire a second UK-born member of staff to shadow them for a few years when they bring someone in from abroad.

Therefore “he can learn the ropes so in two years you can have two workers who have been upskilled”, he said.

The Government’s tens of thousands target is divisive and will harm our economy. Tell the Government to drop its damaging immigration target: sign and share our petition