I suppose it depends a bit on what kind of hotel you are staying in, but I’ve always rather liked the fact that when you arrive in a hotel in France, Spain, Italy or Poland, you are greeted by a French, Spanish, Italian or Polish receptionist and that a large proportion of the staff are local. Somehow it enhances that sense of excitement about travelling abroad.
Yet in the UK, it never seems to be the case. At stays in hotels this year in Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Bristol and Bath, nearly all the staff seem to have been from Eastern Europe. Charming, efficient, helpful to a person. I have no desire to despatch them home, even if EU laws allowed it, but I do ask myself why so few British people seem to end up in one of the biggest industries we have, namely tourism. Especially when each of these cities has its own long-term youth unemployment problem and when students now face a debt mountain at the end of their studies of some £35,000. Is it because employers prefer foreign staff? Or is it because young British people see working in a hotel or serving at table as somehow beneath them?
My suspicion is that the real problem lies within the industry itself. Whereas other countries take a real pride in their tourism and have worked hard to ensure that there is a large home-grown pool of people of all ages with the necessary skills, we have just churned young people through the educational sausage machine without any thought to this industry. Yes, there are hotel management courses, but the industry is particularly poor at reaching out to local schools – and there is little sense of hotel or restaurant work being a viable lifetime career option. Quite the reverse.
This is not helped by the fact that we Brits are so feeble at learning foreign languages, but if every major hotel in Britain invested in working with its local schools and sixth-form colleges to give them world-class hospitality skills, maybe we could help solve three problems in one – providing more local staff for hotels, getting more British youngsters into work and enabling more students to pay off their new £9,000 annual tuition fees.
Depressingly, when I asked the minister, Maria Miller, about this on Thursday, she said she didn’t recognise my point, but the industry knows in its heart of hearts that if we could provide a better British welcome, then more international tourists would come again and again.
God may not be the solution
On Wednesday evening, I went to Warwick University to debate the idea of compulsory abstinence education for teenage girls (but not boys). I know, I know, it was a pretty daft motion, but we won handsomely. What worried me, though, was the contribution from the young man in favour of abstinence education, a youth worker from Team Challenge UK, who told us a little of how his organisation goes about its youth work.
If I’m honest, it sounded frightening. It’s a Christian group; they work with very vulnerable youngsters, especially those with addiction problems, and they’ve just started a new project in Rotherham. It’s great that they are working with one of the toughest problems in society. Sometimes the fix of religion is better than a fix of heroin – and is the best way of weaning people off an addiction. But these are the most vulnerable people in society and I’ve seen cases where Christian love-bombing and earnest faithful endeavour have done more harm than good. In the end, there is no real substitute for tried and tested secular youth programmes, for evidence-based medical support and for proper statutory sex and relationship education.
From Russia without love
At 4.30 on Monday, we have the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia. Normally these groups are rather mild-mannered non-partisan affairs, but there is a campaign afoot to oust me as chairman, as the Russian ambassador has apparently told several Tory MPs that it’s problematic for some Russians to have a gay man as chair of the group. Some Tories also take exception to the fact that I have been a robust critic of their mate Vladimir Putin (with whose patsy MPs they sit in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). Indeed, the Conservative Friends of Russia went on the offensive this week with a online smear against me which has prompted the resignation of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the group’s honorary president. So it should be an interesting meeting.
Keeping a hairy upper lip
It being Movember, the Palace of Westminster has sprouted a large number of moustaches to publicise prostate cancer and the need for men to get themselves checked once they reach the age of 50. It’s amazing how different moustaches can be. Tom Blenkinsop, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, is gliding around the opposition whips’ office like a fighter pilot in an Ealing film circa 1947. David Burrowes, of Enfield Southgate, has a droopy affair that makes his usually cheery face look mightily depressed in a rather Gradgrind way, while the pencil number on the top lip of Jason McCartney, the Tory MP for Colne Valley, bears an unfortunate resemblance to that sported by a former central European dictator. By far the most resplendent is that of Desmond Swayne from the Government’s whips’ office. He’s always had exuberant sideburns and there is something of the lupine about him, but now the sideburns have joined up, he has the most magnificent set of mutton chops in town. He could very easily pass muster in the cast of Zulu – or Carry On Up the Khyber.