The UK curry industry currently employs over 150,000 people and contributes an estimated £4.5bn to the economy each year, but the BCA predicts that a shortage of skilled staff could see 10-15 restaurants closing per week in six months’ time.
Oli Khan, chef and senior vice president of the BCA – which represents 12,000 British-Bangladeshi restaurants across the UK - told BigHospitality that immigration restrictions and a lack of interest from UK-born chefs was threatening the future of the industry.
The Government’s cap on skilled workers from outside the EU means chefs must earn £29,570 a year to be permitted to work in UK restaurants.
But with the typical curry house requiring a minimum of eight staff including two skilled chefs, Khan says this level of pay is unaffordable for the average restaurant in the UK.
“If you need to get chefs from abroad it can cost £60,000, how can a small business afford to pay this?” he said.
“Staffing is a big crisis and the Government needs to look in to it because if they don’t save this industry there will be 150,000 people unemployed.”
The industry is also struggling to recruit UK-born chefs who appear uninterested in working in curry houses.
“The problem is we can’t get [chefs]," said Khan.
"We did a cooking demonstration and a four week recruitment campaign at the Barking and Dagenham College but we only got two candidates who wanted to learn how to cook curry. Our minimum requirement was 15 students, and if we couldn’t meet that we couldn’t even run the course. I don’t know why people don’t want to be involved in the curry houses. Spice and cooking curry is an art.”
A Government-funded scheme set up in 2012 to train UK nationals to work as chefs in Asian and Oriental restaurants struggled with a lack of interest, despite a YouGov poll at the time indicating almost a third of young people would consider working in the sector.
Last year the BCA established a cross party parliamentary group to lobby the Government on behalf of the curry industry. While it currently has the support of 24 MP's, with 70 more promising to support the cause, Khan said progress would likely be ‘difficult’ and a ‘lengthy process’.
“We are hoping to work with the Chinese, Malaysian and other restaurant sectors to save the curry industry and for our words to be heard by the Government," he said.
“We are doing a lot of lobbying but the Government needs to take the initiative to save this industry. The chefs are the backbone of the industry, and if we don’t have them how are we going to run this business?”