A celebrity chef has warned of an "underlying fragility" of the UK hospitality sector in the run up to Christmas.
Paul Askew, who is the chef patron of The Art School in Liverpool, added that the next few weeks are "crucial" for the industry and highlighted the "pressure points" which venues will be battling this festive season.
Mr Askew has been in the food industry for more than 40 years and has appeared on the likes of Saturday Kitchen, Sunday Brunch, Celebrity MasterChef and The Great British Menu.
Mr Askew said: "We’re now entering what are the busiest few weeks of the year for the UK’s hospitality industry.
"December is when we should all be seeing packed out venues, fully booked dates for Christmas parties and everyone out enjoying themselves all the way to New Year’s Day.
"The next few weeks are crucial for the UK’s hospitality industry. But what we are actually seeing is a mixed picture. Bookings are solid – in Liverpool where we are based, the city is getting busier each day – yet there remains an underlying fragility; the pressure points of increased utility bills for businesses, ongoing supply chain and staff availability issues and the unresolved VAT level and business rates are all impacting viability for tens of thousands of operators.
"Almost everything costs more – from the most basic ingredients through to the highest quality fruit and vegetables, meats, wines and supplies – and this knock on effect keeps going.
"And this is on top of consumer confidence already dented by the cost living crisis compounded by high inflation and rail strikes now causing chaos with people’s plans.
"So whilst it’s good news Christmas is so far busy for many restaurants, bars, pubs, food halls, hotels and more - especially compared to this time last year which was a disaster – we do hold some optimism which is tainted by the fact the lean months of January and February are already on the horizon. Have businesses got enough reserves to make it to spring?
"The UK’s hospitality industry has been through an extraordinarily tough time since March 2020 and we still urgently need VAT to be reduced and business rates to be torn up and started from scratch.
"In the coming months in this period of great change, we also all need to embrace a more sustainable and seasonal cycle – to only use what’s local to each restaurant where possible, to stop importing food and support fellow independent businesses who can supply what we need locally and regionally, not internationally."