Article for Buxton Advertiser by Edwina Currie

You must be fed up with politics by now, but life’s full of surprises here in the High Peak. Here’s an example.

Last year with a couple of business friends I started the High Peak Business Club. We meet monthly for breakfast at Chapel Golf Club in Chapel-en-le-Frith, and now have a mailing list with some 300 names hailing from Duffield to Warrington, though most live here, or have clients or operations in the neighbourhood. Over warm Danish pastries and hot coffee we listen to invited speakers; as often as not, you can hear jaws dropping round the room as we realise the amazing stuff that’s happening in the business world.

Last Friday (April 9) came a presentation from Alison Pickering and Chris Cooper of Premier Inns. As most of you know, they’re busy spending £4 million on a new 60-bed budget hotel, with a 60-bed restaurant attached, at the London road end of Buxton, to open in February. Another has just opened in Leek, and a third is due in Matlock. That’s where their 22 million UK customers (a month!) want to stay, they told us; most of their planning is driven by clicks on the website.

One big hotelier present breathed a sigh of relief: Premier Inns have no meeting rooms, so they don’t do conferences, or weddings, or fine dining. Then, as we listened closely, she got worried. “They won’t be taking my guests. But they may be very attractive to my staff.”

Here’s the surprise. This huge company, part of the British giant Whitbread, has no zero hours contracts, despite their proliferation in the hospitality industry. Part-timers, yes; but staff work in teams, so they can swap shifts as long as everything gets done. The bulk of new employees come from the Job Centre, with 5,000 apprentices taken on annually plus 4,500 work placements. Yes, newcomers are on the minimum wage to start with, but with a pay spine anyone can climb with initiative and application. Hardly anybody is a graduate (only 80 intake last year). An international career awaits for the most adventurous.

I couldn’t help feeling that it’s a pity other employers don’t take the same positive approach. Their reward is employee loyalty, and commitment to the company. As we hear arguments about the cost of paternity leave for business, I reflect that if you look after your employees, they will look after you.

One more eye-opener: Premier Inns spends a whopping £30 million a year on maintenance. Redecoration every 3 years. At 6 years they replace all soft goods (mattresses, sofas etc). Every 12 years they rip out the entire room and redesign it. “I’ll just run that past my boss,” our hotelier murmured wryly. There’s the rub – the level of investment the big boys can afford. The competition is coming, and it will be fascinating to see what follows in its wake.