16 March 2022
The future of Fish and Chips

“I declare my interest in fish and chips, Mr Speaker.”

The words of Leader of the House Mark Spencer when I questioned him in business questions this week, but let’s be honest who amongst us doesn’t declare an interest in fish and chips? That most British of institutions.

Our nation’s fish and chip shops are in a fight for their very existence though with the National Federation of Fish Friers predicting a third of shops will fail in the near future.

The fish and chip shop crisis comes as a result of a perfect storm of factors coming together at once. The price of white fish has increased dramatically in recent months as a result of increasing demand. Suppliers are telling customers that buyers in the United States are increasingly sourcing their fish from Europe instead of China pushing prices higher here; with vast supplies of stocks coming from the Barents sea it is a problem that can only be worsened by the current crisis in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.

But it’s not just the price of fish that is the problem. One business told me that the price of peas has doubled since Christmas, wrapping paper and the fat used in frying has gone up by 40%; batter mix has increased too.

Fryers are not energy efficient – many are almost antique, business are terrified about the rising cost of gas and electricity; then there are increases to minimum wage and national insurance contributions to be factored in too.

And as costs increase there are, understandably, real concerns about demand moving forward. When our own home finances get tighter it is for many the simple luxuries, like a chip shop tea, that get cut first – especially when customers are all too conscious of the rising prices that they are paying for their favourite dish.

Many in the industry believe that a return to pre-pandemic VAT rates may well be the straw the breaks the camel’s back for shops up and down the country.

One chip shop owner told me that when he factors in all the hours that he works he would be better off working in a supermarket; it is only his desire to be his own boss, to be part of a nation of shopkeepers, that is keeping him going. 

There is call going out, unless government provides support now there is a real danger that fish and chip shops will go the same way as our village pubs and local post offices. I don’t want to see that happen. I have too much of an interest in fish and chips, but more importantly I have too much of an interest in those thousands of business owners who are at the beating heart of what Britain is about.