Zero-rating has damaged us

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WITH regard to your article printed last Friday about the new grading scheme for the hospitality industry, we feel this one-sided approach and refusal to report the larger picture has been damaging to local independent businesses, reputations, and the livelihood of decent hard-working people.

This is a new scheme which has been adopted by our council and has not yet rolled out across the country. The grades are given for many reasons, including paperwork, building and machinery maintenance, and are not simply a reflection of cleanliness.

We take our profession seriously and we certainly understand and uphold the importance of good environmental health for our society; indeed it is our fundamental belief in quality and health which inspires us to offer fresh, seasonal and local produce in our establishment.

In our case, a council officer made one unannounced visit when the restaurant was not open, and we, the owners (and our paperwork), were not present. They made a report and gave a timescale within which we were to take certain actions. We immediately called a meeting with the environmental health department to discuss the issues, and completed the required actions within the timescale. We await a re-visit and subsequent re-grading.

I know that at least two of the other establishments mentioned, Penbuckles and The Wild Mushroom, were also downgraded due to issues outside of cleanliness and hygiene. I also know that like us, they conscientiously rectified the issues flagged in the timescale required.

We created Pomegranate six years ago; fell in love with this quirky town and have worked so very hard to maintain a business in a difficult economic climate. We have passionately stuck to our vision for fresh, delicious food and have refused to cut corners.

To scapegoat individuals is unfair and morally wrong, and has directly jeopardised the jobs of many people. Thank you to our friends, neighbours and customers for their continued support, and well done and thank you to all independent local businesses and tradespeople in Hastings and St Leonards. It is your hard work and vision that give us so many reasons to be proud of this town.

JOANNA AND JAMIE STEPHENS

Pomegranate Food and Drink House