by Dr B. J. C. Perera
MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician.
This addendum to the topic of the age of entry to our universities is based on the excellent opinion expressed in The Island of 16-02-2021 by Professor O. A. Ileperuma, titled “Must lower graduating age in universities”. I am ever so grateful to him for comments on my own article on the subject published in The Island on 27-01-2021.
The good and learned professor, an acclaimed expert in his own field, has most definitely hit the nail on the head. He has gone into the root causes of the debacle of advanced age of the university undergraduates. He has provided a critical analysis of the problem of age at entry and exit points for the undergraduates of our universities. As a true academic, he has provided the solutions as well. Although it is not rocket-science, the solutions proposed by the Professor are timely and are of the essence. The age at which proper primary schooling should start, the time scheduled to be spent in primary and secondary education, timing of the GCE ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level examinations, as advocated by him, stands to all good reason and are compatible with a rapidly developing world, especially as the scenarios seen in the developed Western World. As Professor Ileperuma has suggested, we need to make ‘O’ Levels for two years and the examination in December, the ‘A’ levels, for another two years with the examination in December and for those who qualify, into the universities in October of the following year. All we need to do is to make a concerted effort to get our youth into our universities by the age of 18 years…, period.
From the Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians, we have repeatedly expressed our gravest concerns about the loads of unnecessary stuff that is taught and then tested on, in our schools. Time and time again, we have been fervently advocating for revisions to, and truncating of, the entire school curriculum. All kinds of highly advanced material are taught in our schools. As an example, in the higher classes, some minutiae of genetics that are taught, are only needed to be known by the likes of postgraduate students in human genetics who are reading for an M.Phil, MD or a PhD. Are these of any use at all to develop and harvest the majority of students who would be outside such exalted strata, who should be given the necessary education to become productive citizens? Just memory-based recall type of spewing of facts is not the only goal of a proper education system. The educational endeavours should attempt to foster lateral out-of-the-box thinking, rational evaluation and a balanced outlook on life itself. Unfortunately, and sadly, the current system of education does not in anyway help to foster such a vision, and neither does it facilitate a dedicated mission towards achieving such goals. In addition, many experts and authorities on the subject wax eloquent about the disaster that is the entire gamut of non-communicable diseases. Yet for all that sufficient time is not provided for recreational activities and exercise, which are confirmed strategies in the prevention of those very same diseases.
All it would need is some serious contemplation, reflective assessments and an abiding willingness to bring about beneficial changes. Nobody, not even the people who have the power and empowerment to redress the balance, seem to be too bothered about it. Some of us are very definitely much more concerned about the educational development of the youth of our land to whom the future of this land belongs. As so graphically pointed out by Professor Ileperuma, there are several ministries and a multitude of organisations working in water-tight compartments on different aspects of education. As very often seen by many of us, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It is not really necessary to bring about world-changing and ground-breaking reforms of the entire educational system and turn it upside down, to implement all the suggestions so lucidly expounded by Professor Ileperuma. All it would need is a certain degree of cooperation and a dedicated willingness to change for the better. With the advanced technology that is available, sorting out the marks of examinations and university admissions should not be a major dizzy height that has to be climbed relentlessly nor a veritable abyss that has to be crossed. In point of fact, it is probably no big deal, but should just be a piece of cake. Yet for all that, many of the organisations involved in education are full of lotus-eaters who would resist change at every turn. They are firm believers in the adage “More work is more trouble. Less work is less trouble, and no work, is of course, no trouble”.
I, for one, cannot really see an enduring obstacle to or any convincing constraint against, the implementation of the far-reaching changes that have been advocated by Professor Ileperuma. As two people of the same vintage, he and I do seem to share the very same outlook and perceptions in this regard. We are probably two of many a score of people who have most definitely felt and appreciated the sheer need for these reforms, simply because of what both of us have gained through the system that was operational around five decades ago. As for the contention whether the powers-that-be feel the same way as we do, is perhaps a matter for conjecture. I am quite sure that the illustrious Professor would be happy to join me in saying “If there is a will, there will always be a way”.
French Style, Sri Lankan Smile!
CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Five-Star Hotels in Colombo
In 1986, there were only five five-star internationally branded hotels in Sri Lanka (InterContinental, Oberoi, Taj, Ramada Renaissance and Le Meridien). A Hilton International was nearing completion and planned to open in 1987. These hotels were located close to each other in Colombo and had only a total stock of 2,300 five-star rooms. All of these hotels had multiple food and beverage outlets and the largest banquet facilities in the country. Le Galadari Meridien was distinctively different from its competitors in Colombo.
Air France established Le Meridien Hotels in 1972. The chain’s hotels initially offered accommodation mainly for Air France flight crews and passengers in their major airport hub cities, around the world. Air France promoted the chain and handled reservations for it. The advanced reservation systems in the airline industry strongly influenced booking systems in all of the major international hotel chains. The first Le Meridien property was a 1,000-room hotel in the heart of Paris, the Hotel Meridien Paris, today known as Le Méridien Etoile.
The French style promoted by the European ambience, fashionably appointed rooms and expensive bedroom amenities. This French flair continued with French-designed staff uniforms, a wide collection of beautiful and large paintings done by French artists and a wider choice of wines and cheeses. All of these features truly enhanced the general quality of Le Galadari Meridien. Like all other five-star internationally branded hotels in Colombo, Le Meridien invested heavily on staff training and development. The hotel lived up to its original slogan: “French Style, Sri Lankan Smile!”
Le Galadari Meridien was the only hotel at that time in Sri Lanka to open with 500-rooms. Mr. Steffan Pfeiffer, who opened the hotel in 1984 as the General Manager, recruited me as the Acting Food & Beverage Manager in the mid-1986. He, as well as the outgoing Assistant Food & Beverage Manager and the outgoing Banquet Manager, worked with me for only a few days. I did not have the opportunity to meet my predecessor, a French hotelier, R. Garoute, who had held dual responsibilities as the Food & Beverage Manager and the Executive Assistant Manager. In the absence of a systematic hand over, I had to learn the ropes quickly and take over a large division.
Lifelong Le Meridien Friendships
French Executive Chef Emile Castillo, a key member of my team, commenced on the same day that I joined the hotel. After the initial culture shock, the two of us got along very well and became lifelong friends. In the late 1980s, Emile was an occasional, Sunday lunch visitor at my family home in the suburbs of Colombo.
Later in 1997 when I was the General Manager of Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus hotel, Emile accepted an invitation from me. I was introducing Le Meridien Brand to the largest five-star business hotel in Jamaica, and the French food festival Emile organized there was a big help. Until his retirement, Emile eventually spent 27 years as the Executive Chef of Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York, USA, where his regular customers included President Bill Clinton. During some of my visits to New York, I stayed with Emile and his family. He and his Sri Lankan wife visited my family during their last visit to Canada, a few years ago.
Shortly after I had joined Le Galadari Meridien in Colombo, the company sent a veteran French Hotelier, Mr. Jean-Michel Varichon, to be the Acting General Manager. He had been involved with 28 Le Meridien hotel openings around the world. He was a member of the Le Meridien corporate team in Paris. I quickly realized that his task was to re-organize the hotel in keeping with the latest Le Meridien quality standards, and then hand over the management to the next General Manager who was coming from France.
Mr. Varichon was a hard task master and a walking encyclopaedia on international hotel management. The senior executive team at Le Galadari Meridien felt harassed by his frequent challenging questions and lectures with details of highly technical aspects of hotel keeping. He also had a dry sense of humour. One day during a serious meeting, realizing that he had pressured the senior management team to the limit, he warned, “You better complete all the tasks I delegated to each of you quickly. Otherwise, I will extend my stay in Colombo!” When the managers laughed nervously, he said, “I am not joking!”
His nickname among Le Meridien hoteliers was “Monsieur Le Meridien”. He was a perfectionist and a very knowledgeable teacher. During the short time I worked with him, I absorbed all Le Meridien information I could like blotting paper. When I opened Le Meridien in Jamaica, Mr. Varichon arrived there on my invitation to help me with the opening. I could not think of anyone better to advise me.
Thanks to the special training by Mr. Jean-Michel Varichon, I was well-familiar with Le Meridien standards by the time the new General Manager, Jean-Pierre Kaspar, arrived to take over the hotel. Soon after he settled into his new job, Mr. Kaspar became my mentor. In his mid-career, he had been a Food & Beverage Manager and we had similar personalities. Our offices on the mezzanine floor were next to each other. Often, in late afternoons, we had a casual chat over a cup of espresso and cookies in his office. I soon became his trusted wingman.
Our respect for each other was mutual. “Chandi, you are the only person out of 500 full-time employees in this hotel who has been a hotel General Manager. Therefore, you understand my role better than anyone else here,” he once told me. Some years later, Mr. Kaspar left Le Meridien to join another French hotel chain, Sofitel (Accor Group SA). My family and I visited Mr. and Mrs. Kaspar at Singapore Sofitel. After 36 years, we still keep in touch.
With ballroom and conference room facilities, adequate to accommodate 1,200 persons for a sit-down meal, Le Galadari Meridien had the largest and the finest five-star banquet space in Sri Lanka at that time. In addition to my duties to administer the Food and Beverage division, in the absence of a Banquet Manager, I also managed the day-to-day banquet operation for a few months.
Soon after I joined the hotel, I personally handled a state banquet hosted by the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, in honour of General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the President of Bangladesh. My experience in 1984, at the Dorchester in London, serving Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prime Minister Margret Thatcher and the Emir of Bahrain was useful in leading that state banquet in Colombo.
Food and Beverage Operations
After a couple of months, I recruited an experienced Banquet Manager, but decided to manage without filling the vacancy of the Assistant Food & Beverage Manager. Partly it was to save some expenses to increase our departmental profits. By directly dealing with six food & beverage outlet managers I aimed to fully understand the day-to-day operational challenges.
These managers who were designated at Le Meridien as ‘Maître d’hôtel’, managed ten operational departments – La Palme D’Or – French Restaurant (with a French Sous Chef), Marco Polo – Oriental Restaurant (with a Chinese Chef de Partie), La Brassiere – 24-hour Coffee Shop, Colombo 2000 – Night Club, Colombo Club – Gentleman’s club, Room Service, Pastry Shop, Rendezvous – Lobby Bar, Dolphin – Poolside Snack Bar and the 15th floor Rooftop Bar.
In addition, four other managers – Executive Chef, Banquet Manager, Chief Kitchen Steward and Food & Beverage Analyst, reported to me directly. Due to the popularity of the ten food and beverage outlets and large banqueting facilities, the Food and Beverage Division of Le Galadari Meridian was generating over half the total revenue of the hotel. I was also overall responsible for 230 full-time staff (including 10 departmental heads) which was nearly half the hotel’s employees. I worked very hard, long hours often till 4:00 am (night club closing time) on Fridays and Saturdays. I never felt tired as I simply loved the challenge of leading such a diverse and a dynamic division.
The Concept of Food and Beverage Management
I clearly understood the concept of food and beverage management. The knowledge I gained in England through in-depth research for my master’s degree dissertation on that topic and the practical experience I gained in food and beverage departments in all 16 five-star hotels in London, was finally becoming very useful.
The concept of food and beverage manager or director was relatively new in the world. During the first half of the twentieth century, most five-star hotels around the world did not make a lot of profit from their food and beverage operations which were often managed as different divisions. There were no divisional heads educated/trained in business administration. From an economic standpoint it was important to attempt to break even in five-star food and beverage operations. Traditionally, more emphasis was given to rooms, because this was where the money was made.
The concept of food and beverage management was developed only in the 1960s by major hotel chains in the USA. The aim was to optimize profits, combining the technical know-how with the business administration skills of a divisional head for the overall food and beverage departments.
Understanding the customer, was the key to optimize revenue and departmental profits. In Colombo, the key reasons for the customers to patronize five-star food and beverage outlets and banqueting facilities were three-fold – status, high quality and superior service. Therefore, compared to four-star, three-star or two-star hotels, the regular customers of five-star hotels were far more demanding. That single factor made it essential to have excellent public relations and highly attentive customer service to ensure high customer satisfaction levels.
Promoting the Chef like a Product
During a brainstorming session with the General Manager, Director of Sales, Public Relations Manager, myself and the advertising agency of the hotel, a question was posed about the focus of a new promotional campaign for the hotel. I suggested that we design a campaign, around the new initiatives the new Executive Chef would be focusing on.
I explained that, “having worked at Trust House Forte’s four-star Pegasus Reef Hotel in the late-1970s, and later at the five-star Hotel Lanka Oberoi as the Executive Chef, Emile Castillo knows Sri Lanka very well and Sri Lankans know him well. We should use him and his name to enhance our image and promote food sales.” All agreed, and we developed a three-stage advertising (ad) campaign focusing on Emile. We kept the artwork and the copy of the initial three teaser ads short and simple.
The first ad appearing on the front page of all major English newspapers, had one short question in large bold letters: “What’s new at Le Galadari Meridien?” There were no visuals, but a large question mark, which attracted attention and created the interest we wanted. The second ad repeated on the same front pages, asked the same question, and with the addition of a large visual of a chef hat. The third ad included a large photograph of Emile in a chef uniform, and a description of his experience since leaving Sri Lanka a few years ago. It also included his new and exciting plans for Le Galadari Meridien. That campaign cost us lot of money, but worked like a charm in reaching our business goal.
Money spent on creative and effective ads is a good investment. Then we followed up with a series of ads and newsletters.Chef Emile Castillo as the Star in a monthly newsletterThe follow up ads focused on what Emile’s new menus for all our restaurants and the new French business lunch at Palme D’Or. That was unique in two aspects – the only authentic French restaurant in Sri Lanka and the restaurant at the highest elevation in Colombo, at that time. We proceeded with that focus and the campaign worked well.
We wanted to get some professional models to appear in a follow up ad campaign for the French business lunch at Palme D’Or. The models were expensive and as a cost cutting exercise, the Public Relations Manager, Aloma Abeysuriya said, “Chandi, you are a well experienced TV model. Why don’t you appear free for one ad? I can get the ‘handsome’ Assistant Security Manager also to appear free posing like a businessman!” Aloma’s creative idea was accepted and we settled for two ‘free’ models for the second campaign.
‘Free’ models for French Business Lunch at Palme D’Or
The Chef’s Table
Encouraged with the popularity of our new campaigns, we then created a weekly public relations activity – ‘Chef’s Table in the Kitchen’. We invited seven guests every Wednesday for a four course French lunch right inside the kitchen in the midst of culinary action and loud noises. The General Manager, Executive Chef and I joined the lunch as hosts. Each invitee was presented with a chef hat and an apron with Le Meridien logo, which they proudly wore during the meal.
Before lunch, Emile conducted a quick tour of the kitchen and explained the duties of his Sous Chefs and Chef de Parties, who led a kitchen brigade of 80 culinary professionals. We then sat at a roundtable with ten chairs to enjoy Emile’s new creations, every week. The lunch with matching French wines ended with a presentation of the menu cards signed by Emile. Aloma ensured that the photographs taken during lunch were sent to each invitee within 24-hours.
The Chef’s Table initiative became very popular and the talk of the town among the corporate leaders of Colombo. I was amused when very senior business leaders called us to find a way to get invited to the Chefs Table. It became like a status symbol and many business leaders proudly displayed their Le Meridien Chef hats, kitchen aprons and framed photographs from the exclusive event they attended, in their offices.
After that, we organized a string of major French food festivals with many sponsors with French connections. These events generated much publicity in the local media. Soon we increased Le Galadari Meridien food sales by 50%. Emile became a household name in Colombo. He also regularly appeared in French TV shows such as ‘Bonsoir’ hosted by well-known Corporate Etiquette Trainer – Kumar de Silva.
Overworked underpaid Britons migrating in numbers
by Eir Nolsoe
Feelings of being overworked and underpaid prompted Rachel James, 29, and her partner to leave their jobs as doctors in the NHS to move to Australia. Two years later, the couple have no plans of returning.
“The pay is between double and triple what we would get in the UK,” Rachel (not her real name) says. She lives in Cooktown, a coastal town a four-hour drive north of Cairns. They enjoy free accommodation because the Australian health service offers incentives to people to work in rural areas.
The biggest difference is in the quality of life. Unlike in the British health service, the couple’s work rotas are linked so they can have days off together.
“In the UK, when I was working as a doctor I struggled a lot in my foundation years with anxiety. I did mindfulness. I did exercise. I saw my GP. Nothing has ever done more for my mental health than having money left over in my bank account at the end of the month and being able to spend time with my partner,” she says.
Rachel and her partner are among thousands of UK medical graduates who leave to go abroad every year. While this type of brain drain has typically been limited to specific occupations, life in the UK is about to get tougher for young people across the board.Real incomes are falling, taxes are rising and buying a home or starting a family is getting increasingly unaffordable. Scores of highly skilled workers – many of whom are already working remotely – may soon wonder whether they too would be better off somewhere else.
The political and economic turmoil of the past months has filled newspaper columns with comparisons of the UK and Italy.The Economist magazine controversially ran a front page saying “Welcome to Britaly” with short-lived prime minister Liz Truss pictured as a British-Italian mash-up of the Statue of Liberty. The magazine said that both countries shared “terminable political drama, economic stagnation and nervous bond markets”.
But one feature of countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece, whose economies were badly wounded after the financial crisis, is just how many of their young can be found in Britain and elsewhere. The number of Italians and Spaniards in the UK more than trebled in the decade or so after the financial crisis, while Greeks more than doubled.
The UK is expected to suffer the highest inflation and the deepest recession among the G7 countries, according to the OECD. Real incomes are predicted to fall by a record 7pc over the next two years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Pensioners will however not feel the same hit, as the Government has decided to honour the triple lock and uprate state pensions in line with double-digit inflation.
In many ways, life in Britain will likely get more difficult. Working people will have to pay higher taxes to fund services for a growing elderly population, as the labour force is shrinking. But young people were already dealt a bad hand, with low growth and high house prices putting milestones such as owning a home and starting a family out of reach.But will it get bad enough to send Britain’s best and brightest abroad in search of a better life?
A mass exodus
The answer is not straightforward – and there’s little consensus among experts. In certain industries, the UK is already experiencing a brain drain. Some analysts say that global labour shortages and the rise of remote working mean that this phenomenon could spread more widely among highly skilled workers.
The trend has so far been most pronounced in healthcare, which is known to have a highly mobile workforce. Falling real pay and worse working conditions than in other wealthy countries mean it has been an issue for several years, according to experts.
Figures from the General Medical Council show that nearly 10,000 doctors left the UK medical workforce last year. Previous analysis indicates that around half plan to move overseas, the GMC said.
“Brain drain is a nice term but it’s more than that. It’s an exodus, a mass exodus of not just doctors but healthcare professionals,” says Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair of the British Medical Association and a junior doctor herself.
“If you put it in the context of what we’re lacking in the NHS at the moment, it’s even more worrying. NHS England alone has 132,000 unfilled vacancies. Between 10 and 15,000 of those are doctors,” she says.
According to Patel, doctors typically emigrate to other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. Their pay has fallen by 30pc in real terms since the financial crisis, she says.It’s not just about money though, she says. The workload and quality of life are possibly even more important. This is echoed by Rachel James’ experience who left for Australia.
“If I had thought [the NHS] would change in any reasonable time frame, we wouldn’t have made the decision to be here,” she says.
There is a lot of research on immigrants to the UK but what do we know about the ones who leave? “Not a huge amount to be honest,” says Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory.
“We don’t know that much about who they are or what they’re doing when they’re overseas. We have some figures from the US and Australian visa data, for example, showing that a fair number go to other English-speaking countries,” she says.
The image of UK emigration mainly being made up of retirees swapping Manchester for Mallorca is incorrect, according to Sumption. It’s much more likely to be young people with few responsibilities and ties going elsewhere. While there are some visa schemes for unskilled labour, many leaving are likely to be highly skilled to qualify for immigration rights.
UK emigres show up in immigration data in other countries but research on them is sparse and little is known about their overall skill level. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that some 90,000 Brits left the country in the year ending in June 2022. There is no information about how many of them leave for job opportunities.Separate data going back to the start of the 90s shows that every year more Britons leave than come back. Figures from the last three months of 2019 – meaning the latest available data not potentially distorted by pandemic trends – shows that 138,000 UK nationals left while 78,000 arrived. This is common according to Sumption – most countries see a net outward flow of their own citizens.
The UK experienced a period of almost continuous net emigration between 1964 and 1983. But rising flows of arrivals from other countries mean the UK has since benefitted from brain gain rather than drain. The limited data means that it’s difficult to know how many highly skilled workers leave.Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, says in his experience the flight of young people abroad has not yet become a big trend but warns that working from home has made many more conscious of overseas opportunities.
“The nature of the labour market has become much more global post-pandemic,” he says, “because when everybody was locked down it didn’t matter if you were in Manchester or Malaga – it was still possible to do many jobs from anywhere.
“So I do think it’s really important to remember… that the world is not going to wait for Britain to sort itself out. The UK has great strengths but we need to be aware that skills shortages are a global issue and other countries are looking at our talent as well.”
This has been the case for freelance designer Elise, who decided to pack up her life in London this summer to move to Lisbon. At the age of 32, felt she was done with living in shared flats but couldn’t afford other options. Despite having a successful career, homeownership was still firmly out of reach.
“I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t feel like I’ve ever really be able to buy my own house. I’m also at a point where I don’t really want to do like shared living anymore and rent is going up. So I felt like I might as well move somewhere else,” Elise, who prefers not to use her full name, says.
After testing it out for a few months, she is now back in the UK while waiting for a two-year visa so she can move permanently. She was already working remotely in the UK.
“There’s no time difference so I didn’t have to tell my clients or change anything about the way I worked. I can just transport it over there quite smoothly. Obviously with the visa comes a whole other kind of tax that I need to look into as I’ll be living there. But from what I’ve heard, it’s fairly straightforward,” she says.During her first months in Lisbon, she was staying in co-living spaces where digital nomads like her have access to a workspace and can socialise together.
“It’s really great because you just meet lots of people who are doing the exact same thing. Everyone was pretty much around the same age group. It was a good way to meet people and feel a little bit of a sense of community with it,” she says.
Experts disagree on how likely the UK is to suffer a brain drain of highly skilled workers. Many say people tempted to leave face too many obstacles for a large-scale exodus to happen.
“If you want to go let’s say to another English-speaking country, the US or Canada or Australia, you have to get a visa. You can’t just say oh, I’d like to move. You’d have to get a job offer, for example. Those are quite considerable barriers,” says Alan Manning, an economist specialising in migration.
While the UK is expected to experience a deeper recession than its peers, vacancies are still near record levels. Research on emigration is sparse, but a report by the Home Office from 2012 found that there is an “inverse association” between British emigration and unemployment.
“In general, as UK unemployment falls, more British people emigrate and when unemployment in the UK is high, fewer British people emigrate,” it says. The report’s authors suggested that while it might sound counter-intuitive it was because employed people have more resources to move abroad.
This is particularly pertinent for this downturn, which is characterised by a highly unusual combination of labour shortages and recession. Many other wealthy countries are also experiencing worker shortages. This means that people in the UK are in a better position to leave than during previous recessions. This will particularly benefit people with good skills. Brexit has made it more difficult to emigrate without a job offer or a particular skill set.
“I think there are two conflicting things. One is the economic fundamentals of the UK as a place to be a highly skilled worker are very strong. So particularly in London, but also Manchester and Birmingham,” says Adam Hawksbee, director of centre-right think tank Onward. On the other hand, he says, the failure to build more houses and lab space around cities means many workers and entrepreneurs are priced out.
“We need to see more from the Government on what their offer is to young people and young families. Because unless they’re very clear that they want them to stay in the UK to engage in the workforce, they’ll be looking elsewhere for other countries which are much more positive about the contribution they can provide.”
The UK’s weak productivity and sluggish growth mean young people have enjoyed much less prosperity than their parents did at the same age. From the mid-1950s until before the financial crisis, real incomes grew by 2pc a year on average. The recession is expected to cause a 7pc fall over the next two years, effectively wiping out 10 years of growth and bringing incomes back to 2013 levels. If the forecasts are correct, incomes will only have grown by 0.5pc annually in the two decades to 2028.
“Pay progression among cohorts has stalled for those born after 1980. So each five-year birth cohort before 1980 earned more than the cohort that came before them. There’s not been very much pay progression at all for those born after 1980, which are the millennials,” says Molly Broome, an economist at the Resolution Foundation.
The stagnation in incomes and growth has not been reflected in house prices. As successive governments have failed to ensure enough homes were built and central banks have inflated asset prices through quantitative easing, prices have soared.
Close to half of 25- to 34-year-olds owned their own home in the late 1970s to early 1990s. Today this figure has dropped below 30pc. This does not reflect a change in preference: around 80pc of young renters say they want to own a home, a figure which has remained stable over many years. First-time buyers today face property prices 5.9 times their annual salary, Nationwide data shows. This is up from 2.7 in 1983. In London, the ratio is even higher at 9.6, rising from 3.7.
Punishing tax burden
Liz Truss’ fateful mini-Budget also pulled the housing ladder further out of reach for many young people, after mortgage rates soared. As a result, thousands of people have been locked into renting for longer, while demand was already well above last year’s levels in every region and country of Great Britain. Rents for new tenancies are at record highs, increasing 16pc in London in the year to October and 3.2pc in the rest of the country, Rightmove data shows.
“The base of voters [for the Conservative Party] is elderly homeowners who have very few incentives to be compassionate to the young wanting new homes built near them. This is extra central for the Tories. If they don’t create homeowners there isn’t really much of a party left,” says Robert Colvile, the director of right-leaning think tank CPS.
While he believes that the UK still has a lot to offer highly skilled workers, Colvile worries that over time highly skilled young people will be tempted to look elsewhere if things don’t improve.
“Longer term there is obviously a danger that the harder it gets to afford a home, the higher your marginal tax rates get, the more expensive childcare becomes and the more people will vote with their feet. I mean, people respond to incentives,” he says.
Parents in the UK also face the third highest childcare costs relative to their income among rich countries. There’s little hope of respite, as services are expected to face a near double-digit real terms cut over the next few years.
“Every marginal pound that the government spends seems to go towards supporting old people. The base of tax-paying younger workers who are having to pay for this whole thing is getting squeezed and squeezed,” Colvile says.
The measures announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Autumn Statement mean the UK will have the highest tax burden since the Second World War.
Bloomberg analysis has found that the marginal tax rate – meaning how much you get taxed for every extra pound you earn – is 42pc for people earning over £50,270 and 62pc for those earning over £100,000.
Having to pay more to the public coffers makes life in the UK less attractive according to David Smith, 33, who works in financial services. He moved to Hong Kong in 2018 with his company. He planned to stay for two years – it has now been four and a half, although he will soon have to come home because of family ties.Including bonuses, David earns £90,000 a year. In Britain, he would pay 40pc tax. In Hong Kong, the top rate is 17pc.
“To me, it feels like if you work hard in the UK and earn a good salary you are punished with extortionate taxes which makes earning over £50,000 a year pointless. I’d rather work fewer days a week and keep under £50,000 salary in the UK,” David says.
In Hong Kong, he has been able to save £40,000 every year. He is also able to take his pension as a lump sum there. From his stint abroad, David will be coming back to Britain with a £340,000 savings pot to spend on his first home.
“The higher taxes you pay in the UK are extortionate. I grew up around Blackpool stacking shelves on minimum wage and then I have moved up the salary brackets. In Hong Kong, I can literally put away £40,000 a year because of the low taxes.”
All of these things – rising taxes, falling living standards and the unaffordability of buying a home or starting a family – are ammunition for the Labour Party, which is closer than at any point in the past 12 years to getting back in power.
Some personal insights and a broad brush canvas of Ena de Silva
Ena de Silva’s 100th birth centenary fell on
Exploring with Ena by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Towards the end of 2019 I spent a couple of days at Aluwihare, where I had had many happy times with my aunt Ena de Silva. Since her death in 2015 1 tried to get there twice or thrice a year, not just for sentiment, but also to provide company for Piyadasa and Suja who have lived and worked there for many years.
The Matale Heritage Centre Ena established, for batik and embroidery, still continues on the premises, but the girls – some who started work there over 50 years ago – go home in the evenings and Piyadasa and Suja are left alone. Family members sometimes visit and occasionally stay overnight, but this does not happen often. And Piyadasa and Suja relish company and appreciate the fact that I now go up there to stay more than anyone else. So too Ena loved my frequent visits in the last years of her life. Ena’s daughter Kusum, who lives in California, thanks me but gratitude is unnecessary, for it is always a pleasure to be there, though one still sadly misses its chatelaine.
Piyadasa started at Alu in 1976, looking after Ena’s father, Sir Richard Aluwihare, and then took care of the house himself for around five years after he died in December that year. He then served Ena who went to live there in 1981, two years after her husband Osmund de Silva died. She had not wanted to continue in the home they had lived in for over 20 years and went off to the Virgin Islands as a Consultant, to adjust, shortly after she was widowed. When she came back, she moved to Alu and lived there for 34 years.
Suja came to cook for her in 1983, not able even to boil a pot of water in those days, according to Ena. But she turned into a marvelous cook, carrying out Ena’s wonderful ideas for the most delicious concoctions, ranging from polos sandwiches to Alu chicken, with a sauce combining sugar and spice and all things nice, as indeed the sandwiches did. And, though Ena claimed she had no expertise in puddings, Suja did well with Humbug, a pudding I was served when I first went there in 1993, and had often since though it always tasted different.
In 1983 went there with Nigel Hatch, whom Ena’s driver of those days, Sena, thought he recognized as the nephew when he was sent to pick us up at the bus stand. Nigel did look a bit like my Uncle Lakshman who had visited Ena two or three times after she moved there, coming up from Kurunagala where he was Bishop on his rounds of inspection of the clergy in his diocese. I think Sena saw him just the once, for he died in 1983 but, tall and handsome as he was, he had obviously made an impression.
On my visit in 2019 Nigel joined me on the second day, coming up on the early train from Colombo and then getting a bus from Kandy. That afternoon, after the statutory snooze after Suja’s wonderful lunch, we went up to the rock for tea which Piyadasa brought up on a tray, carefully negotiating the now slippery steps after the incessant rain of the last few weeks.
The rock was a natural feature which Ena had had cemented in 1989, so that the poruwa ceremony for her daughter’s wedding could take place high above the garden in front of the house, above too the upper terrace to which steps led from the garden . Bells had been strung up on the edge of the rock, to ring when the wind blew, and the sound would come to us for the next 25 years before the last bell fell away, shortly before Ena died.
And then, before it got dark, following Ena’s advice that we always be careful about what she described as creepy-crawlies, we went along that cliffside to the graves at the other edge, a little enclosure with inscribed stones for her parents over the vault where her ashes lie with theirs. Behind are inscriptions for her husband and her sister and brother-in-law and her son, though the ashes of the first are not there for they were scattered at the confluence of river and sea at Mutwal as he wished.
In the evening we sat out on the terrace over beer, and Suja’s vegetable patties, before going in for an Alu chicken feast. It was then that my driver Kithsiri, who had grown devoted to Ena in the 22 years he knew her, suggested we drive next day to Wireless Kanda. That was what she called Riverstone, the highest peak in the hills opposite, which we had often driven to in the eighties since Ena was always keen to go loafing.
So next morning, after breakfast, we set out, climbing through Rattota to the steep slopes beyond. With Ena it had initially been an afternoon drive, leaving early though so that we could get back before the descent of the mists that swirled round the hill at tea-time. And now, though it was morning, we had a sense of what we had experienced before, as rain started dripping down when we approached the peak.
But there was a big difference, in that 30 years before we had been the only people heading that way. Now, even on this rainy morning, there were crowds. It was obviously a popular place for a Poya day excursion, and at the turn-off to the peak there were heaps of cars and loud music.
Still, the drive brought back many happy memories. And it was on the way back that I thought that perhaps I would go through my diaries and set out the various journeys Ena and I had been on, starting with the excursion Ena had suddenly proposed to Nigel and me when, as she later put it, she had assessed us over lunch, way back in 1983, and decided that we were game to go loafing.
In doing this I am making use of what I wrote for The Moonemalle Inheritance, the book I produced for her 90th birthday in 2012. The second part of that book recorded travels with her over the preceding 30 years. Some of this is reproduced here but I have added so as to make clear what great friends we were, and the enormous fun we had together, not only travelling but sitting together and talking, at Aluwihare and elsewhere.
Some of this will read like a catalogue, but I wanted to record all our times together at Aluwihare, and much more that we did together. And I will try too to make clear the impact of her work, and how much she contributed to arts and crafts in this country.
It was only in 1983 that I got to know her properly. Having heard about my adventures at S.Thomas’, she decided that there was another unorthodox person in the family and invited me to stay with her at Aluwihare. It was 18 months after she had gone there at the end of 1981 that I made, in May 1983, the first of what were to be frequent visits to her.
Ena was not an especially close relation. Her mother Lucille was a Moonemalle, whose father’s sister was the mother of my maternal grandmother, Esme Goonewardene. But the two cousins, Esme and Lucille, both born in the last year of the 19th century, remained close, perhaps because they both married Civil Servants who were senior administrators in the last years of British rule.
My grandfather Cyril Wickremesinghe however died young and could make no contribution to independent Ceylon. Sir Richard Aluwihare, who had been five years younger, survived into the late seventies. He had retired in 1955 and moved to the new house which he had built on top of a hill in Aluwihare village, looking eastward towards the Gammmaduwa Hills. But a year later he was drawn into politics, contesting the Anuradhapura seat where he had served as Government Agent after my grandfather.
One of their predecessors had been a Britisher called Freeman who had won election to the Legislative Council on the strength of his service to the area. But there was no such gratitude in 1956 and Sir Richard was roundly defeated in the sweeping victory of S W R D Bandaranaike’s MEP colaition. Also defeated, in the Matale constituency in which Aluwihare lay, was Sir Richard’s brother Bernard who had crossed back to the UNP. In 1951, when Bandaranaike left the UNP government to form the SLFP, he had been one of his few aristocratic supporters.
His departure in 1956 was unfortunate, for had he stayed he would undoubtedly have been Bandaranaike’s deputy, and succeeded him as Prime Minister when he was assassinated in 1959. As it was, the Deputy belonged to a caste which others in the party considered unsuitable. That led to vast intrigues, an interim Prime Minister who was a disaster, a hung Parliament in March 1960 so that the UNP Prime Minister (Bernard was his deputy in that Cabinet) dissolved Parliament when he was defeated on the throne speech, and the emergence of Mrs Bandaranaike as leader of the Socialist United Party and Prime Minister after the July 1960 election.
Meanwhile Bandaranaike had offered Sir Richard the position of High Commissioner to India, and he served in New Delhi from 1957 onward. Lucille however died there early in 1961 and, though he soldiered on, he was not really in control and his daughters persuaded him to give up and return home. So in 1963 he went back to live at Aluwihare. When he died, in December 1976, his daughters found he had left it to them to divide up his property as they wished. Phyllis, whose husband Pat was a Ratwatte, at the top of the Kandyan aristocratic tree, took the properties in Kandy while Ena got Aluwihare. To everyone’s surprise she decided to retire there herself after her husband Osmund de Silva died, a couple of years after her father.
Osmund had succeeded Sir Richard as Inspector General of Police though, as Ena told the Queen, who expressed some surprise when introduced to the father and son-in-law as the head and deputy head of the police, that that was his profession. Sir Richard was a Civil Servant who had been brought in when the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon decided that the British head of police had to be replaced. Ceylonese officers were not however senior enough to take over so Ossie, as the most senior of them, had to wait until his father-in-law retired before heading the force.
Ena had run away from Ladies College to marry Ossie. He was from a different caste and her parents, who had found him excellent company as a police officer when they served in distant districts, were not comfortable at the idea of him marrying into the family. There was a court case at which, Ena said my grandparents were been summoned as witnesses. The judge hit on the healthy compromise of asking a British priest to keep Ena until she was old enough to decide on her own if she wanted to get married. At the age she was when she ran away, she required parental consent.
To her surprise she found that the priest expressed himself entirely on her side, when she was sent to his house, but told her she needed to be patient. She managed to achieve this, and duly married when she could, and a couple of years later was reconciled with her parents after her first child was born. Still, she continued to have a reputation for being unorthodox, and she lived up to this when, after her husband retired she abandoned social life altogether and instead concentrated on what became Ena de Silva fabrics.
Ossle’s retirement had been premature. When he was appointed, the then Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala had offered him a contract, and when this expired Bandaranaike did not renew it. Ena claimed that Ossie had made it clear to him that his allegiance was to the law and not the government. He was not helped by his colleagues, all angling for the post, though Bandaranaike characteristically trumped them all by appointing his bridge partner Abeykoon, another senior public servant, as IGP. Sadly several of the senior police officials then entered into political intriguing, culminating in the 1962 coup attempt.
There had been attempts to inveigle Ossie too into joining, and Ena would frequently cite his brusque response to Aelian Kannangara, a UNP stalwart who had been part of the conspiracy. Ossie had told him, ‘We are not the Praetorian Guard’, a line Ena relished. She also noted that he had firmly rejected Bandaranaike’s apologetic offers of other positions, embassies as well as the Chairmanship of Air Ceylon. Interestingly she claimed that the only relation on her side who appreciated Ossie’s position was her mother Lucille, who had been most opposed to the marriage, but who was a Moonemalle with rigid standards of public conduct.
Osmund de Silva died a little over two years after Sir Richard. Ena was devastated, and needed to get away. Friends, notably Tilak Gooneratne she would later say, who had also married into an old Civil Service family and been a respected Civil Servant himself before going to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and then becoming our High Commissioner there, arranged for a Commonwealth Consultancy. Ena thus worked for a year and a half in the British Virgin Islands. She handed over the business to Ossie’s nephew Keerthi Wickramasuriya, who was married to Thea Schokman whom I had known as the Librarian of the British Council in Kandy during my schooldays. But they soon afterwards went through an acrimonious divorce which also devastated the business.
Fortunately Geoffrey Bawa, the architect who had developed a remarkable collaboration with her after he designed a house for her in Colombo, had rented that house as an office for the many projects he undertook for the new government of J R Jayewardene, most memorably the new Parliament but also Ruhuna University. So that iconic house at least remained safe.
When Ena came back, she retired to Aluwihare. She had set up there a Batik workshop, one amongst many that fed the flourishing business of Ena de Silva Fabrics which she had started after her husband’s retirement from the police. Though she was unable to resurrect the whole business, she decided to do what she could for the Aluwihare Centre which had provided gainful employment over the years to the villagers, including several relations.
Over the next thirty years the Matale Heritage Centre, as I first suggested it be called, developed not only fabrics, with traditional embroidery added onto its trademark batiks, but also a carpentry workshop and a brass foundry. These were started when Ena decided that the young men of the village also needed work, else they would get into mischief. The claim was prophetic, for the young men of Aluwihare escaped the fate of many others in the country when the JVP insurrection of the late eighties took its toll.
The workshops were followed by a Restaurant, or rather two, when Ena decided she should do something the middle aged women of the village too. They were known as Alu Kitchens. She had begun by supplying meals on order in a custom built kitchen on her own premises, designed with fantastic views by Anjalendran, Bawa’s best apprentice. This was K1 (kitchen one) and then, deciding she had to expand into the village too, she set up K2 as a small guest house in a property by the road that belonged to the family of her cousin Alick. He it was who had succeeded Bernard as the UNP candidate for the area, lucky in that, when Bernard died suddenly, his son had been too young to take over. The UNP, anxious for any Aluwihare, had found Alick, the youngest son of Bernard’s step-brother Willie, the most suitable of those willing, though he had nothing like the educational or intellectual qualifications of Bernard or Sir Richard. But he proved an active constituency MP and in turn established his own dynasty.
Ena herself steered clear of politics. Though the family was strongly committed to the UNP and indeed Chari, the oldest son of her sister Phyllis, had been active in the 1977 election campaign and occupied increasingly important administrative roles in successive UNP governments, she was strongly critical of J R Jayewardene and his behavior. I suspect one reason we got on so well was my forthright opposition to Jayewardene when this was not at all popular in Colombo circles. In fact she proved even more deeply critical of his legacy, suggesting when I finally decided to vote for the UNP, in the General election of 2001, in the belief that its leadership had reformed and would do better, that she was not quite so optimistic.
Though she claimed to know nothing of politics, she was an extraordinarily sharp observer of political developments, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. She had a few strong prejudices, but these often tallied with my own. The few things we differed on included both President Premadasa and, ironically given Premadasa’s own dislike of India, the role of India in Sri Lankan politics. I was myself a late convert to Premadasa, having come to appreciate his obvious devotion to rural development, as well as his very healthy approach to the rights and the welfare of the minorities. But Ena thought he had ridden roughshod over too many and, though she granted he was a better leader than either his predecessor or his successor, that did not make him acceptable.
Ena’s attitude to D B Wijetunge I think summed up her very practical if idiosyncratic view of politics. She claimed that she was never so frightened for the country as when he was President, because he was so clearly an idiot. That very healthy and no-nonsense approach was in marked contrast to the absurd panegyrics about the man by the old elite, which had resented Premadasa’s ascendancy, and it confirmed my view that an ounce of Ena’s prejudices was worth a ton of anyone else’s analysis.
About India she was less rational. Though she was quite critical about what she saw as the extreme Sinhala Buddhist prejudices of her husband, she had certainly absorbed something of his views in her hostility to the Indian Tamil presence in the hills which she claimed had been at the cost of the Sinhala peasantry. This was certainly correct, and we agreed in noting the responsibility of the British in having so altered the demography of the country, but she thought I was too indulgent in claiming that much more had to be done for them once they had been granted citizenship, and also that depriving them of citizenship in the forties had been unjust.
She was also convinced that the efforts of Tamil politicians to obtain greater autonomy were excessive, and we had to agree to disagree about devolution. But her essential fairness never left her, and she quite understood the enormity of what the Jayewardene government had done in 1981 and 1983 in unleashing violence on Tamils, and how this made Tamil demands for greater control of the areas in which they lived more understandable. But she continued to believe that India had stirred the pot out of pure self interest, and that Indian efforts to broker peace were not to be trusted.
Such criticism trumped even her awareness that the Jayewardene government had engaged in unnecessary confrontation with India in its effort to align itself with the West in the Cold War. For, interestingly given her elite upbringing during the colonial period, Ena had an even stronger distrust of the West and its efforts to control other countries. She had no illusions whatsoever about its self-serving agenda, and this made her a strong ally in recent years when, once again, the urban elite supported Western efforts to derail our struggle against terrorism. I was glad then that I was able to convince her that India had played a positive role in this regard, though I believe she continued to wonder what benefits India expected to derive from its support.
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