Businesses in Cumbria’s hospitality sector fear a perfect storm of Brexit and coronavirus mean they face losing out on potential trade when lockdown eases.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is calling on the Government to create more flexible arrangements for EU national workers and promote the UK abroad as a welcoming place to work.
The chamber said it had been speaking to hoteliers, restaurant owners and other holiday-focused businesses, many of whom fear they will be hampered by the Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy combined with the impacts of COVID-19.
They are struggling to fill positions, despite advertising them for up to three months
The latest national figures by the Office for National Statistics reveal that of the 813,000 decrease in payroll employees since March 2020, some 355,000 can be attributed to employees working in the accommodation and food service activities sector.
Meanwhile the number of job adverts have sharply risen in the sector across Cumbria during the past three months, the chamber added.
Suzanne Caldwell, managing director of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “What we’re seeing is nothing short of a perfect storm which could really put the brakes on the anticipated post lockdown recovery boom that’s desperately needed by Cumbria’s hospitality sector.
“The industry in the Lake District and in other areas of the county such as along the coast and down the North Pennines has been hanging on by a thread and swift action is needed.”
The chamber is calling for Britain’s doors to be opened more widely and flexibly, enabling more, particularly short-term, employees from abroad than the current arrangements allow.
She added: “A number of issues are aligning and the government needs to act quickly, provide some direction, leadership and support to those whose businesses are suffering through no fault of their own.
“Forty-three per cent of the national jobs lost or furloughed throughout lockdown have been in hospitality.
“And many employers are telling us they’ve lost staff during the pandemic to a variety of other industries, such as retail and care homes, as well as to opportunities in the EU. Many of these staff have no plans to return.
“It’s worryingly common to hear from hotels and restaurants who haven’t been able to fill positions they’ve been advertising for nearly three months.
“The Government needs to re-engage with the EU, show potential workers abroad that they’re wanted here and look at how countries like Australia are considerably more flexible to people on six-month and year-long work visas.”
Andrea Whigham, a hospitality consultant based in north Cumbria, feels strongly that the government needs to create a direct replacement for the Erasmus scheme and introduce a youth or short-term employment mobility visa.
She said: “It feels like real carnage and it is the most challenging time the sector has ever faced with people not returning to their roles after furlough.
“Some of Cumbria’s larger hotels previously relied on up to 50 per cent of their junior staff coming from abroad and they’re struggling to replace them.
“This is a problem affecting all employers, from larger hotel chains in the Lake District to smaller independents.
“What makes the issue worse is students also can’t guarantee they’ll be coming back to fill summer positions . It is very common to hear hoteliers who have several roles they’ve been advertising and unable to fill for three months.
“There needs to be some planning by the Government in working with the hospitality sector to encourage young and foreign workers into the industry for the long term.”