SCOTLAND’s hospitality industry is demanding urgent action to tackle what it claims is its biggest recruitment crisis in living memory.
A trade body which represents businesses has written to the UK and Scottish governments asking for immediate assistance to stave off an “existential threat” to the sector.
It is warning that there are more than 500 vacancies in pubs, restaurants and hotels across Scotland, and claims the situation is only going to get worse if politicians do not help out.
Stephen Montgomery, Scottish Hospitality Group chairman, is demanding the UK Government allows temporary visas for staff to fill the vacancies and wants the Scottish Government to make hospitality firms exempt from self-isolation rules. He is also calling for a reform of the National Insurance threshold, financial incentives and employment support services to encourage more people to work in the industry, warning that many firms will not survive without urgent help.
Under Home Secretary Priti Patel’s new plan for immigration, it is harder for so-called “low skilled” workers to come to the UK for work, with the new measures favouring “highly skilled” employees such as medics, engineers and scientists.
Mr Montgomery said the sector had plans to create hundreds of jobs, and invest more than £30 million in Scotland, but was reluctant to do so with the current crisis.
He said: “The recruitment crisis in the hospitality sector has now reached breaking point for countless pubs, clubs and restaurants across the country.
“The number of unfilled vacancies in the hospitality sector in Scotland is at its highest since records began.
“There is a real risk that these businesses – having worked so hard to survive 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions – will now fail because of the difficulty in recruiting staff.”
Mr Montgomery said that initiatives such as the Scottish Government-funded recruitment campaign had been helpful, but were “a drop in the ocean compared to the action that is needed to end this crisis”.
He added: “The industry cannot solve this crisis alone – and neither can any one government.
“We all need to work together – industry, Scottish and UK governments – to agree bold and urgent action that will save our much-loved pubs, clubs and restaurants.”
In a letter to Deputy First Minster John Swinney and Paul Scully, UK Government small business minister, Mr Montgomery said Brexit was a factor in the recruitment shortage, and called for a cross-government taskforce to be set up.
A similar group was established for the Scottish fishing industry, when exporters reported major problems in getting their goods in to Europe following the Brexit deadline of December 31.
Mr Montgomery wrote: “We are aware, and appreciate, the efforts of both Governments to support campaigns to promote careers in the hospitality industry.
However, our engagement with current and prospective employees suggest this recruitment crisis is driven by career choices made during the pandemic that are not easily reversed and – most significantly – by the overall availability of labour following Brexit.
“It is clear that far bolder, and more fundamental action is urgently needed to address this recruitment crisis.”
He added: “As business owners and as the Scottish Hospitality Group, we are ready and willing to play our part.
“We would welcome the establishment of a cross-government, cross-industry taskforce with a remit to address this issue at pace. It is critical that both the Scottish and UK
Governments come together to work across competencies to deliver bold action to support the hospitality industry.
“Without urgent and bold action, there is a real and significant threat to the survival of hundreds of businesses, and thousands of jobs across the country.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The UK Government’s Brexit policies are continuing to cause severe shortages when it comes to staffing and supply issues – on top of the problems caused by the pandemic.
“The Scottish Government has worked closely with industry at every stage of the pandemic to deliver where we can on its asks, including financial support, and we have also recently funded an advertising campaign to encourage more people to choose a career in our valued tourism and hospitality industry.
“But it is the UK Government which continues to hold the key powers over immigration, visas and national Insurance – and UK ministers should heed this call from the Scottish hospitality sector.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “As set out in our Hospitality Strategy, we are doing everything we can to make the hospitality industry an attractive career option, working with UK Hospitality to better promote jobs in the sector through our nationwide network of Jobcentres and ensuring workers have the right skills through various apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.
“We want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad, and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”