Audrey Ferrie: Government should support hospitality in its time of need



Audrey Ferrie

The governments across the UK and local authorities should consider further reducing burdens, and extending supportive measures for the hospitality industry, to boost its fragile recovery from the pandemic, writes Audrey Ferrie.

Many hospitality venues have been operating at reduced capacity, with recovery from lockdown hampered by staff shortages and supply chain issues, while some premises have not reopened.

High rates of Covid-19 transmission are resulting in staff absences and exacerbating a long-standing shortage of trained staff, not helped by a tightening of immigration rules following Brexit.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows the hospitality’s sector vacancy rate is twice that of the UK economy as a whole, which UK Hospitality said was despite the sector creating 122,000 new jobs between March and June.

According to the ONS, in the accommodation and food service sector “labour demand has increased rapidly while staff availability fell because of a mix of employees leaving these sectors to find employment elsewhere and a reluctance of workers to return to their previous roles”.

The practical impact of the vacancies is being felt. Chef Nick Nairn told BBC Radio that following a fire at his Bridge of Allan restaurant, he had been inundated with enquiries about the availability of his chefs who worked at the establishment.

Some restaurants in the north of Scotland are restricting opening hours due to lack of staff, while others are seeking to protect the staff they do have from burnout, by offering no lunchtime service or closing more days of the week.

Where roles are filled, many new recruits are inexperienced and need training and more supervision, which requires time and resources. Further burdens on staff time apply in Scotland, where “track and trace” and mask wearing remains in place, entailing additional monitoring for staff on top of their usual tasks.

Scottish food and drink industry representatives have called on the UK government to introduce “a 12 month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain – to deal with immediate pressures on the industry and allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers” and to “waive the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022”. The Scottish government was asked to automate funding programmes and to help in promoting the industry as a career option.

The end of the furlough scheme, speculation over the reintroduction of public health restrictions, and, in Scotland at least, the imminent introduction of vaccine certification requirements for venue operators, only add sector difficulties.

Delaying the introduction of import controls for products coming into the UK from the EU to July 2022 offers some breathing space from further administrative trade barriers that could impact the industry, but further action would be welcome.

The industry is calling for the re-examination of immigration rules, while a further easing of international travel restrictions would also help encourage the return of big-spending tourists, reducing reliance on the “staycation” trend.

The government and local authorities should consider whether licensing requirements could be further eased in the months ahead to support the sector through this challenging period.

Audrey Ferrie is a legal director at Pinsent Masons