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More than 65 hospitality leaders, including the Savoy and Soho House, have warned the UK government that the sector is “close to imploding” under the strain of acute labour shortages following Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Entrepreneur Richard Caring, chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of Pret A Manger, among others, wrote to the prime minister and senior Conservatives on Tuesday demanding that immigration requirements for hospitality workers be urgently loosened.
The letter, published in the Financial Times, said it was “critical” that roles such as chefs, bartenders and sommeliers be added to the shortage occupations list “in order to save the industry under Brexit rules”.
“Such a huge number of individuals have left the industry completely and many restaurants, cafés, bars etc simply cannot stay afloat with such reduced staff,” it read.
The trade body UKHospitality has warned of severe staff shortages across the industry, with the vacancy rate across hospitality businesses averaging about 10 per cent since they were allowed fully to reopen in July.
Thousands of workers have left the sector or returned to their home countries over the past 18 months, exacerbating long-standing labour supply problems caused by Brexit immigration restrictions.
Despite demand from customers exceeding 2019 levels, in many cases, hundreds of UK hospitality businesses have had to limit room and table bookings or close for lack of employees.
Michael Bonsor, managing director of the Rosewood hotel in London, said he had turned away more than £200,000 of business last week because of a shortage of about 80 staff, or a quarter of the workforce. He added that several hotels were already considering halting reservations for Christmas.
Bonsor said the hotel’s occupancy could be 20 per cent higher with more personnel. “I can only see that getting worse,” he added.
“To have to limit the offering just when consumer confidence is recovering post-Covid is heartbreaking,” said Clio Georgiadis, hospitality director at the Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos.
The government does not include hospitality jobs on its shortage occupations list, which offers lower barriers of entry and reduced visa fees for certain professions.
People taking up shortage occupation posts can in some cases gain a visa even if their pay is less than £25,600, the current threshold. Only people who hold the equivalent of UK A-level qualifications are eligible for work visas under present rules — a bar to many hospitality jobs.
The government has said the industry should train British staff but business owners argue there is not the manpower in the UK to fill the vacant roles, particularly as labour shortages hit other sectors such as haulage and food processing.
“These are skilled jobs paying skilled wages. The problem is not that we cannot compete with other sectors on pay but that the staff are not there in the numbers required,” the letter said.
The Home Office said: “We are closely monitoring labour supply and working with sector leaders to understand how we can best ease particular pinch points.”
“We want to see employers make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad,” it said.