Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says he will use all the powers at this disposal to tackle the major staffing shortages in the hospitality industry, and has called on ministers to review the ‘damaging’ changes to visa rules that have affected the sector since last year.
He has also pledged to use his own skills academy programme to train up more Londoners with the skills they need to take up jobs in the hospitality sector.
New data from UKHospitality suggests a current vacancy rate across the sector of 9%; implying a shortage of 188,000 workers.
The trade body has called for the introduction of an 'Australian-style visa scheme' to enable overseas workers who do not meet the threshold demanded by the new point-based immigration system to come to the UK.
Khan backs the idea of a ‘Coronavirus recovery visa’ to help bring foreign workers back quickly after lockdown, and is lobbying for cities such as London to have devolved powers in relation to visas to allow businesses and public services to fill vacancies where they have acute shortages such as in hospitality.
“Getting our world-leading hospitality industry back on its feet will be vital for London, but also the UK’s economic recovery as we emerge from lockdown," says Khan.
"But this simply won’t be possible without the chefs, bar staff and other key roles at the heart of the industry.
“With the double whammy of the pandemic and new visa rules making it harder to recruit workers with the necessary skills, hospitality venues now need our help to make it easier for them to recruit the staff they need, both from here in the UK and overseas.
“That’s why I’m urging ministers to review their damaging changes to visa rules and give cities like London the devolved powers to fill vacancies in sectors where there are such acute shortages. It’s something that would directly boost our economic recovery when we need it most.
“But I’m also going further than that. In the longer term I want more Londoners trained up in the skills they need to be leading figures in our hospitality industry. Through my skills academies programme I will be supporting more Londoners to get the training and skills they need to have successful careers in the industry.”
Jobcentre Plus initiative
According to UKHospitality's research, the shortage of front-of-house staff and chefs is particularly acute, with 80% of those surveyed reporting vacancies for front-of-house roles, such as waiting and bar staff, and 85% are in need of chefs.
Some 47% have housekeeping vacancies, and 43% are looking for assistant or general managers.
The trade body has joined forces with the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to promote jobs in hospitality, and demonstrate the wide range of career options available in the sector to UK workers.
To promote the diverse opportunities, UKHospitality will be running sessions in partnership with Jobcentre Plus work coaches in every region of England, as well as across Scotland and Wales this month.
“We’re delighted to be working with the Government to restore confidence in a sector which is a stable employer for millions of skilled and unskilled workers across a wide range of diverse roles, and which can play a constructive role in tackling unemployment," says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality.
"Staff at all levels play a crucial role delivering wonderful hospitality at the very heart of their local communities and employers large and small offer high-class training schemes, apprenticeships and career development pathways.
“Prior to Covid, the hospitality industry employed 3.2 million people in the UK, making it the third largest private sector employer in the UK. The Government can help to restore confidence in the sector so once again it as seen as a dynamic sector of growth, and a provider of fulfilling careers that will help power the UK’s economic and social recovery.”
‘Serious’ staff shortages in pubs
This all comes as the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has warned of pubs experiencing ‘serious’ staff shortages, with some of its members forced either shut or greatly reduce their service as a result.
The trade body has written to Employment Minister, Mims Davies, urging the Government to urgently do what it can to help the sector.
It says the shortages have been caused by an array of factors, from the labour intensive requirements of social distancing restrictions the sector has to operate under, to EU nationals not returning to the UK as well as disconnect in staff on furlough returning to work in pubs particularly those with double jobs.
In order to show returning and prospective pub and hospitality staff that the sector is a safe and stable employer, the BBPA says it is of paramount importance that the Government sticks to the roadmap commitment of removing social distancing restrictions on 21 June.
It has also urged the Government to expand the Youth Mobility Scheme to cover more nations and provide a more flexible approach to immigration by reviewing the shortage occupation list, to help support pub and hospitality staffing needs for the long term.
“Our pubs face a serious staffing shortage that has become acute. In some instances, pubs are having to reduce capacity or close entirely because they don’t have the staff to open," says Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA.
“This is a major concern for our sector as it is hindering its recovery after lockdown. At our heart we are a people business and we need good people to provide the best hospitality.
"Even before the crisis, pubs in some areas were struggling to find the staff with the skills they need, particularly chefs and kitchen staff. As they reopen and begin their recovery, some have found staff have either moved away or found jobs in other sectors.
"It remains the case that pubs and hospitality are a great career and you can go from bar staff to managing a pub very quickly. We just need the Government to confirm this by removing all restrictions on 21 June.
"The countdown to freedom, and the recovery of our sector, is on.”