Three-quarters of hospitality businesses in Eden and Keswick face a potential recruitment crisis, according to an exclusive Herald survey.
Tourism is worth £3 billion to Cumbria’s economy but the staffing crisis is so acute that some venues are already operating reduced opening hours and there are fears it could get worse.
The region’s pubs, restaurants and hotels were only able to fully reopen last week after the lockdown restrictions were eased but by then many staff had moved on and Brexit has made it harder to recruit foreign workers.
To find out the size of the problem the Herald contacted 75 hospitality venues in Eden and Keswick at random and found they had a total of 223 vacancies — an average of three vacancies for every business.
Three-quarters of all those contacted are currently recruiting, with 71 per cent of those needing front of house staff and 65 per cent looking for chefs.
According to our survey, the recruitment crisis is being felt across the whole region but is more severe in larger businesses in the Penrith and Ullswater area.
Derwentwater Hotel in Portinscale has 19 vacancies; Penrith’s North Lakes Hotel and Spa has 15; and Another Place, The Lake, in Watermillock has 12.
One of the worst affected operators is Jon Metcalfe, owner of the Butchers Arms in Crosby Ravensworth.
He has just taken over the Gate Inn at Yanwath and having employed a head chef and a front of house manager, he cannot find anyone to fill the 11 positions he needs in order to open.
Having undertaken some renovations to the Gate Inn, the keys are due to be handed over tomorrow but he said: “I need three chefs and eight front of house staff.
“I’ve been really struggling for quite some time now. I mean these positions have been advertised for months now.
“I’m not confident at all that they will get filled at this stage. I’ve spent a small fortune advertising for the roles online but still nothing. You’ve just got to keep going — it is what it is.”
Because of the recruitment crisis, some business owners have resorted to reducing their opening hours in order to maintain standards and stop staff burnout.
One of these is the Pennine Hotel in Kirkby Stephen, which has been forced to close on Mondays and stop its food service on Tuesday evenings due to a lack of qualified chefs.
Paula Fothergill, the team leader, said: “We’ve just been so busy since reopening. It’s been quite a shock to the system for team members. People have been on their bums for so long that they just melted in the first week back.”
All their food is prepared in house so without another chef the hotel will continue to operate with reduced hours.
The Herald’s research shows that chefs are one of the most in-demand professions.
Steve Stables, owner of Salsa Mexican Bistro in Penrith and Bar eS in Keswick and Ambleside, said: “The wage inflation for chefs has increased markedly. They can basically pick their amounts at the moment.”
He is looking for seven staff across all three sites and has been forced to send employees to different venues to try and tackle the problem.
However, some venues have bucked the trend with Granny Dowbekin’s in Pooley Bridge hiring 13 new starters.
Cumbria Tourism put the problem down to staff moving on during the pandemic, post-Brexit immigration policy removing many overseas staff’s rights to work, current travel restrictions stopping workers returning, and many businesses hiring at the same time.
Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “I’m already hearing of businesses having to close midweek due to a lack of staff and we do need Government to listen.
“It’s really frustrating that at a time when businesses have done everything they can to reopen safely and start the long road to recovery, they are finding themselves up against another hurdle.”
Many businesses have been forced to turn to more expensive agency staff to meet the shortfall.
Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is making a plea to the Government to prevent a “staffing disaster” by enabling more short-term workers from EU countries to be granted flexibility over the summer months.
Managing director Suzanne Caldwell 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 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.”
Our survey says:
- 223 vacancies across 75 establishments.
- Average of three vacancies per establishment.
- 75% of establishments are hiring now.
- 71% of places hiring need front of house and 65% need chefs.
- A quarter of places not hiring have just taken on new staff.
- Most in need: 1: Derwentwater Hotel, Portinscale (19); 2: North Lakes Hotel, Penrith (15): 3: Another Place, the Lake, Ullswater (12).