West End bars and restaurants call for visa reforms as staff crisis worsens

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There were 173,000 vacancies across UK hospitality sector last month

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he jobs crisis in central London is worsening with hospitality bosses forced to turn away one in five customers because they still cannot recruit enough staff to cope with demand, a new survey reveals.

The research comes as official figures today from the Office for National Statistics show there were 173,000 vacancies in the sector across the UK last month, many in the capital.

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Unemployment in London has fallen by almost 100,000 over the year to the March to May quarter, reducing the jobless rate to just 4.6%.

Employers in hospitality say that on average 19% of jobs are unfilled forcing them to stay closed for part of the week, or put a cap on the number of customers.

The biggest reasons for the shortfall is a lack of applicants after Brexit and the pandemic and London’s brutal cost of living – particularly housing.

On average restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels are missing out on 20% of sales.

Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of Inception Group, which runs 13 London sites including Mr Fogg’s cocktail bars and Bunga Bunga in Battersea and Covent Garden, said he needed another 50 staff with two thirds of the sites “not trading all the hours we would like to.”

He said: “We used to put job ads out on Gumtree and we would get hundreds of applicants, now we’re lucky if we get any at all.

“My worry is that people often come from Europe to London to work for two or three years and many of those that are still here might go back soon even further diminishing the pool of available workers. We would like to employ more Brits but it is incredibly hard to find people who want to work in hospitality.”

The survey, by business group Heart of London, suggests the situation facing the hospitality sector in the West End is more dire than the national picture.

Industry body UKHospitality carried out a similar nationwide survey of hospitality businesses this year that revealed an average of 15% of positions are vacant and open for application, and 16% of sales are being lost as a result.

In Heart of London’s poll, the most frequently suggested solution was for the introduction of a visa not covered by the post Brexit points-based system; the expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme to more countries; and amending the points-based immigration system to consider sectors with acute shortages.

Employers are also calling for a national marketing campaign to promote the sector and for greater support for transport to and from work, including further extensions to the Night Tube.

Ros Morgan, CEO of Heart of London, said: “A thriving London is good for the rest of the UK, and the West End should be at the very heart of the nation’s economic recovery.

“But, as London gets back to business, recruitment has become an existential issue facing the West End’s hospitality sector. We are seeing businesses unable to open their doors, not because of a lack of demand but because of a lack of staff. It’s like another lockdown for businesses, but this time without support from Government.

“The hospitality sector is making huge efforts to attract domestic workers, including through higher wages, but there is a real fear that the numbers just will not be enough. That’s why action is urgently needed from Government, through reforms to boost the number of overseas as well as domestic applicants.”

“Lack of staff is already hindering the post-pandemic recovery and so we urge the candidates aspiring to lead the Conservative Party to pledge to take the practical, pragmatic steps needed to alleviate this shortage and secure the future of the most diverse, energetic and cutting -edge destination in the world.”

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Credit: www.standard.co.uk /

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