HOME Secretary Priti Patel is being asked to visit businesses in the Highlands to see first-hand the recruitment crisis facing tourism and hospitality as a result of Brexit.
He said while factors such as the pandemic have contributed to the crisis, the “overarching cause” of the shortages is Brexit and the failure of the UK Government to heed calls to protect freedom of movement or put a “workable visa solution” in place.
He wrote: “Local businesses are doing all they can to attract workers, including offering significant wage rises. However, they are still struggling to attract staff due to demographic challenges in our region and the seasonal nature of this work. This is why freedom of movement has been so vital to the Highlands.”
Last week it was reported The Winking Owl restaurant in Aviemore has had to go to “drinks only” because it has been unable to staff its kitchen. The Applecross Inn, in Wester Ross, has also recently reported struggling to get staff which resulted in a cut to opening days.
Hendry, who represents Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said: “Hospitality and tourism businesses across my constituency are feeling the full impact of a post-Brexit UK.
“Having just come out of a pandemic, they are now dealing with a staffing crisis, leaving many of them struggling to keep their doors open.
“While the pandemic has exacerbated the staffing challenges, Brexit and hostile Tory rhetoric created this crisis, and the situation is only getting worse.”
Hendry said the Home Secretary seemed intent on “doing everything she can” to make the UK as unattractive as possible for migration.
In his letter he has requested Patel visit Aviemore to meet with some of the businesses “at the frontline of this hostile environment’s negative impacts”.
He said: “Like those across Scotland, our local tourism businesses need a migration policy that meets our regions’ distinct needs to staff their operations. Throughout the Brexit fiasco, my SNP colleagues and I repeatedly told the Tory Government that securing the right of EU citizens to work freely in Scotland had to be a priority to protect our economy.
“They ignored us then, and they are ignoring this crisis now.”
Emmanuel Moine, a hotel general manager and chair of the Inverness Hotels Association, said the Covid crisis had added to staffing problems caused by Brexit.
He said: “Since Brexit we have nobody coming into the UK to work. It is even worse now because of Covid on top of that.
“We had a lot of staff who went home because they felt it was not really welcoming.
“With Covid, we had some excellent staff, but they left the trade. They have got another job now and don’t want to come back, which is fair enough.”
He said the Highlands was one of the most popular destinations in the UK for staycations which was welcome, but the current uncertainty around Covid meant added pressures for businesses.
“It was English holidays last week – I spoke to a lot of managers of hotels, restaurants and bars and we all got hammered as we didn’t expect so many people,” he said. “We filled up the hotel within four or five days –people are not making plans. So you are left suddenly with 70 rooms to clean, you don’t have the staff.
“We put an advert for a housekeeper last week and made 10 appointments for people who all said they would come. But only two turned up.”
He emphasised hospitality businesses wanted guests to visit and they would be “very well looked after”, but said it was a challenging time for the trade. I’ve heard some restaurants just can’t open. They don’t have staff in the kitchen, they don’t have staff in the restaurant, so it is difficult,” he said.
A UK Government spokesperson said the new points based immigration system encourages employers to invest in the domestic workforce, rather than “relying on labour from abroad”.
He added: “We’ve implemented an unprecedented package of measures to support businesses throughout the United Kingdom during the pandemic and our Plan for Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.
“We’re working with UK hospitality to better promote jobs in the sector via our nationwide network of Jobcentres, and are supporting workers into these roles through the Kickstart Scheme and our expanded apprenticeship and traineeship offers.”