Covid Scotland: Tourism sector demands action from UK Government on workforce crisis

The UK Government has been urged to act after warnings the Scottish tourism sector cannot “operate viably” as a result of a recruitment crisis.

In a joint letter to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and UKHospitality have demanded “urgent solutions” to a collapse in the tourism workforce created by Covid and Brexit, which together “plunged the sector further into crisis”.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, and Leon Thompson, UKHospitality Scotland executive director, said while tourism “is a force for good” economically and culturally, “the sector as a whole is unable to trade viably; it is impossible to deliver the service we are so proud of”.

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Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has been urged to act to help Scottish tourism.Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has been urged to act to help Scottish tourism.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has been urged to act to help Scottish tourism.

They write: “While we are open for business, you will appreciate that there’s a difference in trading and trading well. At a meeting today with the STA Council, the overarching view is that Scotland’s tourism industry remains in survival mode, rather than having moved to recovery.

"Our businesses are severely impacted in relation to compromised opening and service delivery. They’re also dealing with increased costs; repayments on loans which were taken out during the peak of the crisis, VAT repayments, increased supplier costs, the costs of recruitment, administration, regulation, utilities and the added costs that Brexit has brought home to roost.

“Despite the financial challenges which exist across the sector, the majority of employers are paying well in excess of the living wage to attract employees. Recruitment challenges are not an issue of remuneration.”

They add: "Our ability to invest in our businesses and tourism product, however, is so hugely compromised by the issues around the availability of workforce.

"This was a key issue prior to Covid; the impact of the pandemic, exacerbated by the UK’s exit from the EU and the removal of such a critically important flow of labour has plunged the sector further into crisis with no apparent way forward.”

The authors say it is “unthinkable” that Scotland’s tourism industry is facing an inability to properly staff its businesses during COP26 in November and that statistics from the Office for National Statistics show the hospitality’s sector vacancy rate is twice that of the economy as a whole.

The letter asks the UK Government to reconsider the introduction of a Covid recovery visa, to revisit the Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation list to expand the criteria to support “the urgent recruitment needs of our tourism sector” as well as transport and food and drink sectors, a review of the costs of workforce visas to the employer and “clarity” on government plans to support jobs and the economy beyond the end of furlough which ends this month.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “We recognise these are challenging times for the UK’s hospitality sector and have expanded roles which qualify under our new skilled worker route to include chefs and hospitality managers.

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“We continue to work closely with industry to fill roles and are monitoring the UK labour market’s post-pandemic recovery before considering changes to the Shortage Occupation List.”

“The UK Government’s furlough and self-employed support schemes have supported 900,000 jobs in Scotland from the beginning of the pandemic, and our Plan for Jobs is helping people back into work.”

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