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British pubs facing ‘acute’ staff shortages

·4-min read

British pubs are facing an “acute” shortage of staff, leading some to reduce capacity or close entirely, the sector has warned.

Labour-intensive social distancing restrictions such as table service only are requiring more staff, while employees are finding the work physically demanding with some walking up to 15 miles a day on the job, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said.

Shortages had been intensified by some EU nationals not returning to the UK and a loss of furloughed staff who had moved away from the uncertainty surrounding the hospitality sector.

The BBPA has written to Employment Minister Mims Davies calling on the Government to urgently do what it can to help the sector.

It is of “paramount importance” that the Government sticks to removing restrictions on June 21 in order to show returning and prospective pub and hospitality staff that the sector is a safe and stable employer, it said.

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.

The trade association has launched its “Countdown to Freedom” campaign ahead of June 21, highlighting the cost and impact the remaining restrictions continue to have on the sector.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “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 do not have the staff to open.

“This is a major concern for our sector as it is hindering its recovery after lockdown.

A waiter serving customers
Waiters serve people eating and drinking at outside tables in Soho (PA)

“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.

“To show our pubs are back open for good and are a stable career choice, it is imperative the Government sticks to the road map and removes all restrictions on June 21.

“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 June 21.”

This week the boss of pub chain JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, denied reports that his pubs have been hit by staff shortages due to Brexit.

Mr Martin, who was a vocal supporter of the UK leaving the European Union, told investors on Wednesday that a Daily Telegraph story “misrepresented Wetherspoon’s position”.

He said it “clearly isn’t true” that the pub group is facing staff shortages following the reopening of hospitality venues across the UK.

Chef Michel Roux Jr
Chef Michel Roux Jr had to make changes because of a lack of staffing at his restaurant (PA)

On Tuesday, the Telegraph published a story titled “Wetherspoons boss calls for more EU migration as bars and restaurants tackle staff shortage”, with other hospitality operators also highlighting staffing concerns as the recent reopening resulted in a surge in customer demand.

Trade group UK Hospitality has said that staffing has been a challenge, with Brexit adding to this issue as many EU workers returned to the continent.

In a Facebook post this week, the London restaurant Le Gavroche informed booked guests that it was cancelling lunch bookings and opening for dinner only because of a shortage of staff.

The post, signed by chef patron Michel Roux Jr, reads: “Since opening, restaurants up and down the country have suffered greatly with staffing problems partly due to new Brexit regulations, as well as there now being a major lack of well-trained hospitality professionals since the pandemic struck.

“Whilst we have been working our hardest to resolve this issue over the last couple of months, Le Gavroche is sadly understaffed for the time being.

“We will be getting in touch with each of you who have been so wonderful in booking lunch with us from that date in order to rearrange your booking for a dinner instead. The alternative at this point would be to essentially overwork our existing staff which we are not prepared to do, as I’m sure you can understand.”

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