The hospitality sector is at breaking point due to a staffing crisis, with the number of unfilled vacancies at its highest since records began, according to an industry expert.
Leading trade body, the Scottish Hospitality Group, has written to the UK and Scottish governments asking for urgent action to stave off an ‘existential threat’ to the sector.
It warned there are more than 500 vacancies in pubs, restaurants and hotels across Scotland, and claims the situation is only going to get worse without help.
Chairman Stephen Montgomery demanded the UK Government allows temporary visas for staff to fill the vacancies.
He has also called for the Scottish Government to make hospitality firms exempt from self-isolation rules.
He called for a reform of the National Insurance threshold, financial incentives and employment support services to encourage more people to work in the industry.
Mr Montgomery said the sector had plans to create hundreds of jobs, and invest more than £30m in Scotland, but was reluctant to do so with the current crisis.
Mr Montgomery said: “The recruitment crisis in the hospitality sector has now reached breaking point for countless pubs, clubs and restaurants across the country.
“The number of unfilled vacancies in the hospitality sector in Scotland is at its highest since records began.
“There is a real risk that these businesses – having worked so hard to survive 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions – will now fail because of the difficulty in recruiting staff.
“The industry cannot solve this crisis alone – and neither can any one government.
“We all need to work together – industry, Scottish and UK governments – to agree bold and urgent action that will save our much-loved pubs, clubs and restaurants.”
In a letter to Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Paul Scully, UK Government small business minister, Mr Montgomery said Brexit was a factor in the recruitment shortage.
He called for a cross-government taskforce to be set up.
Mr Montgomery wrote: “We are aware, and appreciate, the efforts of both governments to support campaigns to promote careers in the hospitality industry.
“However, our engagement with current and prospective employees suggest this recruitment crisis is driven by career choices made during the pandemic that are not easily reversed and – most significantly – by the overall availability of labour following Brexit.
“It is clear that far bolder, and more fundamental action is urgently needed to address this recruitment crisis.”
He added: “As business owners and as the Scottish Hospitality Group, we are ready and willing to play our part.
“We would welcome the establishment of a cross-government, cross-industry taskforce with a remit to address this issue at pace.
“It is critical both the Scottish and UK Governments come together to work across competencies to deliver bold action to support the hospitality industry.
“Without urgent and bold action, there is a real and significant threat to the survival of hundreds of businesses, and thousands of jobs across the country.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The UK Government’s Brexit policies are continuing to cause severe shortages when it comes to staffing and supply issues – on top of the problems caused by the pandemic.
“The Scottish Government has worked closely with industry at every stage of the pandemic to deliver where we can on its asks, including financial support, and we have also recently funded an advertising campaign to encourage more people to choose a career in our valued tourism and hospitality industry.
“But it is the UK Government that continues to hold the key powers over immigration, visas and National Insurance – and UK ministers should heed this call from the Scottish hospitality sector.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “As set out in our Hospitality Strategy, we are doing everything we can to make the hospitality industry an attractive career option, working with UKHospitality to better promote jobs in the sector through our nationwide network of job centres and ensuring workers have the right skills through various apprenticeship and traineeship programmes.
“We want to see employers make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad, and our Plan For Jobs is helping people across the country retrain, build new skills and get back into work.”