Colin Neill: Spiralling costs and labour shortage spell worry for hospitality

Given the current national labour shortage, government must revisit access to labour from outside the UK
Colin Neill

THE spiralling cost of raw materials such as food and ingredients, coupled with inflationary pressures, astronomical energy bills, and a greater squeeze on disposable income pose a significant challenge to the post pandemic viability of the entire hospitality sector.

We are facing a mountain of problems at a time when we had hoped the industry could have moved into a more positive period post Covid.

Thanks to the support of both Westminster and the Stormont Assembly, the majority of hospitality businesses managed to survive the impact of Covid lockdowns.

But the post-pandemic trading conditions are becoming harder than surviving the pandemic. Not only are businesses being impacted, but our customers are getting hit hard with the rising cost of living.

The news last week that the guidance around working from home changing was a positive one and will hopefully help those businesses that rely on the office footfall as the associated coffees, lunches, business receptions and meetings come back on stream.

We are acutely aware and live to the issues that the sector and our members are facing, with immediate action needed to reduce excessive business rates and VAT, plus a business energy rebate system to offset the crippling energy costs.

These actions must be backed by a dedicated government strategy for the hospitality industry, working with the sector to find solutions to these real and present problems, many of which will not be solved overnight, but require focus and energy now.

There are also major concerns that the labour shortages in the sector will make it very difficult to get back to the required level of service that many of these businesses expect of themselves. Costs and vacancies have created an environment where everyone is struggling to keep the doors open and the service flowing for as long as they would like across the entire week.

The industry has also taken ownership of the challenges within its control, with Hospitality Ulster instigating an Employers Charter, promoting best practice in training and development, building career pathways and long-term employment opportunities.

However, with a national labour shortage, government must also revisit access to labour from outside the UK.

The hospitality industry is still Northern Ireland’s fourth largest private sector employer and the backbone of our tourism offer. The industry still has a viable future, however, many of the challenges are outside the control of the industry and need government intervention.

Despite the Assembly and Executive being in shadow form, special consideration needs to be given to a specific and dedicated hospitality strategy.

Only with specific and targeted solutions, and the help from the government, can we truly be able to tackle the storm we find ourselves in.

Colin Neill is chief executive of Hospitality Ulster

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