'Hospitality businesses are unable to open fully because they are struggling to find staff' Edinburgh bar jobs fail to receive a single applicant

Edinburgh pub group Boda Bars is in much need of filling key vacancies – but co-owner Anna Lagerqvist Christopherson explains that sometimes it doesn’t receive a single response to a job advert.

Monday, 11th October 2021, 4:55 am

The lack of candidates is indicative of the broader extent of the staffing shortage, which she notes is a “very serious problem”, both in the firm – which is lacking about a fifth of what its headcount should be – and others more widely across a raft of sectors.

A recent survey found that a third of Scottish businesses said they may need to reduce services or product lines long term as a result of stock and staff shortages, while according to separate analysis, job vacancies in Scotland are holding close to an all-time high, but the availability of suitable candidates has “plummeted”.

Staff are the lifeblood of any business, in turn helping to power the economy, and when supply reduces to a trickle, casualties inevitably soon follow.

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Staff shortages are having a 'very serious impact' on the licensed hospitality sector alone (file image). Picture: Rob Pinney/Getty Images.

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Looking at Edinburgh and the Lothians, restaurant Maison Bleue Morningside made headlines recently with the news that the branch was to close its doors for good on the back of a lack of workers, for example.

What’s more, nearly a third of hospitality businesses in the Scottish capital are still concerned they face potentially going under, notes Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce director of policy Joanne Davidson.

She cites the “double-whammy” of the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit, adding: “The difficulty in getting access to sufficient staff has been felt across many sectors, but in particular retail and hospitality and – as has been very well-publicised – in the health and social care sectors.”

The problem piles on further pressure to firms already grappling with a challenging 18 months, she adds, also stating: "With the furlough scheme now ending, these businesses need to be able to trade fully – especially with the crucial Christmas trading period on the horizon.

"We are hearing about hospitality businesses unable to open fully because they are struggling to find sufficient staff, and they are also being forced to pay levels of pay that they admit they will have difficulty sustaining in order to attract and retain any staff they can.”

Ms Lagerqvist Christopherson notes that Joseph Pearce's and Victoria owner Boda has had to boost its wage offers, while the firm and many peers have reduced their opening hours, a point also made by Colin Wilkinson, MD of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association – who says staff shortages are seriously hampering the licensed hospitality sector in Scotland.

He says that looking to the next few months, people will still be able to get a pint, “but pubs and restaurants may have to change their trading hours due to insufficient staffing levels – indeed, many already have”. Also coming amid supply-chain issues, “our industry is open – but it is by no means operating at full tilt”.

Turning to hotels, staffing is “extremely tight at present”, particularly in housekeeping and food and beverage roles, says Edinburgh Hotels Association chair Neil Ellis, who is also group operations director for Place Hotels.

Fears

Consequently, there is a “real worry that just as we are coming into the festive season and also opening up to more international travel, we will not be able to provide a full service in all areas”. That may see some properties have to occasionally decline business because they can’t accommodate or provide catering, he adds.

And while the footsteps of shoppers should be getting louder as the festive season approaches, Ms Davidson says retailers “face an uncertain time at Christmas when it is their most vital trading period of the year – and they desperately need this Christmas to be a positive time”.

She praises the positive impact of the opening of the St James Quarter and Johnnie Walker Princes Street, but says many retailers “are still facing real difficulties”. Indeed, an average of 30 shops per week closed in Scotland in the first six months of this year, according to recent research by PwC and the Local Data Company.

Another area to be feeling staff-shortage screws tightening is Edinburgh’s financial services industry, a major employer in the city. A shortage of candidates “permeates throughout” the sector, according to Betsy Williamson, founder and MD at Core-Asset Consulting, a recruiter based in the Capital and specialising in finance roles.

“The volume of applications has dropped significantly – and this is something that is being reported by ourselves and most of our clients, whether they're multinationals or [small and medium-sized enterprises].

Demand

"There are some major salary hikes taking place to keep staff from looking elsewhere. Demand is up for business analysts, project-managers and developers. In general, demand for tech roles is huge, with financial services competing with other sectors for top talent.”

As for how to increase the flow of potential candidates, she is encouraging businesses to scrutinise their culture, reputation, and approach to flexible working.

Mr Ellis cites initiatives supported by the likes of trade body UKHospitality, promoting the industry as a career of choice. “Many Edinburgh hotels have adopted the Hoteliers’ Charter to ensure fair work and flexibility around working days and shift patterns and a commitment to pay the real living wage.”

Ms Lagerqvist Christopherson places the staff shortage issue squarely at Brexit's door – and she is keen to see the facilitating of people coming from overseas to work in Scotland for at least a year.

Also keen to boost the supply of talent from abroad is Mr Wilkinson, who encourages the introduction of a Covid recovery visa by the UK Government, and hospitality roles being included on the Shortage Occupation List.

Lastly, every business needs to balance the books. Ms Davidson says: “While some sectors continue to face these severe barriers to recovery through no fault of their own, we are asking government to continue to offer support and to deal constructively and empathetically with any Covid-related debt issues they face.”

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