Brexit: Edinburgh tourism leaders' fear over labour shortage

WITH just a year to go until the UK leaves the EU, tourism leaders in Edinburgh say they are still worried about a future labour shortage for the city's hospitality industry.

Thursday, 29th March 2018, 10:36 am
Updated Thursday, 29th March 2018, 10:38 am

They welcomed the UK government commitment that EU nationals already living here will be able to stay and work, but voiced concern about whether there would be enough people able or willing to come in the future.

Last year, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce boss Liz McAreavey warned the Capital would grind to a halt without migrant workers, saying there were some hotels where up to 95 per cent of their workforce are migrant European workers.

Today, Robin Worsnop, of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, said: “There is a general concern across the sector about finding people to work in the industry and perhaps the loss of some of the language skills Europeans have brought.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The hotel and hospitality sector relies heavily on European workers to keep things running smoothly

“Can we attract new people to come when they don’t know whether in the longer term they will be welcome or able to stay? Anecdotally I know someone who wanted to come to the UK until the Brexit decision but then decided to look at Ireland instead because of the uncertainty.”

Russell Imrie, spokesman for Edinburgh Hotels Association, said the Capital’s hospitality industry would face problems if continued freedom of movement for people to travel and work was not guaranteed.

He said: “European workers have been very valuable to the hospitality industry and will continue to be so.

“They are good employees, they have a good work ethic and a good service skills level.

The hotel and hospitality sector relies heavily on European workers to keep things running smoothly

“Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the economy of Edinburgh and 
provides a huge number of jobs. We must be careful its success continues.”

And council leader Adam McVey said it was not only tourism that could suffer. He said: “EU nationals are part of our community and integral to our economy. Highly skilled sectors like digital and 
creative industries as well as social care and hospitality are hugely reliant on having access to an expanded labour market.

“From what I’ve seen from the UK government they have said nothing that assures me these industries will be able to sustain their workforce requirements post-Brexit. This has the potential to severely damage the Capital’s economy unless the UK government starts taking these issues seriously.”

But Mr Worsnop says the tourism sector is an optimistic one which has faced challenges before. He said: “From September 11 and the fall-out of that to the Gulf Wars, the foot and mouth outbreak and the financial crash, there is a great history of resilience.”

Edinburgh South Labour MP Daniel Johnson said the Capital’s universities face loss of research funding but also collaboration with EU academics. he added: “European research programmes have brought universities from all over the EU together and that’s fundamental to the way universities work.”

But Iain Whyte, leader of the Tory group on the city council, insisted there were “real opportunities for Edinburgh” from Brexit. “I still have a great deal of hope about what can come from Britain leaving the EU,” he said.

“I think the door will still be open for trade with the EU. It’s time for Edinburgh to stop listening to doom-mongers and look for opportunities.”

Concern over flights

TOURISTS will still flock to Edinburgh after Brexit – so long as they can get here.

But there are fears that if the current Open Skies agreement is not kept the UK may have to make separate deals on flights with each EU country.

An Edinburgh Airport spokesman said: “This city will remain a place people will want to come to.

“We believe we should make it as easy as possible to do that which means retention of the current Open Skies agreements and we hope that the UK government can provide clarity soon on that.”

Hopes of financial sector

THE Capital’s financial services companies have had to make contingency plans, such as opening offices in other EU cities.

But Scottish Financial Enterprise chief Graeme Jones still hopes trading arrangements in the final Brexit deal will be as close to the current ones as possible.

He said it was too soon to speculate about job losses if the deal was not as he hoped. But he added: “We are a very strong, powerful and diverse sector.”

Edinburgh Southern Labour MP Daniel Johnson claimed once firms had EU offices elsewhere “the natural place for jobs to go will be these other places”.

But city Tory group leader Iain Whyte said: “The core of Edinburgh’s financial expertise is such that it builds on its own success.”