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British Hospitality Association Welcome Government Report Into Role of EU Workers

But some in the restaurant industry say it’s too little, too late

Barrafina in Soho is staffed by many Spanish nationals
Ben McMahon

The hospitality industry has welcomed news that the government has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undergo a detailed study on EU workers — and the part they play in the sector. The report will analyse the benefits of EU migrants, ongoing trends, the impact foreigner workers have on the competitiveness of British hospitality, and how migration cuts might put restaurants in peril.

Brexit has sent cataclysmic waves of uncertainty throughout Britain's hospitality sector. London restaurants, like many others across the UK, are staffed by chefs, wait staff, pot washes and sommeliers from across the EU. Many jobs are highly skilled and the fear is that staff shortages could result in a drop in standards.

Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), told the The Caterer: “Over 700,000 Europeans work in hospitality and tourism, and although we are determined to rely less on EU service workers over the coming years, it will take time.

“In March, KPMG published a report, commissioned by the BHA, which showed that in the event of free movement ending and no successor regime being put in its place, the industry would need to recruit an additional 65,000 UK workers each year in addition to the ongoing recruitment of 200,000 workers to replace churn and to power growth. Our industry recognises that immigration policy needs to change, however, at a time when unemployment is at its lowest since 1975, we will still need access to the European workforce.”

The BHA has for months been campaigning to see MAC given a larger role in policing Brexit. Ibrahim added that the government should be advised directly on the number of visas issued for “strategically important sectors.” Of course, hospitality is one of them.

Indeed, while welcome, some feel the study is too little, too late. Why was this report not conducted before the EU referendum, so as to inform the nation of the risks Brexit could pose?

Jeremy Lee, of Quo Vadis in Soho, told Eater London: “The study is necessary, but I can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t done earlier. This whole situation is an embarrassment, really. I think there’s a real concern across the industry. Brexit is being poorly managed, and nobody really knows what’s going on. The financial ramifications of this are incalculable.

“Quo Vadis wouldn’t exist without Barrafina next door. They’re one of the best restaurants in London, and are staffed by Spanish nationals. The example is an illustration of the fact all this has not been thought through. To put restaurants at risk is absurd. We all rely on people from all over the world. I want to live and work in an industry that celebrates diversity.”

Adam Hyman, founder of CODE Hospitality, said much the same, in under 140 characters: “Apparently free movement of people will end in March 2019 when we leave the EU. The UK’s hospitality industry is now officially fucked”.

The MAC report is due to be completed by September 2018, seven months before Britain leaves the EU (March 2019).

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “A detailed investigation into the benefits of migration and the various differing needs of regions and sectors is a positive step from the government. It is absolutely vital that we have in place a system that is not burdensome, costly or overly bureaucratic and provides employers with access to employees. A report that understands and appreciates the value of, and need for, migrant workers should be a benefit.”

And Ibrahim Dogus, chair of the British Takeaway Campaign, told Big Hospitality: “With a third of takeaway restaurants experiencing skills shortages, particularly for chefs, and more than a third saying Brexit will make it more difficult to recruit staff, it’s vital that the immigration system allows the sector to access the skills it needs inside and outside the EU.”

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