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Mayor Sadiq Khan Promises to Address ‘Major Staffing Shortage’ in London Restaurants

London Mayor implores ministers to relax visa rules for hospitality workers in the short term and promises training schemes for the future

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan stands in Chinatown on the day indoor dining resumed in London with his right hand raised.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recognises the acute staffing shortage across hospitality in London
Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he recognises the “major staffing shortage across the capital’s restaurant, pubs, and bars which has become apparent since indoor hospitality resumed on 17 May. In a statement posted to the Mayor’s Office online, Khan has pledged to use “all the powers at this disposal to tackle” one of the main issues that threatens to undermine London’s recovery from COVID-19.

“Getting our world-leading hospitality industry back on its feet will be vital for London, Khan said. “But also the U.K.’s economic recovery as we emerge from lockdown.” This simply would not be possible without the chefs, bar staff and other key roles, he added.

“With the double whammy of the pandemic and new visa rules [the result of post-Brexit immigration legislation] making it harder to recruit workers with the necessary skills, hospitality venues now need our help to make it easier for them to recruit the staff they need, both from here in the U.K. and overseas,” Khan said. He voiced his support for those who deemed the new via rules as “damaging.”

The Mayor’s remarks come as restaurateurs (and pub landlords) across the city have raised concerns about the labour market since reopening. It was an issue that ought not have come as a surprise, such was the inevitability of the effects of Brexit kicking in only once venues reopened at increased capacity with the need for increased numbers of workers. Restaurateurs and chefs had been on alert in the run up to last month’s reopening date, though the reality of it has dawned on others only since. Brexit Big Man, Tim Martin of Wetherspoons voiced his support earlier this week for a relaxation of rules on EU workers, the likes of whom he’s desperate to get behind his bars.

Elsewhere, renowned restaurateur Michel Roux Jr. announced that his Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in Mayfair would temporarily suspend its lunch service such was that restaurant’s acute staff shortage.

Now, the Mayor of London, who knows that his “Lets Do London” reopening campaign is both culturally and economically heavily pegged to hospitality, its viability and prosperity, as pledged to put pressure on ministers to review and ultimately take down the barriers to immigration freshly erected by Brexit. Last month Khan underwent a respectable gourmet odyssey in the company of Mere and MasterChef’s Monica Galletti, Murano’s Angela Hartnett, and Leong’s Legend’s Geoff Leong, stopping in at Dishoom, Leong’s Legend, and Mildred’s. He, just like the chancellor Rishi Sunak, knows that little else will recover if hospitality doesn’t recover.

To back his case for a ministerial review of new visa rules, Khan pointed to a recent survey of the biggest hospitality employers that showed one in three venues “do not have enough staff to cope with re-opening post-lockdown, including chefs and a whole host of other roles.” Pre-pandemic, the hospitality sector employed nearly 3.2 million people across the U.K., with nearly 18 percent of jobs based in London, providing work for 568,000 Londoners — over 10 percent of the capital’s employment.

Before the pandemic, 85 percent of chefs across London were born outside the U.K., while 50 percent of hospitality workers in the capital were believed to have come from Europe. Many workers elected to return to their country of origin in Europe as a result of the pandemic, with the expiration of the Brexit transition coming in January.

“That’s why I’m urging ministers to review their damaging changes to visa rules and give cities like London the devolved powers to fill vacancies in sectors where there are such acute shortages,” Khan said.

“In the longer term I want more Londoners trained up in the skills they need to be leading figures in our hospitality industry. Through my skills academies programme I will be supporting more Londoners to get the training and skills they need to have successful careers in the industry,” Khan said.

“Staff shortages are hugely challenging for many businesses at this time and risk threatening their recovery from the pandemic, so it’s very welcome that the Mayor is championing hospitality as a career of choice,” U.K. Hospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls said.

With regards to the proposed visa system, Nicholls said, “an Australian-style recovery visa for hospitality would also help to bring back foreign workers quickly as restrictions ease and enable us to play our part in powering the economic recovery.”

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