Spare a thought for those who have no escape from the realities of Brexit this summer

23 July 2018

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The summer holidays have intervened, thankfully to give most of the country a rest from endless ruminations about Brexit.

While everyone will doubtless welcome a much-needed break from the political machinations at Westminster, for those involved in the hospitality industry the reality of Brexit continues unabated with no respite in sight.

Hotels and restaurants – particularly those in remoter parts of the country – are already suffering from the effects of a drop in migrant numbers, hastened by the 2016 referendum.

The UK may not yet have exited the European Union, but citizens from other member states are fewer and employers report it's a struggle to replace them.

This has happened for a number of reasons. The fall in the value of the pound meant that catering staff from Poland and Slovakia, who routinely send money home, found their monthly wage is worth less and many have returned.

Coupled with outflowing traffic, fewer people are making the choice to come to Britain because of uncertainties caused by Brexit about how long they’ll be able to remain and what their status will be.

For hoteliers and restauranteurs who rely on migrant labour – in some hotels EU nationals make up 40% of the workforce – Brexit has created an existential threat.

Anyone who has holidayed north of Stirling and who remembers what the Scottish tourism industry was like prior to the expansion of the EU in 2004 to include freedom of movement for workers from eastern Europe, will recognise that a significant downward realignment of the sector appears to be on the horizon.

Supporters of Brexit have offered reassurances that technology will help to solve many of the problems created Britain's decision to quit.

But as Harry Murray, president of HOSPA, the national association representing workers in the hospitality industry, pointed out recently, technology will never replace a waiter or a chef.

It was against that backdrop that the Scottish Government heaped yet more misery on the sector recently with a punitive revaluation of business rates.

Now ministers at Holyrood are consulting on the introduction of a fee to renew personal licences, that will add further costs for catering businesses and their staff.

Willie Macleod, executive director in Scotland of UKHospitality said this week that when venues are being squeezed by increasing costs, there can be no justification for imposing an additional cost burden.

Pointing out that pubs, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants and the wider sector already contribute significantly to the Exchequer, generating vital income for their communities, he said employers should not need to pay an additional fee just for keeping their licence.

“As we have repeatedly said, there is too frequently a tendency for local authorities to view pubs and hotels as cash cows, rather than community assets,” he said.

“The introduction of a fee to renew personal licences will do nothing more than add another layer of unnecessary cost and potentially stifle investment. We are urging the Scottish Government not to pile-on more fees for businesses that already contribute a huge amount to Scotland’s economy.”

There's doubtless a debate to be had about income and revenues in the hospitality industry. Few involved would shy away from such a conversation, confident in the knowledge that it more than pays its way.

But given the turmoil created by our decision to leave the EU, forcing the industry to address such issues now is, arguably, insensitive at best.

It would be nice if we could all leave the burdensome realities of Brexit behind as we head for the beach and book into our holiday hotels this summer but spare a thought for those serving your meals and turning down your beds for whom there is, sadly, no escape.

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