The boss of food distribution company in North Wales is calling for a special dispensation for workers from Europe to come to work in pubs, restaurants and hotels.
David Cattrall, the managing director of Harlech Foodservice, believes that they should be exempt from Brexit restrictions – just like fruit pickers coming from the continent to work on British farms.
There was huge frustration in the hospitality sector, he said, because many businesses were unable to reopen because of staff shortages caused by the UK leaving the European Union.
On the other hand the businesses with enough staff to get going again were doing a roaring trade because of the pent up demand.
Harlech Foodservice, which has bases in Criccieth in Gwynedd and Chester, has also been gearing up for a return to normal levels of trade.
They’re also on the lookout for larger premises in the Chester area as a staging post to increase sales in the North West.
Mr Cattrall: “We’re seeing more customers opening every week and we are seeing sales returning as well.
“We’re not back to full speed but bear in mind sales were down 90 per cent when we were in full lockdown.
“We’re now seeing things steadily return and we’re getting very close now to parity with pre-Covid, 2019 levels of trade.
“However, there are many customers who still haven’t opened and that’s mainly down to two reasons.
“Some of the properties are difficult in terms of the social restrictions that are still in place.
“The other factor is Brexit. Many customers are struggling to recruit staff. The biggest shortage is chefs, but it’s not just chefs – it’s right across the board in the tourism and hospitality industry.
“That’s affecting our customers’ ability to trade and the reason is Brexit and staff displacement during lockdown, with people finding jobs outside the industry after everything closed down, with people moving from hospitality to industries that were open.
“The customers that are open and have enough people are doing really, really well.
“What we’re hearing is that the likes of Hickory’s or Robinson’s and other good operators are significantly out-performing 2019.
“When our customers are open, they’re doing really well so it’s clear the demand is there.
“It’s difficult to book in the places that are open but there is a shortage of places that are open.
“Schools are back to normal so we are seeing our education business return to normal. We’re seeing our schools contracts back to 2019 levels.
“There is optimism out there for a really good summer if we can sort out the staff shortage so that our customers can fulfil their potential.
“In the medium to longer term we need to do more in terms of training apprentices but we have a very low level of unemployment in the country and it’s only last year that we were getting by through employing people from across the European continent.
“By and large these are jobs that British people do not want. Brexit turned the tap off and the other problem is that people can’t come in because of Covid restrictions.
“Farmers are allowed to bring in people from Europe to pick fruit but the hospitality industry isn’t allowed to do that.
“As a matter of urgency, the hospitality industry needs exactly the same kind of dispensation to bring in people from Europe.
“Without special dispensation, we’re putting higher skilled jobs at risk which may well be filled by British people.
“We need to be able to turn the tap back on because not to be able to fill these jobs is absolutely ludicrous.
“If we don’t we are going to damage an industry that is hugely important to our economy and that just doesn’t make sense. Let common sense prevail.”