The UK putting an end to the free movement of people is not only a disastrous message to send to EU citizens, and citizens of the wider world, it is also limiting growth in hospitality businesses across the UK.
Since the Brexit referendum took place, this message to EU citizens has clearly been received and observed. The most recent Office for National Statistics figures report that since June 2016 EU net migration has fallen to its lowest level since 2009.
The effect of this has already been seen by hospitality businesses reliant upon EU citizens in their workforce.
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels for example only a few months ago were reporting difficulties in recruiting EU workers, which comprise more than half of their London workforce. This impacted negatively on profits at Millennium & Copthorne and there are all too many other similar tales of hospitality business woe.
Combating the negative, UKHospitality’s Chief Executive Kate Nicholls has led the way in lobbying government to consider the effect on the hospitality industry and others have followed suit. Hospitality represents 10% of UK employment, 6% of businesses and 5% of GDP contributing £130bn in economic activity and £39bn of tax for the Exchequer. Damage to the hospitality industry is therefore also damage to the UK economy.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid last week wrote to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) asking them to relax parts of government’s immigration white paper published last December that severely limits the inflow of EU citizens to work in the UK. So, maybe the message is getting through albeit slowly. Only today the BBC is reporting some jobs not currently on the MAC’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL) are being added. UKHospitality has today already welcomed MAC’s removal of a clause preventing pubs, restaurants and hotels employing non-EU chefs if they also provide a takeaway service.
Theresa May has worked very hard throughout her political career, especially over the past ten years, first as Home Secretary and more recently as Prime Minister to limit foreign workers access to the UK. It was one red line in her Brexit negotiations that was never to be crossed.
Her policies on foreign workers over the years were so fixed they seemed to enjoy even higher priority than the basic needs of the economy. This intransigence has impacted enormously in hospitality as well as other key sectors like the NHS where both need EU citizens in their workforce.
The departure of Prime Minister May has already seen eleven potential replacements put their hand up as candidates to be the next Prime Minister. None to date seem as polarised as Mrs May on the UK putting an end to the free movement of people. Prime Minister May’s departure could turn out to be a much needed boost for hospitality.