Hotel boss says benefits system needs overhaul as hospitality venues left ‘crying for staff’

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A hotelier has called for an overhaul of the UK’s benefits system because the hospitality industry is ‘demanding more staff’ at a time when so many people are on benefits. Toby Ashworth, owner of the Nare Hotel in Cornwall, believes work needs to be made more attractive than being on employment benefits in order to fill vacancies in the area.

The hospitality sector has been hit hard during the Covid pandemic and subsequent closures, which have forced pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels to close for several months in a row for two consecutive years. Job uncertainty in the industry saw some staff leave their hospitality jobs after the lockdown, after deciding it was no longer for them or they could earn more elsewhere.

Combine that with the additional Brexit-related bureaucracy involved in hiring foreign workers who might have worked in county hotels in the past, and the result has been that many businesses in the hospitality industry have struggled to recruit. new employees to fill in the gaps. This has led many hoteliers to raise wages, with some entry-level jobs in some area hotels and restaurants offering £11 an hour and additional benefits.

Mr Ashworth told Cornwall Live that it is in everyone’s interest that work be made more attractive than being on employment benefits – including the Chancellor who is now raising taxes, health insurance contributions national insurance and everything else to recoup its largesse from Covid. Mr Ashworth said one way to ease the staffing crisis could be to introduce a work permit system similar to that in Australia in the UK to attract the foreign workers the industry has relied on supported.

But more importantly, he believes the benefit system should be overhauled to encourage people to work when they are able to work and therefore contribute to society through their taxes rather than being better off without working. “There was certainly no shortage of jobs in Cornwall last summer,” he said. “St Austell Brewery or Watergate Bay Hotel and many others have had to close parts of their business due to a lack of staff.

‘If you tell me you couldn’t find a job in Cornwall last year, we need to look at how our system pays out unemployment benefits because the job opportunities were certainly there.’ Mr Ashworth said that, like many hotels in the area, the Nare has been hit hard by staff shortages, although its staff are well paid, have received seasonal bonuses and even received an extra two weeks of paid leave last November as a “thank you” for their hard work.

He said that although no layoffs took place at Nare during the pandemic, around 20% of its staff decided not to return when the hotel reopened after the first lockdown in 2020 and again after the lockdown. winter last year. “We were certainly not immune to the staffing crisis,” Mr Ashworth said. “The hospitality sector was at the back of the queue to reopen and when we did, we went from no guests to 100% occupancy in six hours.

“It was like starting a car in fifth gear on a hill, but we did it and our staff were amazing. They worked their socks off but god they delivered. I think we have an even bigger team. strong for this even after some team members failed to return from time off.

“But I take good care of my staff. They worked until the end. There was no dip but I quickly realized that if we were going to go through the season – and we did – they would need a break. So I completely closed the hotel and all the staff took advantage of two additional weeks of vacation.

“I also told guests that I would match any tips they could leave for staff. Someone left a £500 tip at reception one day and it was matched, which, you can tell imagine, was well received by the staff, but that’s only fair because they all worked so hard.

Mr Ashworth believes there are jobs and careers in the hospitality industry, with some chefs earning £50,000 a year and some entry-level waitresses earning up to £30,000. He said The Nare has also built a purpose-built staff complex for 17 of its employees in Tregony, giving them a place to stay without taking housing stock away from the local community wishing to access the scale of the property.

“Our biggest challenge was the kitchen,” said the hotelier. “During the pandemic we wondered if we would have a kitchen team ready on a Monday because if one of them caught Covid the whole kitchen would probably have to close. It’s not like you can change the receptionist to be the boss. The whole industry was on the razor’s edge. »

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