For the delicious bars and restaurants that surround the congress complex in Manchester Central, the Conservative Party Conference usually means being fully staffed to meet extra demand during the busy weekend. But this year is different. Huge lack of key staff in hospitality means that many venues are unable to fill their rota.
In the 30 years since Dimitri’s first opening on Manchester’s Deansgate, the restaurant has employed hundreds of European staff, but not now. “We’re a Mediterranean restaurant, so we used to have a nice mix of people from Greece, Spain, Portugal or Italy, but all of a sudden it’s gone,” said Susie Benson, head of security.
While Observer was there, two teenagers arrived looking for pot washing. “This is the first time someone has asked for a job in several months. We would normally have two or three people a day, ”she said. The popular restaurant recently placed an ad on the job site Actually, and of the 17 people selected for interview, only two showed up. “It has been difficult, but we have managed it,” Benson said.
In the period June to August this year, vacancies in the UK reached the highest levels since records began, tipping over a million marks for the first time, according to the Office for National Statistics. The hospitality sector has the largest share of vacancies with almost six vacancies for every 100 occupants, an increase of 75% over the previous quarter.
Some hospitality roles are hit harder than others. Ezra & Gil, an upscale independent coffee shop on Peter Street just opposite the Midland Hotel, where many conference events take place, would expect to make a roaring bargain over the next few days with meetings, lunches and casual coffee.
But as it was a new place that started shopping after the lockdown, it has managed to recruit only four of the 13 chefs it needs, and as a result, it works with a reduced menu and shorter opening hours, which owner Alison Creely described as “disappointing.” She said: “There is a huge shortage of cooks at the moment. During the lockdown, many people have reconsidered and realized that they will not do it again.”
Lindsay Valentine, head of Ezra & Gil, said experienced staff was the hardest part to hire. “A place like this, we’re looking for people with good experience and we can not just find enough of them,” she said.
“We want to be a place where people can come for a coffee in the evening, but we just can not do that at the moment with the staff we have.”
It’s the same picture at Three Little Words, a gin bar run by the Spirit of Manchester distillery, directly below the convention center. The bar is expected to be very busy this weekend and is booked for two major gala events. Deputy Chief Charlotte O’Neill said she has only just managed to find enough staff to cover the weekend.
“Right now we’ve got the staff we need.” she said. “There is a lack of kitchen staff, and I hear that it is the same for door staff. Some places pay £ 14 an hour, £ 5 an hour over the minimum wage.
“There is a Facebook group for bar workers, and if someone writes in there that they are looking for a job, they are just flooded with answers from managers who need staff, especially for the more experienced people.
“One problem is that no one wants to work late at night. They have had a lifestyle change in lockdown and they will not go back to that, ”she added.
But again and again, in Manchester with continued voting, one reason is mentioned above all others: “Brexit.” “It’s undoubtedly a big factor,” O’Neill said. Even mid-level chefs and front-line staff do not earn enough to meet the requirements of “skilled” worker status under government rules that came into force after Brexit.
“We had a lot of European chefs,” said Creely, who also operates the flagship Ezra & Gil on nearby Hilton Street, “but many people left after Brexit. Brexit is massively responsible for the problem, especially when it comes to a shortage of chefs.”
The more high-end the room is, the more good experience is essential, and the more difficult it seems to be to find the right workers. Creely said: “Other owners are in the same boat. That’s the only thing that makes it really bearable. ”
In all the discussions, debates and presentations at the Tory Festival conference, hospitality companies in Manchester hope a message gets through. “They need to relax the Brexit rules,” Creely said.
With Dimitri, who has a red “Vote Love” sign in the window – a play on the “Vote Leave” posters that appeared everywhere during the 2016 referendum – Benson agreed. “We have to let Europeans back to work. It should never have stopped. ”