How self isolation and NHS app is contributing to Harrogate's staffing woes as economy reopens

The economy may be going in the right direction again as Covid rules are relaxed and vaccinations stepped up, but the Harrogate district’s recovery is being hampered by not one but three unexpected hurdles.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 11:35 am
The impact of continuing anti-Covid measures is being felt by businesses as the country attempts to get back to normal as even as virus figures rise.

A warning has been sounded that Harrogate businesses may face a summer of staff shortages as the result of a perfect storm of post-Covid recovery problems - including that ping on the NHS app showing a staff member should self isolate.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided a welcome morale boost this week when confirming his intention of sticking to the roadmap and lifting all remaining lockdown restrictions in England from next Monday, July 19.

But it was a decision which will likely add fuel to the already-burning embers of an economic recovery across the town - one which was very much sparked in the hospitality sector.

However, there are concerns among business leaders that the welcome financial recovery is already in danger of stalling.

The difficulty of recruiting new staff after months standing either idle or providing a reduced service is causing major concern.

And they say Harrogate businesses face a summer of staff shortages as the result of a perfect storm of post-Covid recovery problems.

The departure of many overseas workers, either through Covid or Brexit has seen the hospitality sector struggling to fill its vacancies, while businesses have also told the Harrogate Advertiser that self-isolation rules for staff contracting the virus - set to continue until August 16 - remain a source of concern.

“A low unemployment rate, Brexit, EU nationals going home at the start of the Covid pandemic and not returning, plus self-isolation have all come together to create the perfect storm.

Harrogate BID Manager Matthew Chapman said: “Staff shortages, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors, is an issue that we are acutely aware. It’s also one that we are not immune from, as we too are struggling to recruit a marketing assistant at BID.

“A low unemployment rate, Brexit, EU nationals going home at the start of the Covid pandemic and not returning, plus self-isolation have all come together to create the perfect storm.

“Only last weekend, I contacted a number of key players in the town’s business community about this very issue.”

David Simister, Chief Executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: “Speaking with Chamber members, in particular those in the hospitality industry, recruitment at all levels is proving a real challenge.

“There are a number of factors, and a major barrier is pay. UK workers have shunned low paid jobs, and these places had previously been filled by workers from the EU."

Simon Cotton, managing director of the HRH Group which owns the Yorkshire Hotel, the White Hart Hotel and the Fat Badger bar, said he was worried that the hospitality sector would feel the impact of lingering precautions.

Mr Cotton said: “Going ahead with the plans for July 19 is without question a massive step forward for all in the hospitality business but there are factors we will have to consider carefully.

“We have to understand that the rule of self isolation for those contracting Covid look set to remain in place.

“This means ongoing disruption to staffing levels at short notice and will impact customer service so we will have to rely on the public to be respectful of that.

“Even last week, we have seen a popular Harrogate restaurant close temporarily due to having no staff due to self isolation rules. We will have to be careful along the way to ensure our ‘freedom’ from restrictions.”

Among the Harrogate businesses which has felt the knock-on effects of Covid rules is The Den bar on Cambridge Road which had to close temporarily at the start of the month because staff were having to self isolate.

Nationally, the picture is causing alarm for businesses. Figures show more than half a million isolation alerts were sent to people using the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales during the first week of July.

And it would be wrong to assume staffing and recruitment problems are limited to bars, cafes and restaurants.

In a sign that the UK-wide situation is being replicated in the Harrogate district, the borough council had to resort to putting out a jobs appeal even as it was announcing the good news about public pools reopening again in Knaresborough and Starbeck.

Trevor Watson, Harrogate Borough Council’s director for economy, environment and housing, said: “We continue to face the challenge that, if any of our staff get a notification from the NHS Test and Trace app to self-isolate, then they must do so. For many of us, this doesn’t present a problem as we can work at home. But for our leisure centre staff this isn’t possible and sadly has an unavoidable impact on the services we provide.

“We are also doing what we can to recruit staff and return to normal as soon as possible.”

Harrogate Borough Council is urging anyone interest in becoming a lifeguard or receptionist – whether part-time or full-time – to visit: www.harrogate.gov.uk/jobs. All training will be provided.

British Chambers of Commerce on UK's staffing shortages

British Chambers of Commerce said this week that the encouraging increase in job creation across the manufacturing and services sectors is being held back by recruitment difficulties at all skill levels, jeopardising growth and productivity.

The publication on Monday of BCC’s latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook survey of more than 5,700 firms showed a surge in the proportion of firms expecting to grow their workforce in the next three months.

But the British Chambers of Commerce report also revealed:

A total of 70% of those who attempted to recruit now report difficulty finding staff, a seven -point rise from the previous quarter.

Of those attempting to recruit, the percentage of firms facing recruitment difficulties rose sharply for the second consecutive quarter - to 70%, up from 63% in Q1, itself a steep rise from 53% in Q4 2020.

The sector with the highest proportion of firms reporting difficulties was construction at 82%, followed closely by hotels & catering at 76%.

Amongst retail firms 43% cited issues with skilled roles, 39% with managerial jobs and 35% with un-skilled roles.

Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, Jane Gratton said: “As firms are released from lockdown restrictions, the skills and labour shortages they experienced before the pandemic are once again starting to bite. 

“The encouraging increase in job creation across the manufacturing and services sectors is being held back by recruitment difficulties at all skill levels, jeopardising growth and productivity.”

British Chambers of Commerce says some of its members are struggling to stay open as a result of the rules on self isolation and it expects that to continue to rise between now and the change set for August 16.  

The CBI, the UK’s large employers group, this week called on the Government to bring forward the end of the mandatory self-isolation regime in line with the next stage of easing of economic restrictions on Monday, July 19.