Warning signs over Harrogate's growing recruitment nightmare

Staffing shortages in Harrogate have forced the formation of a new working group to prevent the town’s recruitment crisis from spiralling out of control.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 12:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th August 2021, 12:26 pm
Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce's CEO David Simister said: “The recruitment problems facing the hospitality sector is not confined to Harrogate, it’s a country-wide issue."

The town’s traders have issued a dire warning over the situation in the hospitality sector in a week that saw North Yorkshire County Council and Harrogate Borough Council warn that the recruitment crisis was beginning to threaten vital local services, including social care.

Independent Care Group (ICG), a non-profit organisation which provides services in North Yorkshire and York, has raised concerns that as the numbers of vacancies continue to rise, there may soon not be enough staff to care for the elderly and most vulnerable in society.

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The chair of ICG, Mike Padgham, said in a statement: “We are approaching a crisis point where there simply won’t be enough people to go out and provide care to people at home and to those living in care and nursing homes.”

Meanwhile, Richard Webb, director of health and adult services at North Yorkshire County Council, said the sector was facing “unrelenting” pressures and that it had reached “tipping point” over recent weeks with a 70% drop in applications for the around 1,000 jobs currently vacant.

In terms of Harrogate's economy, a growing fear that a combination of the pandemic, Brexit, the reopening of the economy and the popularity of staycations is creating the perfect storm for recruitment has inspired the creation of a new coalition of groups to tackle the problem in the town.

Harrogate BID Chair Sara Ferguson, who co-owns two town centre restaurants, told the Harrogate Advertiser: “Hospitality is not the only sector struggling for staff, retail is experiencing similar problems. It may get even worse when schools return.

“The town’s fabulous collection of hotels, guest houses, restaurants, bars and cafes is a major pull factor for visitors, and at the moment these businesses are nearly all fishing for staff from the same pool.

“In addition to attracting visitors, we also need to attract workers to the town, but the lack of affordable housing is often seen as a barrier.

“As a result, we have spearheaded a working group, including Harrogate College, Job Centre, Visit Harrogate, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, and BID members to identify a way forward in the short and long term.”

Harrogate Borough Council recently lifted a year-long recruitment freeze which it imposed during lockdown.

But Coun Stanley Lumley, cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport, said it was still proving difficult to fill vacancies in leisure centres.

He said: “We have struggled at times to open all our venues at the same time but as we increase the number of staff we will get back to normal services as soon as we can.

“It is something which we are working extremely hard to address and we are looking at recruiting from all avenues.”

Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a more attractive message to be pushed on working in the hospitality sector to attract more candidates in future.

The chamber's CEO David Simister said: “The recruitment problems facing the hospitality sector is not confined to Harrogate, it’s a country-wide issue.

“Our hospitality sector is crucial to our economy – it provides employment, it purchases products and services from a host of local suppliers, it provides accommodation for business and leisure tourists, and our restaurants and bars are a reason why residents and visitors make a beeline for the town centre.

“But people are being put off from the industry because of the perception of long hours and low pay.

"We need to demonstrate this isn't necessarily the case, and work closer with the likes of Harrogate College and secondary schools across the district to introduce the industry to their students as a serious career choice.

"I worked in hospitality for nearly a decade before a career switch. It taught me many skills and was a massive confidence booster. And with these skills you can work anywhere in the world."