Some businesses in Badenoch and Strathspey on 'point of no return' due to staff shortages
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Calls are increasing for urgent action to be taken before closures turn into a point of no return as a staffing shortage crisis takes hold for many businesses in Badenoch and Strathspey.
Proprietors in the hospitality sector have told the Strathy that they are fearing the worst despite having negotiated the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark Tate, Cairngorms Business Partnership chief executive, said: "Too many businesses who made it through the Covid crisis are struggling to survive the recovery and some have already closed their doors."
He also believes staffing shortages is leading to reputation damage for the strath and its ability to serve its visitors and even local customers to a customary high standard.
The private sector business body – which acts as the Chamber of Commerce for the Cairngorms region – is calling on Scottish Finance Secretary and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes to arrange an urgent meeting of those best placed to 'spark some positive change'.
Mr Tate said the challenges facing the tourism industry and wider economy was dire and it was getting worse, and they had been contacted by numerous members raising the same concerns 'as never before'.
He said: "High on the list are hotels having to take rooms off sale, simply because they cannot get staff to serve the customers or housekeeping to change over the rooms.
"Cafes are operating take-away only, or reducing their hours. One in Aviemore offers six days out of seven, another in Grantown is down to is down to five and one cafe has closed for good."
Mr Tate described staff shortages as 'the single biggest issue impeding recovery'.
He said: "This is not just about social housing. It is about providing homes that people will be proud to rent or buy and at all levels of the housing ladder...
"There is clear market failure and we need more significant, co-ordinated public intervention."
The CBP wants to discuss potential solutions with Ms Forbes and is calling for 'some political will and leadership to help resolve this crisis'.
Mr Tate continued: "We are also in active discussions with Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise about potential medium term solutions and the role businesses can play in finding solutions.
"But there is no silver bullet and no short term solution. This ball cannot be kicked down the road again.
"What is clear is that we need to build housing that the people who want to live in, work in and care for the national park can afford to rent or buy and, importantly, that housing remains as housing for those people in perpetuity.
"Mechanisms exist to achieve this outcome - businesses are prepared to play their part in working towards a solution.
"The challenge is the levers that need to be pulled involving a blend of building that's economically viable and using mechanisms to ensure that we have sufficient homes for these workers."
Toni Vastano, owners of the Old Post Office and Gallery at Kincraig, said he and his team are despairing of the situation.
He said: "We’ve reached a critical situation now. I’ve never seen a more serious predicament in 35 years of working in the hospitality sector.
"The Brexit impact has been catastrophic for the hospitality trade. Add to this the lack of affordable rented accommodation with the rise in airbnb and it’s completely unsustainable.
"Will there be a hospitality industry in five years time if things don’t improve urgently?
"Add Covid, rising costs and exhaustion to this perfect storm and it sadly spells the end for many hospitality outlets."
The lack of staff is having an impact across the local economy.
Aviemore-based Ride Scotland can not not find accommodation for two bike mechanics who wanted to come and work for them.
The Winking Owl, also in Aviemore, has been unable to serve food due to staffing shortages whilst Anderson's Restaurant in Boat of Garten – often the top rated Tripadvisor restaurant in the strath - is shut at the height of the busiest time of year.
The Strathy called the popular restaurant but a voicemail message said the business was closed until further notice.
Anderson's Restaurant readvertising positions for a head chef with salary negotiable and for a sous chef (£28,000) on Thursday which it has been trying to fill in recent weeks.
Owner Steve Anderson had said earlier this month: "Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, it is impossible to keep running and maintain the reputation we have built up without a full team."
Ms Forbes told the Strathy that she understands local businesses have concerns about staffing right now.
She said: "This is largely due to the fact many EU nationals who formerly worked in the hospitality industry having now returned to Europe and who would face challenges in securing visas now that we have left the EU against our will.
“The chambers of commerce have requested a meeting and I hope to meet them over the summer.”
More details on the vacancies at Anderson's Restaurant can be found here
Are you a business having problems filling your vacancies in Badenoch and Strathspey? Contact the Strathy by email at email@example.com with more details