'IT'S pretty rough across the sector.' 

That's what Braddon Quayle, the owner of Number 9 Bar and Kitchen in Kirkby Lonsdale, said about finding staff in Cumbria. Braddon has had just two applications for a chef position at his international tapas restaurant since December 2021. 

He is not alone.

Cumbria Tourism published its latest tourism tracker for March 2023 with business advisors Lamont Pridmore. The board found that 86 per cent of businesses now say they are struggling to recruit with 59 per cent reporting it as a serious concern. Six months ago 73 per cent of businesses were struggling with recruitment. 

In Cumbria: Braddon Quayle is the owner of Number 9 Bar and Kitchen in Kirkby Lonsdale Braddon Quayle is the owner of Number 9 Bar and Kitchen in Kirkby Lonsdale (Image: Braddon Quayle)

Richard Downes, the owner of recruitment agency St John's Staff Hire, which has offices in Windermere, Kendal and Carnforth, works with 40 hospitality establishments in the Lakes. 

He said: "Before the pandemic, the situation was better. There was a good consistent visitor population in the Lake District. There seemed to be a sufficient population to support the demand. At least my staffing agency was growing and we were serving up to 25 hotels a year. 

"Because of it being so difficult to find good reliable staff for hotels and restaurants, they are not operating at full capacity. It is really serious. There is employment, jobs where we could be putting people."

In Cumbria: Richard Downes manages St John's Staff Hire, a recruitment agency Richard Downes manages St John's Staff Hire, a recruitment agency (Image: Richard Downes)

The issue has been raised in parliament with the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron asking the Home Office to introduce a youth mobility visa scheme with European countries such as France, Spain and Poland. There is a scheme that already exists for countries which are further afield such as New Zealand. 

The government has acknowledged the idea and has met with Mr Farron and Cumbria Tourism before to discuss this issue. 

Mr Farron asked: "The minister’s department has been in discussions with me and the tourism industry. Can she give me an update or at least allow a meeting between me, the tourism industry and ministers to see how they are getting on with bilateral negotiations over youth mobility visas to solve this problem?”

In Cumbria: Chris Tomlinson runs the Rothay Garden Hotel in Grasmere Chris Tomlinson runs the Rothay Garden Hotel in Grasmere (Image: Rothay Garden Hotel)

Home Office minister Sarah Dines replied: "We want to get more British people back working, particularly the over-50s, and there have been a lot of schemes on that.

"We are cognisant of differences - geographical and otherwise - and the idea is that the will of this House to have a skilled worker scheme is brought into play.”

Mr Downes said: "Brexit has had an effect. Many of the European population we had have been the backbone of hospitality in the Lakes and arguably still. Many have moved."

However reduced access to the foreign workforce which once helped fill in gaps before the pandemic is just one of the issues the sector faces in Cumbria. Wages now cannot keep up with the cost of housing in tourist hotspots such as Kirkby Lonsdale.

READ MORE: Cumbria Tourism figures paint grim picture for hospitality

Mr Quayle said: "There is nothing for rent because they are all holiday lets and second homes. Flats on the high street have been on [the market] for £300,000. It is something hospitality cannot afford with the rising cost of everything else." 

A solution would be for people to come in from outside the area. However, Mr Quayle also raised the issue of there being no late evening bus service between Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancaster, Bentham and Kendal.

In the Lake District, Mr Downes praised the £2 bus tickets Stagecoach is offering to people in the area and called for the scheme to be extended. He said that it would make it easier for people in the Furness peninsula to come up to Windermere. 

However in Kirkby Lonsdale, often the only option for workers who do not drive would be to get a taxi, which is usually not a viable solution. 

Mr Quayle said: "There is nothing like in Lancaster that would encourage drivers to come down here as there are no ranks. With the taxis here we are talking between five and six pounds a mile. If you are going to Kendal it is £30. They can't get here and even if they could afford to get here they cannot afford to get here."

The recruitment pool Mr Quayle has to work from is typically older schoolchildren looking to make money before university. This makes it difficult for him to find a consistent set of staff. Mr Quayle said that he viewed hospitality as a career choice and wanted it to be recognised as such more broadly in society. 

This is something that Chris Tomlinson, head of the Rothay Garden Hotel in Grasmere, also raised. However, on the lack of public transport, he said: "The local challenges around transportation are never going to be an easy fix. If that needed a fix it should have been done 20 years ago, it wasn't sorted." 

The hotel has instead bought three properties in Grasmere for the staff. Yet Mr Tomlinson said: "We don't have enough capacity to put all the staff in it. I have a couple of staff who live in Penrith who drive 40 minutes each way to go to work. We have had to pay a huge amount of money to secure housing."