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By Hugh Boag
The extent of the staffing crisis facing Arran businesses has been laid bare in a new survey.
The snapshot survey conducted by VisitArran for the Arran Recovery Group also shows where businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector are being hardest hit and looks at what solutions, if any, can be found.
All businesses have had considerable staff shortages over the summer season and over half, 56 per cent, had experienced staff shortages prior to this period. Of these vacancies, 25 per cent were long term; 12.5 per cent were short term; 56.25 per cent were both and 6.25 per cent related to dependency on students who are returning to full-time education.
The survey found that the 16 businesses who responded had 107 vacancies between them. But given the survey was carried out in a limited timeframe and during a time of additional pressure on businesses, at the height of the recently ferry disruption, the true figures are expected to be much higher.
One medium-sized business said: ‘Everyone will have built up holidays which we will be unable to honour given shortages so will need to close to give holidays or change business model.’
Asked for the reasons behind staff shortages, the biggest was housing shortages, which came ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
When asked what way staff shortages had impacted business, the impact on health was high, both for owners and staff, loss of income was also cited as was reduced service and/or hours and the inability to plan ahead.
Businesses were asked to suggest any solutions that could alleviate staffing issues and ten of those respondents highlighted affordable housing as being vital in recruiting staff. Other issues covered improving bus services, linking in more with Arran High School careers department, reduced tax for hospitality and, of course, the impact in employing people when the ferry service is so unreliable.
Projected staff shortages for the coming winter were, the survey found, difficult to estimate but three businesses said they wouldn’t open in winter. One couldn’t make a guess and the remaining 12 had a total of 75 vacancies so far. Winter opening is also seen as raising fresh challenges.
VisitArran chief executive Sheila Gilmore said: ‘I think this highlights that everyone is doing their best under very trying circumstances. Everyone wants to give their best customer service at all times, and if you’re covering extra shifts or working with limited team members, there can be a great deal of pressure. As such, we’d ask all customers to please be kind, be patient and be appreciative. We are all in this together.’
The number of job vacancies in vital education and health services are also revealed in the snapshot, with a warning the true picture is likely to be even worse.
There are currently 19 vacancies across all health and social care services on the island and Arran Medical Group say this has not changed for the last three to four years and runs between 15 to 20 posts on average, with the cost of housing always cited as the key issue facing applicants.
Most posts are offered with a relocation package, access to a staff house that is rented as a stop gap till they find suitable accommodation, but this does not suit most as it is a shared house and many have families.
Health officials say if the proposed integrated hub where the Arran health and social care partnership can consolidate 24/7 staffing does not happen, this will continue to be a major challenge in delivering care. And unless affordable housing is made available soon, this again will have significant impact on care.
Finding waiting staff is just one of the many challenges facing the hospitality industry on Arran. NO-T34-Crerar-Hotels-NHS-weekend-Oban-Bay-Pint-scaled.jpg