Cllr Laura Devlin receives support from a NMD Council committee to back the hospitality sector
At the Economic, Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) committee meeting of Newry Mourne and Down District Council on Monday night, Mournes Councillor Laura Devlin brought a motion forward to address the staff shortages issues in the district in the hospitality sector following the impacts of the Covid pandemic.
The motion seconded by Newry Cllr Michael Savage said: “Recognising the significant and growing staff shortages within the Hospitality sector, this Council calls for the establishment of a forum with representatives from the South Eastern and Southern Colleges, Department for the Economy and other key stakeholders to undertake an assessment of the training needs to address the shortage within the hospitality sector with the aim of providing short, medium and long term solutions to tackle this crisis and to enable our hospitality industry to survive and to aid our Covid recovery.”
Speaking to the motion, Cllr Devlin said: “Our hospitality industry is in crisis. There is a concerning shortage in chefs which is having a detrimental impact on the industry’s ability to keep the doors open.
“Without chefs we essentially have no food nor drink industry. No chef means a closed kitchen,a restaurant unable to open its doors, and no income for the employees or business owner.
She said that in Newry Mourne and Down “we pride ourselves on the exceptional culinary variety that exists and we all believe this to be a key and integral element of our Covid recovery plan.
“Our coastal towns are booming, and the staycation demand has been huge, but without chefs the tourist sector isn’t getting the full Newry Mourne and Down culinary offering, as many establishments have already reduced their opening days and hours, and some have even closed their doors in the interim.
“The staycation market has been our opportunity to showcase all that we have to offer and when we look at our stunning scenery , our unique boutique shops – we have so much to offer but in terms of dining we always punched above our weight, but now with this huge gap in the market for catering staff – the tourist (and our locals) are missing out on so much.
“The industry requires urgent intervention. I understand that this is not a statutory role of Councils, but we are responsible for elements of economic development and the local promotion of tourism in our District.
“All of this is at risk if this situation continues the downward trajectory.
“I want to thank Conor Mallon, Director of ERT and his team for producing the background report that it is before us this evening. I want to ensure that we do all in our power to improve what is such a significant economic issue currently.
“Since I tabled this motion back at the end of the July, the issue has been all over the media, so I do get and appreciate that it is a problem which is much greater than Newry Mourne and Down but given the emphasis we place on tourism and hospitality – the current situation is beyond worrying.
“So, can we as a Council do more? I absolutely do think we should utilise the Council’s Economic Forum and its skills and employability sub-section to focus on hospitality… no other sector is growing in demand and popularity but shrinking in terms of staff numbers so rapidly.
“I know the report mentions labour market partnerships. I had heard of an initiative in Mid Ulster which is offering specific support in tandem with Invest NI which targets industrial sectors (such as manufacturing, engineering, construction). Could this be the case here in Newry Mourne and Down that we offer specific support to the hospitality industry?
“Can I then suggest that the FE colleges SERC AND SRC, who are already at this virtual table, have a specific focus in terms of hospitality?”
The motion was agreed by the committee and will go to the next full council meeting in early October for full approval.