A LEADING figure in Dorset’s hospitality industry has said finding staff is the most challenging he has ever known it.

Mark Cribb, owner of the Urban Guild group, commented after sector giant Travelodge announced a new hiring programme targeting unemployed parents.

Travelodge said it had seen a fall in job applications by candidates from mainland Europe and it could not wait any longer to see what the post-Brexit situation would be.

Mr Cribb – whose business runs the venues Urban Beach, Urban Reef, Jenkins & Sons and Wood Oven – said the industry’s problems were severe but not all Brexit-related.

“It’s probably been the most challenging it’s been in the time I’ve been in hospitality, which is 14 years. I don’t think it’s purely Brexit related – it’s been going on for a little while,” he said.

“If you start at the basic level, it’s not an immigration issue but more around the value of the pound.”

He said the weakened pound meant wages were less attractive when converted into other currencies. He added: “We rely on quite a transient population who stay for the summer and disappear for the winter months, but a lot of those people look around Europe and say ‘Where am I going to earn the most money? We can go to Germany or France and earn more money than we earn here.’”

He said there were also fewer people wanting to become chefs in restaurants

“I think a lot of people say ‘If I’m going to be a chef, I’m going to do it in a school or home’,” he said.

“If there are fewer people coming into school to be chefs, that must be to do with how attractive it is as a job. Maybe if there’s less unemployment, people can be a bit more fussy about where they want to work.”

He said the government needed to recognise the need for migrant workers, whether they came from the EU or outside. Points systems and requirements to earn a minimum salary would exacerbate the recruitment problem, he said.

“We need the government to recognise this and we haven’t had any reassurance yet,” he added.

Andrew Woodland, chair of Bournemouth and Poole Tourism Management Board, said there was a “general staff shortage everywhere”.

He added: “I’ve always looked to recruit returners to work, whether they’re unemployed or have brought up their family to an age where they can time work around taking the kids to school.

“We’ve got a great untapped source of employment in people who’ve had to give up work for a number of reasons. The main one is bringing up a family.”

Travelodge said yesterday it would aim to help parents return to work to fill its thousands of vacancies.

Chief executive Peter Gowers added: “We’ve become more proactive. We can’t wait around like two men on a park bench waiting for Godot for the government to decide what the post-Brexit machine is going to be.”We are preparing in earnest for post-Brexit Britain. With thousands of new jobs to fill, we need more new colleagues than ever.”

Almost a third of Travelodge’s employees are from EU countries, but the firm has noticed a drop-off in applications from the bloc since the Brexit vote.

Travelodge plans to open 100 hotels over the next five years and has said Dorset is one of its target areas.