SDLP Councillor Michael Savage has said the critical shortage of chefs and skilled staff in the local hospitality sector is one of the biggest threats to our district's economy.
Cllr Savage was speaking after he seconded a SDLP Motion from his party colleague Cllr Laura Devlin at this month's Economic Regeneration and Tourism Meeting which called for Council to help develop a strategy to attract talent to the local hospitality sector.
He said: “One of the cornerstones of our local economy is tourism and hospitality and this sector is facing a perfect storm of challenges in the wake of the pandemic and Brexi. We have a superb offering of top quality cuisine, bars, restaurants, hotels and coffee shops throughout our district but in order to allow these fantastic businesses to flourish as we come out of the pandemic we as a Council need to do what we can to support them to ensure that we have a conveyor belt of new young talent coming through in the sector and we can attract more people to the hospitality and tourism industry across South Down and South Armagh.
"As a district we continue to punch above our weight when it comes to our hospitality offering but this can only be sustained going forward if the business owners can attract experienced staff that have been lost to the industry through Brexit and other factors but also plan for the future to ensure the sector has young enthusiastic talent coming through.
"I believe the Council can act as a catalyst and a driver in helping the industry tackle the challenges it faces but we need a joined up approach involving our regional further education colleges, the Department of the Economy, business owners, skilled industry professionals and other key stakeholders.
"I am delighted to second Cllr Devlin's motion and will do all I can in my role on the Council's Economic Regeneration and Tourism Committee to ensure this issue remains a key economic priority given the central role the tourism and hospitality sector plays in our district's economy.
"I would like to thank Council Director Conor Mallon and his team for the work they have done in preparing a paper which creates a platform to tackle this issue through the Council's Economic Forum which will provide a listening ear for the concerns of those within the sector and a place for meaningful discussion between all the key stakeholder to develop a long term sustainable strategy for the industry.
"We are totally blessed with the natural beauty of the area in which we live and we are also blessed with the top quality hospitality offering that we and tourists enjoy. It is vital that we do all we can to protect that offering and grow it. This decision by Council if ratified at full Council is a positive step in the right direction."
The motion reads:
"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.”