The UK is facing staff shortages across the country, with hospitality alone missing some 190,000 workers in June 2021 compared to June 2019 levels. 

Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire are no different. 

Thameslink has introduced a reduced weekday timetable in the region due to the shortages, while Hertfordshire council and their contractors are facing a shortage of HGV drivers, negatively affecting waste collection services.

It’s impacting our local businesses as well. In June, there were only a few isolated reports of staff shortages, but now more and more businesses are having to weather the storm.

Here’s how the situation is impacting East England and what local business men and women are doing to cope.

The pingdemic 

The so-called ‘pingdemic’ is a major factor behind the staff shortages that local communities in Herts and Beds are facing. 

References to the pingdemic were first made just after all UK lockdown restrictions were lifted on 19 July 2021. It refers to the wave of people who have been contacted, or ‘pinged’ by the NHS test and trace app.

When someone is pinged, it’s an indication that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, so they must go into a period of self isolation for 10 days.

While the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been on a downward trend since 20 July 2021, tens of thousands are being reported each day, resulting in a high amount of pings.

Headlines circulate predicting that over a million people will self isolate during the rest of the summer.

Our local area hasn’t been able to escape, unfortunately. Between 15 and 21 July, 15,830 and 7,198 people were pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire respectively, meaning that hundreds of businesses have had to deal with staff shortages.

The mood is low, with Nick Farr, managing director and founder of Hertfordshire’s Farr Brew, describing the situation as “debilitating”.

Farr Brews employs 100 people across its brewery and four pubs, but in isolating staff was 30% early July. By mid-July, that percentage had increased to 40%.

To cope, managers have upped their hours to 60-70 hours a week, while one of its pubs was closed and its staff redistributed to keep the other three operating at full capacity.

In Harpenden, the Oddfellows Arms pub is only doing outdoor service, while suppliers wracked with their own issues have been a headache for Parker&Vine.

Hertslive reported Jane Parker, manager of the deli and cafe, as saying:

“Last week the butcher let me down, this week it’s a different supplier. It’s uncertain all the time. Every day, every week it’s just a constant battle.”

Migrant exodus

But not all have had too much difficulty with the NHS COVID-19, including  the Waffle House in St Albans, which said “the track and trace situation has had very little impact” on their business. 

Instead, Manager Simon Drake explained the other problem the business is facing with staff:

“It’s more the massive hospitality shortage in general. 50% of our workforce were Eastern European. In the second lockdown, they went home and never came back.”

The economic downturn is part of the reason for the hospitality migrant exodus, as well as anxiety around Brexit, as people return to their country of origin for economic security.

Changes in immigration rules may hamper employment further, as most non-UK workers earning less than £20,480 a year can no longer be employed in the UK.

That could potentially be a big blow for the hospitality sector, 30% of which was made up by non-UK workers in 2019, if businesses can’t afford to pay as high a salary as this.

The future

With the staff situation not likely to let up soon, businesses in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire who haven’t had staff problems yet should prepare themselves.

The truth is that whether you get pinged or not feels like the luck of the draw given limitations of the app and the nature of living with a disease like COVID-19.

To preempt difficulties, businesses could train their staff so they can fill in for other workers who have to go into self isolation, which will be cheaper than hiring new staff.

If you do need new staff, though, consider taking on apprentices through the Government’s kickstart scheme, which sees the Government pay the apprentice’s wage up to a certain amount of hours.

Above all, however, focus on staff retention. Figures show four in ten employees are looking to change roles within the next year or once the economy has strengthened, meaning the staffing shortage might not be going anywhere anytime soon.

HW Associates is an accounting firm based in North Hertfordshire. Talk to us about how we can help your business.