Lack of available staff ‘could hit North Yorkshire’s economic recovery’

Photo: JJ Ellison.

Concerns are mounting that a serious lack of staff to run North Yorkshire’s key service industries will put the brakes on the county’s post-pandemic recovery.

A meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee was told while parts of the county were seeing “very encouraging bounce back figures”, optimism from that was being countered by the impacts of the war in Ukraine, supply and transportation issues.

Officers told the meeting while recent figures had indicated the county could look forward to a summer of strong domestic tourism, the one thing that was consistently holding businesses back was the supply of labour, and in particular skilled labour.

A report to the meeting had detailed how North Yorkshire and in particular Richmondshire had among the country’s lowest unemployment claimant figures.

Officers told councillors the county’s deeply rural areas, such as its national parks, were facing some of the most stark shortages.

Members heard the hospitality industry was already “seeing customers coming in, but could not get them served”.

Councillor David Staveley, who runs garages in the Settle area, said parts of North Yorkshire were surrounded by areas of higher unemployment, such as Bradford and Teesside, and questioned whether improved transport or publicity could help attract workers to where they were desperately needed.

He said: “I am employer and the shortage of trained staff and the shortage of opportunities for new good quality training for staff are a major stumbling block. It is ironic, demand isn’t the issue.

“We mention about having a good summer with the tourist industry. We are only going to have a good summer if there’s going to be people there to cater for these visitors. I genuinely think we have got a real issue here.

“It will hold back the county’s economic growth if we cannot meet the demand with the staff to make it happen.”

While there is a consensus among many North Yorkshire politicians that Brexit has significantly impacted on the county’s labour market and the pandemic led to a disproportionately high number of North Yorkshire workers furloughed, officers told councillors the pandemic also seen people reassessing their lives, reducing their working hours or becoming “economically inactive”.

They added another issue to recruiting staff in North Yorkshire was that many people cannot afford to live in the county due to the relatively high housing cost compared to wages.

Average weekly earnings in the county are £555.70, way below the national average of £612.80. However, councillors were told there were sharp differences within the county.

Workers in Selby district, which has areas of North Yorkshire’s more affordable housing prices, averaged £596 a week, but those in Ryedale, where second home owners have inflated house prices, earned an average of just £502.

Officers said advertising job opportunities and those for retraining could help ease the labour shortages, as while firms traditionally targeted young adults there was a larger workforce that could potentially be tapped into.