Whitehaven News:

Concerns have been raised over changes to a new T-Level qualification designed to help businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector develop homegrown talent.

According to Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, Tim Farron, the Government has quietly removed hospitality from the much-anticipated Catering and Hospitality T-Level.

The qualification had been widely welcomed by an industry that struggles to recruit, particularly in Cumbria, and is bracing itself for the impact on Brexit and proposals to restrict the number of low-skilled and low paid workers from the European Union.

The Government’s own website only lists Catering as one of the 25 subject areas covered by T-Levels. It has already admitted that only three will be launched on the original target date of September 2020, with fears that the remainder, may no go live until 2022.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Farron called for a Government re-think.

“With 20,000 non-UK staff in tourism in the Lake District, there is a desperate need for home-grown talent whether we leave the EU or not,” he said.

“But the Government has watered down the already delayed Catering and Hospitality T-Level so that it no longer includes hospitality.

“Will the minister undo this backwards move and fast-track a catering and hospitality T-Level to next year?”

In response business secretary Greg Clark stressed the Government’s commitment to the industry through its recently launched Tourism Sector Deal, which includes plans to train thousands of apprentices.

He added: “The new T-levels have been developed in conjunction with the sector. I hope the honourable gentleman will acknowledge that that is a great step forward, and that they will be available as a result of the commitment that has been made.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Farron said “Tourism and hospitality is absolutely essential to the Cumbrian economy.

“So, ministers have shot themselves in the foot by removing hospitality from their new technical qualifications which could’ve been huge in training up our young people so they are able to work and live in the place they grew up in.”

In response a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “With regards to T Levels specifically (relating to hospitality) the content is currently being developed and more information will be available in due course.”

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, also raised concerns about the impact of such a move at a time when Cumbria’s tourism sector continues to grow.

“We have a major labour and skills challenge, not least because we know the working population (16-64 years) will shrink by between 1,500-2,000 per year by 2030,” she said.

“There is already significant evidence of hospitality businesses struggling or even failing to recruit so it’s vital that there are as many opportunities in place as possible to help encourage fresh workers with the right training and skills into a sector that offers massive variety and extensive progression opportunities.

“That is why we particularly welcome the recently announced Tourism Sector Deal which will create an additional 10,000 apprenticeship ‘starts’ a year by 2025; a £1 million recruitment and retention programme; and an increase in in-work training and development of new T-Levels.

“Any risk to those opportunities is obviously a concern to us.”

The wrangle comes at a time when tourism leaders in Cumbria and across large parts of the UK continue to push for Government rethink on the proposed wage threshold for European workers post-Brexit.

Home secretary Sajid Javid initially suggested £30,000 threshold but has now asked the Migration Advisory Committee to take a fresh look, with a revised figure of £22,500 being floated.

However, the £7,500 reduction will still not be enough to overcome staffing challenges in Cumbria, one business leader has argued.

Jennifer Cormack, sales and marketing manager at Cumbria’s most popular tourism attraction, Windermere Lake Cruises, has argued that the reduction does not take into account the higher cost of living in Cumbria in comparison to other areas of the country.