West End retailers ‘hit by staff shortages’ as property boss urges action on visa rules
London’s renowned West End retail economy is under threat from staff shortages, according to the boss of one of the area’s largest investment firms.
Shaftesbury Group’s chief executive Brian Bickell, whose £3.86bn FTSE 250 property company represents nearly 600 West End businesses, told City A.M. that a combination of tight visa restrictions and uncertainty around EU migration rules is deterring Chinese and European workers from finding jobs in the busy shopping destination.
In tourism hotspots such as Chinatown, which is owned predominantly by the Shaftesbury Group, Bickell worries that much-needed immigration from Asia is being stalled by Home Office laws.
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“Just recently we have had a restaurant in Chinatown pull out of a deal because they couldn’t find the staff to come. It’s had a notable impact here… It shouldn’t be unreasonable to find Chinese chefs for Chinese restaurants,” according to Bickell.
He added: “We also need to make it easier for people to apply for visal online. For every 10 Chinese tourists coming into Europe, only one is coming to London… that’s not enough.
“At the moment there is also lot of uncertainty over whether European staff can stay, which is causing big problems for our retailers. European staff are going home, and the next generation that is set to come here needs to replace them.”
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The news comes less than a week after a major report from an independent committee urged the government to make it easier for highly skilled workers to come to the UK.
Reforms proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) include abolishing caps on tier 2 visas for high- and medium-skilled workers, and streamlining the application system. The tier 2 scheme would be extended to EU citizens, ending free movement.
The proposals put pressure on the government to U-turn on its controversial policy of reducing net migration to the UK to the “tens of thousands”.