The labour and supply shortages set to come about because of Brexit are currently a “hidden problem,” but will inevitably impact hospitality businesses in months to come, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls OBE has warned.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Nicholls told host Peter Martin that as the UK Government and European Commission look to resolve their outstanding issues it will be a “bumpy few months,” but that many of the problems facing businesses have been temporarily offset by the heavily altered trading conditions caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Though the supply system isn’t currently under significant stress with hospitality demand at just 10% of normal levels, she said it “isn’t coping terribly well,” with export health certificates, border SPS checks and regularity checks more intrusive than originally expected.

As many of the easements put in place for the transition period come to an end from March to June, Nicholls warned operators that the sector would eventually see an impact on both food supply and price.

“It’s going to take longer to come through and it’s going to cost more,” she said. “Some of the distributors that we’re working with have said that the additional certification and checks for products, of animal origin in particular, are costing about £500 to £800 extra per restaurant drop in certification requirements, and that’s going to be passed down the chain.

“Government are working at pace to see if they can get some easements and are looking for some common-sense practical solutions to try and reduce the cost of the administrative burden.

“But, it is undoubtedly going to have an impact.”

Another issue Nicholls highlighted was the strain on workers, many of which may have returned to their families in Europe during the pandemic and are yet to come back to the UK.

“These issues will come down the track in maybe 12- or 18-months’ time, particularly around labour,” she said. “It’s a hidden problem at the moment because we simply don’t know how many of our workforce are going to return.”

Also at the event, Rare Restaurants CEO Martin Williams offered an alternative view for the labour outlook.

Given the number of crisis-caused closures across the sector, Williams said the concern about staff shortages because of Brexit is “becoming less of an issue,” but added that if nothing else, the crisis and the work of good employers could make the sector more attractive to British workers going forward.

“If it brings out better employers across our industry then that’s a good thing,” he said. “More people will be attracted to our industry; our training will be better and will be able to develop people within the industry.

“I was very pro-Europe, but if we can get British people excited to join hospitality and capitalise on all the good work from employers over the last year, staff-shortages will be less of an issue.”