HOTEL chain owner Stephen Leckie says the UK Government's new points-based immigration policy will cripple his business and large parts of the tourism and hospitality industry.

Leckie, who is the chairman of the Crieff Hydro family of hotels, told The National's sister paper The Herald that there had been “no consultation whatsoever” with business owners on the new plans, which will leave him struggling to fill jobs and could force him to close parts of his firm down.

He explained: “We are absolutely stunned by this. There has been no communication, no consultation. The approach from [Priti Patel] on automation, and just changing business models to fit, is staggering. It shows a complete lack of understanding on how some industries work.

“Care sectors, farming, hospitality and retail just don’t work that way and it is blissfully naive to suggest it would. I would like to say show me a robot which can make a smoked salmon sandwich, or a G&T. Hospitality and tourism is all about people, it can’t be automated.

“One in five people in the industry come from Europe, and in Crieff, in my business, it is 30 per cent. In the brasserie, which turns over £3m and has 40 staff, 100% come from outside the UK.

“It is also deeply offensive to say these people are unskilled. What is unskilled about any one of these jobs in our industry? They are throttling the goose which lays the golden egg.”

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Leckie, who is also chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, explained that Priti Patel’s suggestion that employers must simply change the way their business operates, or automate to ensure they can survive, is not manageable.

He also said it would cost his business £4m, and he would have to turn over an extra £8m, to provide the salary threshold of £25,600 the government say is needed to allow immigrants to work in the UK.

He said: “We would love to be more efficient, but it is simply not possible. If we were to increase our wages to the level of the minimum allowed for entry [£25,600], we would have to turn over £8m more just to stand still. We would love to do that, but it’s not possible.

“While we would love to only recruit local people, we cannot find enough people who will work weekends, bank holidays and evenings, in these skilled jobs such as housekeeping, food and beverage staff.”

If the policy stays as it is, according to the hotel chain owner, he may have to close down parts of the business as he will not be able to find enough workers.

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He explained: “We are in trouble. We have seven hotels, 1000 staff and we are aiming to turn over £35m next year. We pay our way with national insurance, pensions and tax, we pay staff £16m annually. If we cannot get the staff, we would have to close some elements of our business down. That starts the slippery slope – you make less money, you cannot then invest in the same way,  and it starts to have an impact on quality. All of a sudden, tourism in Scotland, which is regarded in the top 10, if not the top five, in the world, it drops off that as we can’t find the staff.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland said rural employers resented the suggestion that they were worried about losing access to cheap labour.

The problem was an existing shortage of labour in remote areas that the new system was likely to make far worse.

A recent FSB survey found 21% of UK employers had one EU migrant on the books, but this rose to 25% in Scotland and 41% in the Highlands and Islands.

The figures for the hospitality industry were higher still, while around a third of all island-based businesses reported they were short-staffed.

Emmanuel Moine, who came from France in 2004 to work in the hotel business and is now manager of Glen Mhor Hotel & Apartments and chairman of the Inverness Hotels Association, said the industry was already finding it hard to recruit.

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He said: “With all the new hotels opening in Inverness and throughout Scotland, increased competition for staff is increasing and we are really struggling to find the people we need. The EU has become ever more important to us as a source of staff as a result and, as with hotels in general, around 50% of the Glen Mhor’s workforce currently comes from there. We pay well, but 95% earn under £25,600 per annum.

“These new plans will make it almost impossible for us to recruit staff from abroad and they are a major threat to our industry. What impact will shortstaffed businesses have on service standards, customer satisfaction and on the image of the Highlands & Islands and Scotland as a holiday destination?”

German-born Dietrich Pannwitz, who studied forestry in Inverness and now owns forestry company Sylvestrus Ltd, said: “All forestry workers are skilled, and no matter where they come from, they are paid at least the minimum wage and often, as in Sylvestrus’ case, the living wage. We recruit from abroad because we have to. There is not enough interest from people in the UK.”