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  1. ITV Report

Brexit Begins: How Cumbria relies on EU immigration

Cragwood Country House Hotel near Windermere. Credit: ITV Border

There are thousands of people from EU countries working in Cumbria, and many of them are employed in the county's 61,000-strong tourism workforce.

10,000
EU workers in Cumbria
20%
Of jobs in Cumbria are in tourism industry
61,013
People work in tourism in Cumbria

The national picture bears similarities: around a quarter of all those working in tourism in the UK are from overseas.

So what will triggering article 50 mean for businesses here?

One of the key issues is whether the UK will still be involved in one of the four main freedoms of the EU - the free movement of workers.

At the moment almost anyone in the EU is free to come and work in the UK, and anyone in the UK is free to go and work in the EU.

That makes it relatively easy for tourism bosses to recruit from EU countries.

Many say they rely on being able to do that because Cumbria's rural and ageing population means they struggle to find staff who were born in the county.

The EU nationals that come into our area work incredibly hard, bring an incredible work ethic and do a great job so it's not a case of coming in here and taking our jobs, we heavily rely on them for our industry.

– Joe Cobb, Vice Chairman, Lake District Hotel Association
Ana Scaletca. Credit: ITV Border

What of the EU workers themselves?

Ana Scaletca wanted to improve her English, so she quit her job in television in Moldova to work at the Damson Dene Hotel near Kendal.

A few months later the UK voted to leave the EU.

That left her worried about whether she'd need to return so soon, but she hopes the UK's Brexit deal will mean her, and the many other EU workers at the hotel, will be able to stay.

She's also hopeful there will be free movement of people, so her friends and family can still visit easily.

I would like to invite my family and my friends here, to show them England doesn't just mean London - it's more beautiful things, more beautiful places. And in this way I think it will be more difficult.

– Ana Scaletca
Cragwood Country House Hotel near Windermere. Credit: ITV Border

At the Cragwood Country House Hotel near Windermere half the staff are from the EU, so they are also hoping there will be free movement of people.

But even if the UK keeps this, they fear another threat from Brexit: it's effect on the value of the pound.

If the pound drops in value, workers who come for a few years to pay off student debts or save some money might not want to work there anymore.

Most of them come and want to stay for a couple of years, or 4 or 5 years, and the pound dropping down because of the Brexit situation wouldn't help them, so they could decide to go back home and find jobs there.

– Albert Waldom, Cragwood Hotel Manager
Could Brexit see more overseas visitors? Credit: ITV Border

Won't the weaker pound boost visitor numbers?

But the value of the pound can also affect how many visitors come here, which is good for tourism.

Many businesses have reported good takings since the referendum result was announced and the value of sterling dropped, with more overseas visitors.

So we're starting to attract more Chinese people, we're starting to attract more people from the United States and so on, simply because of the value of the pound.

On the flip side we're starting to pay more for necessities and so on so we're having to charge our guests more.

– Joe Cobb, Vice Chairman, Lake District Hotel Association

The Damson Dene Hotel's management are more positive about Brexit.

I think you have to remember that some years ago we were able to recruit worldwide so we had staff from Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa...we haven't been able to do that.

So for us it's excellent, it is only a positive thing.

– Catherine Hampson-Wood, PA to Managing Director of South Lakes Hotels

But the current staff, and other EU workers across Cumbria, feel their future is now in limbo for two years, until the terms of Brexit are decided.

I haven't decided how long I would like to stay here, I guess we will see. As long as I feel welcome and I would like to stay here. I'd like to think that it will be my decision to go home when I do decide to go.

– Anna Szerpi, Receptionist from Hungary, Damson Dene Hotel

That decision might not be hers to make... and it may be some time before she knows the answer.

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