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It’s a problem the butler of “Downton Abbeycould have sympathized with.
Highclere Castle in southern England, where the early 20th century drama about the lives of aristocrats and their servants was filmed, is facing a severe staff shortage.
The reason is the lack of European Union workerswhich forced owner Fiona Carnarvon to mothball the castle’s core business of hosting larger weddings at the site of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning show.
“We have ceased to be able to offer weddings of substantial size because of Brexit,” said Carnarvon, a Countess who owns Highclere with her husband, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon.
“There are no staff,” she said, speaking from the morning room of the Victorian castle on a 5,000-acre estate.
It hosted around 25 weddings with over 100 guests per season. Weddings with around 20 guests are still possible, but are a much smaller part of a business which owners say can cost several thousand pounds a day.
Revenue from other parts of Highclere’s business such as its gift shop – the house is open to the public during the summer months – has also fallen, which Carnarvon says reflects not only Brexit but also the blow to the hospitality industry from Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis.
Its staffing challenges in particular illustrate the still-unfolding effects of Brexit on the UK labor market three years after the UK’s departure from the European Union, its biggest trading partner.
A vital workforce of European students attending university in Britain who were available to work during marriages is no longer available, Carnarvon said.
“When we go to our regular agencies and try to find people, they’re not there,” she said. “If we asked for 10, three could come…there’s no one we haven’t asked.”
The number of EU students admitted to UK universities has fallen by 50% in 2021 and applications by 40%, in part due to the uncertainty created by Brexit, the service said last year. UCAS university admission.
Since leaving the European Union, Britain has faced labor shortages at various stages in areas such as manufacturing, construction and logistics.
With Britain still showing higher employment rates and lower unemployment than most EU countries, business groups have pushed the government to ease post-Brexit immigration rules.
Britain has relaxed eligibility rules for work visas in a range of professions, but the list does not include the hospitality sector.
His support for Brexit Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also pushed back on calls by businesses to liberalize immigration to tackle labor shortages, saying the bloc’s withdrawal had helped loosen business regulations and ensure ‘proper control’ of the country’s borders .
Just outside Highclere Castle, in the park designed by 18th-century landscape architect Capability Brown, dozens of chairs and a few tables lie stacked unused.
They will also sit unused in the spring, as Highclere closed the afternoon teas it offered to the public, Carnarvon said, due to staff shortages.
Highclere’s gift shop also stopped shipping to EU countries – about a third of the shop’s overall business – due to increased courier costs and paperwork following the departure from the EU, Carnarvon said.
Other Highclere estate trades, such as the export of horse feed, have also plummeted due to high paperwork and legal costs, she added.
“We’re wrapped up in bureaucracy now in every element of our business,” she said.
Weighed down by falling revenues and rising costs amid double-digit inflation, Highclere expects to roughly break even this year, compared to profitable years before Brexit and the pandemic, said said Carnarvon. Weddings accounted for 40% of overall business at its peak.
In some ways, the fortunes of Highclere Castle mirror the cutbacks of “Downton Abbey”, which the series depicts as having lost a number of staff over the years, especially as the First World War depletes the influence of the English aristocracy.
But as marriages have dwindled, Carnarvon is optimistic about new sources of income, such as 35 pounds ($42) a bottle of gin, which she says is gaining traction in the United States.
“It’s starting, it’s nascent, but it’s a business that, using our brand, can generate revenue to hopefully support us in the future,” she said.