I have stayed in a number of Premier Inns on holiday and the atmosphere has always been cheap and cheerful with an emphasis on a good night’s sleep and a good value breakfast.
That is until this year when my wife and I stayed at the Lauriston Place hotel in Edinburgh for the festival. Last year we stayed at its more centrally placed York Place hotel and found it efficient with obliging staff.
During the last 12 months what has changed? For a start there were fewer EU staff which suggests that the chain – in common with national figures released by the government – can no longer rely on people from Europe coming to work here.
Brexiteers- including Jacob Rees Mogg and Nigel Farage – say by halting low paid and unskilled immigration from the EU – British workers will benefit from higher wages and better conditions because firms will have to pay them more.
Well so far if the Premier Inn at Lauriston Place is any guide this ain’t happening. From talking to some of the staff instead Whitbread are using recruitment problems to make staff double up and do the work of two people or give people huge work schedules which they can’t possibly do in time.
And if that fails they are starting to withdraw services to customers. For three out of five nights we were there Premier Inn stopped offering to serve anyone who wanted to dine in their hotel restuarant if you wanted to walk in. Notices of apology – rather reminiscent of the privatised rail companies explaining poor services- were posted in lifts and at the front desk. One even included a reference to bad weather – it was raining outside.
And if you did dine there – by getting a rare booking – the menu appeared to be a wish list rather than an accurate description of what you could eat. The restuarant had run out of rib eyed steak and chocolate puddings – rather basic fare that should not be subject to food shortages in Edinburgh.
And the cleaning was also under pressure. On one rainy day the room was not cleaned until after 4.0 pm. I found the cleaner, a middle aged woman in, I guess, her 50s, exhausted pushing a cleaning trolley in the hotel corridor.
She had five floors of bedrooms to clean and her shift which was supposed to end at 1.0 pm had taken three hours longer because of the large number of rooms (well over 100) that had to be cleaned. We took pity on her and decided our room did not need a thorough clean that day.
As for a pay rises they were out of the question. Instead the company seems to be relying on higher turnover of staff as people leave rather than paying higher wages.
And wages are low -basically the national minimum wage of £7.83 an hour rather than the national living wage . The figures are here on this website.
Those with higher responsibilities -like being a chief chef – get on average another 82p an hour.
Compare that with the top management of owners Whitbread. The latest remuneration report of the company shows a different picture -rather similar to the widening gap shown between bosses and workers published this month.
Alison Brittan, the 53 year old ex banker chief executive of Whitbread, under an incentive package can get up to £3.4 million a year if she achieves her targets which include opening as many new Premier Inns as possible.
If she is a failure she still walks off with £1m a year – 20 per cent going into a pension so she’ll be able to retire in luxury at 60 if she wants to not caring a bit that her staff will have to work until they are 67. I suspect if any of her lowly paid staff failed, they are promptly sacked.
Two years ago her minimum salary was £775,000 – so she has enjoyed a minimum of £225,000 pay rise while most of Britain’s workers have been lucky to get a one per cent increase.
She claims in an article in the Daily Mail that she only ever stays in Premier Inns. If she does I bet her room is being cleaned while she has breakfast and if she dines there – she has a full choice.
I did put put questions to Premier Inn earlier this week about current wages, turnover of staff, and whether Brexit was making the recruitment of staff difficult but they could not be bothered to reply or acknowledge the request.
One thing is certain I won’t be staying in a Premier Inn when I go to the Lake District. Sorry Lenny.