THE frustration felt by Sarah Heward, co-owner of The Real Food Café, after missing out on funding for a bold tourism and hospitality training scheme is understandable.

Having run the Tyndrum-based venture with husband Alan McColm for the best part of two decades, Ms Heward knows better than most the difficulties tourism businesses across the area have faced since Brexit, which ended the free movement of people between the UK and the European Union.

Ms Heward knows, too, that waiting around for the UK Government, which controls immigration policy, to provide any sort of solution to the challenge would be a fool’s errand.

Faced with a reluctance of UK ministers to acknowledge a problem that has become even more pronounced since the pandemic, Ms Heward took matters into her own hands.

With the support of tourism and hospitality figures, she devised a scheme that would boost the ability of businesses across the Stirling region to attract staff. The scheme would allow employers to highlight to prospective candidates the prospect of rewards and access to training to tempt them to take up jobs in the area and would be subsidised by levelling up cash to make it manageable for companies that continue to struggle in the face of the inflation crisis.

Unfortunately for Ms Heward, despite securing an initial tranche of funding, she has now been told that her application for cash to pilot the project has been declined.

That so many worthwhile projects across the Stirling region were competing for a limited amount funding is not lost on the operator. But her frustration that so little is being done to tackle a labour shortage that is threatening the viability of one of Scotland’s most economically important industries is easy to understand.

When a business is only able to secure 30 per cent of its workforce from its immediate surroundings, and hotels across the country are having to operate at greatly reduced capacity because of acute staff shortages, it is high time action is taken to ensure businesses are able to access the employees they need.