INCREASING numbers of Dorset and Hampshire businesses are looking towards eastern Europe to beat skills shortages.

Winton-based specialist dry cleaning/laundry firm the Barker Group has taken on "a significant number" of Polish workers to meet demand as it expands across the South.

"Without the European workers that we currently employ we would not have had the confidence to grow the business as much as we have done in the past year," said MD Matthew Barker, the third generation to own the family firm.

"As employees, generally the Polish are exceptionally dedicated workers with a strong work-ethic and high standards.

"They have proved themselves to be inspirational to other employees and have, without doubt, contributed to the raising of standards within the company," Mr Barker added.

"Sourcing a small part of our workforce from abroad has provided the company with a more efficient and dedicated team of skilled workers, which perfectly complements the established team.

"We are pleased to have acquired a workforce which takes pride in its work, and has responded positively to increased workloads."

Bournemouth's Marsham Court Hotel managing director Jennie Deavin said: "We have some eastern European staff here and the major change we have noticed is that the jobs market for unskilled workers has eased.

"Part of the problem is that unemployed people in England can get so much money on the dole that it is not worth them working for the minimum wage rate unless they can get full time work.

"I think it is possible that some British people are doing enough official work to get National Insurance paid and then doing 'top-up' jobs for cash in hand."

Two eastern European members of staff had been recommended by Canon Richardson at St Peter's Church.

"He told me that they had paid an agent in Poland who was arranging some training for which they had to pay and then providing them with work.

"They did the training and paid for it but the work did not materialise. They were desperate to earn some money.

"I think there are some unscrupulous people taking advantage of the situation, but that is almost bound to happen."

First published: August 23