Scots pub bosses hit out over 'no guarantee' on reopening

Pub and restaurant chiefs say they must not not be “left in limbo” over the latest Covid shutdown after being warned there is no guarantee they will reopen in a fortnight.

Sunday, 11th October 2020, 3:22 pm
The Piper Bar in Glasgow is boarded up last week
The Piper Bar in Glasgow is boarded up last week

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, said he is aware that the fresh restrictions were having a "serious effect" on businesses, but would not commit to their return in two weeks.

It met with an angry reaction from industry chiefs who warned that many establishments could now go to the wall.

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Hospitality chiefs in Scotland have warned that hundreds of businesses will go to the wall after it was announced that all pubs and restaurants in central Scotland must shut down for a fortnight starting last Friday evening. Elsewhere in the country pubs and restaurants can stay open - but must close at 6pm and have been banned from serving alcohol.

Asked if he could guarantee that pubs which have been closed across central Scotland could reopen in a fortnight, Mr Ewing told BBC Scotland's Politics Scotland he was "wary about guaranteeing things in politics."

He added: "I certainly can't guarantee that in this case.

"I'm acutely aware of the impact on business. That's why we have brought forward the package of (support) measures."

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, warned that businesses cannot be “kept in the dark” about potential changes.

“This second shutdown has caused significant economic loss to businesses, and an immeasurable amount of stress and worry for hospitality operators and staff,”

"We understand the tough position decision-makers are in, but the sector cannot just be left in limbo.

"The Scottish Government should be straight with industry and the public by publishing the parameters on which they would not allow the sector to reopen now. This would give an indicator as to the progress we’re making against the virus and would allow a limited degree of forward planning by business. The sector is determined to support the collective effort against this virus, but we can’t be kept in the dark until the last minute – it’s not fair to operators or the thousands of staff whose livelihoods are at stake.”

Scottish Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Liz Cameron, warned against any extension of the fortnight-long shutdown.

“Hospitality businesses in the central belt face collapse if these current restrictions are extended beyond the initial two week period,” he said.

“We understand that tackling the spread of COVID-19 must be a top priority for government, but return to trading is essential to prevent the economy unravelling. To do this we need to return to trading safely while the virus remains with us into the medium term. This requires governments use the data on how and where the virus is actually spreading as well as track and trace.

“Business-managed environments are largely safe and should be key to a healthy economic recovery. Grants and wage support schemes are welcome but will only take us so far.”

The latest restrictions came into force on Friday evening and last until October 25. They affect pubs and restaurants in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lothian, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran being. They can still serve takeaways.

Hospitality venues in the rest of Scotland are allowed to open, but are only permitted to serve non-alcoholic drinks and food indoors between 06:00 and 18:00. Licensed premises in these areas are still able to serve alcohol in outdoor areas, such as beer gardens until 10pm.

Asked about the prospect of future lockdowns further down the line, Mr Ewing added: "The First Minister has made it clear she really wishes to avoid further lockdowns, as does I believe, the leadership in other parts of the United Kingdom.

"That is absolutely the case."

He said that some hospitality firms have been able to "recoup something" from the Summer season after reopening on July 15, but admitted pubs and restaurants have been hit hard by the latest lockdown in the central belt."

"I'm acutely aware that the new restrictions are having serious effects for business and tourism," he added.

"I obviously as tourism minister spent a large part of my time speaking, listening to tourism business and I know that throughout this whole crisis tourism has been at the sharp end and many types of business - events, international, conference business, some coach tours, cruise liners."

But he insisted that the restrictions were "absolutely necessary" on the basis of medical advice.

He also said that ministers would continue to asses data to see if a “middle way” could be reached in future with measures to suppress the spread of the virus in pubs which avoid the need for a blanket closures.

Middle way: "From my experience the vast majority of hospitality premises have been well-managed and have spent a lot of money and time and effort and have scrupulously observed the Covid protocols and guidance to protect their staff and clientele.

"Therefore if it is the case that further evidence and analysis shows that that well managed hospitality setting for people getting together is conducive of less risk than for example, chaotic, unmanaged, late night drunken house parties, then I think that dialogue is something that the Scottish Government wants to pursue."

The closures have seen an angry backlash from the licenced trade which only reopened two months ago after a four month shutdown. Angry bar staff dumped vast swathes of ice outside the Scottish Parliament and in Glasgow’s George Square on Friday night after pubs closed at 10pm.

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