Scottish hospitality had 'worst December in living memory' amid business support funding row

Representatives of Scotland’s hospitality industry have said takings in December were the worst “in living memory” and the start to 2021 has been the “worst start to the year ever”.

The December period saw losses for hospitality businesses in Scotland
The December period saw losses for hospitality businesses in Scotland

The Scottish Hospitality Group, which represents several high profile businesses including Signature Pubs and the G1 Group, also complained that promised financial support is yet to be paid out to businesses.

Figures from the group claim the businesses took in just 20 per cent in December compared to an average year leading to an average loss of £12,000 per week, per premises.

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December is traditionally the busiest time of the year for restaurants, bars and pubs but with continued restrictions before Christmas many businesses were forced to stay closed.

On average, the group claim businesses spent nearly £6,000 per week on fixed costs such as rents and in furlough scheme contributions.

Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the group, complained elected politicians have spent the new year “squabbling” rather than ensuring much-needed financial support is provided.

He said: “Without Christmas, when we earn around 30% of our entire annual income, most hospitality businesses just aren’t viable. We’ve had the worst December’s trading in living memory and we’re facing the worst start to a year ever.

"Instead of helping, our political leaders are squabbling with each other. It’s like arguing about who throws the lifebelt when someone’s already under water.

“The continued furlough scheme is welcome but it’s there to protect jobs rather than businesses, and we still have to pay all sorts of fixed costs.

"Even those businesses that survive will seriously struggle to recover this year. Not only is the support completely inadequate, in many cases what little is available hasn’t appeared months after it was promised.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said it was “surprising and disappointing” to hear click and collect services could shut.

He said: “It’s surprising and disappointing to hear that food-to-go takeaway and click and collect services are being cited as examples of further commercial activity that could be forcibly shut.

"These businesses have complied with every step of government guidance and put in place mitigations to keep workers and customers safe. We haven’t been provided with any evidence as to why this is being considered.

"It’s barely three days since the publication of official guidance stating explicitly these services can continue to trade, which makes it doubly frustrating that there is yet more talk of chopping and changing the Covid framework.”

The Scottish and UK Governments were embroiled in a war of words this week around £375m of funding that the SNP claimed was not ‘new money’, while the Scottish Conservatives claimed £185m of funding announced in December was yet to be made available to businesses.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the pressure on the sector.

"December was a horrendous month for hospitality, much of last year has been horrendous for hospitality, I think that is probably true of many other sectors and the population at large but hospitality has absolutely been at the sharp end.

"I always want to see things happen more quickly and I want to see the substantial amounts of money that we are rightly making available to businesses get to those businesses as soon as possible.

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