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New hospitality group set up in Aberdeen to create coronavirus action plan

Aberdeen's Soul Bar.
Aberdeen's Soul Bar.

Pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels are joining forces in the city to learn lessons from the recent upsurge in cases and local lockdown.

A new forum for hospitality businesses has been created in Aberdeen to create an action plan that will help safeguard against the further spread of coronavirus.

It comes as the city awaits an update, expected tomorrow, from the first minister on whether local lockdown restrictions imposed two weeks ago following a surge in cases linked to pubs, will remain for a third week.

The new Aberdeen Hospitality Together group has been set up primarily to give businesses “a unified voice” as they look to implement new procedures in the hope of avoiding further shutdowns of cafes, bars and restaurants in the city.

Businesses involved in the group say they will work with local authorities to create an “assurance scheme, customer behaviour system and a city-wide app” to support the reopening of the sector.

A statement from the new group added they would “work together to share best practice and pledge commitment to the protection of the industry to make a major long-lasting positive change”.

As well as agreeing operational practices, the group also vowed to look at measures around customer behaviours following criticism over a lack of social distancing and management of queues outside bars.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce tomorrow whether the local lockdown will be extended.

The first minister today said case numbers were falling in the Grampian region with 220 cases now linked to the outbreak in Aberdeen and 1,125 close contacts identified.

The latest figures also show that a total of 386 new cases have been identified in Grampian since the July 26.

Tomorrow, the first minister is expected to give the weekly review on lockdown restrictions in Aberdeen and warned although the number of new cases in the area are declining, the numbers are “still higher than other parts of the country”.

She added: “Aberdeen, and the Grampian area more generally, is responsible for a very significant portion of all new cases we have seen in recent weeks.

“Ten days ago we reported 39 new cases in one day. Today, we’re reporting seven. And the seven-day average for cases has also fallen.

“That suggests that the restrictions we put in two weeks ago are having an impact as well as out health protection teams.”

The first action point of the new hospitality group, which has already recruited 100 premises, will be to produce a “10-step assurance scheme that all venues will pledge to follow in order to instil customer confidence and lead the way in creating a safe environment in Aberdeen”.

Queues outside Soul Bar, Aberdeen.

Earlier today one pub in the city centre which came in for criticism over a lack of social distancing, released a statement saying there were important lessons to learn.

A spokesperson for Soul Bar in Aberdeen city centre said: “The biggest lessons of all are drawn from the procedures that led to a breakdown in social distancing during our busiest times. We acknowledge that we underestimated how much of a challenge this would be, and for that we are truly sorry.

“As social distancing is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, getting it right will be crucial to the recovery of Aberdeen’s local trade. As a popular city centre venue, we recognise our responsibility to staff and customers, but equally to other businesses which are such an important part of the city’s culture and economy.

“For that reason, if the first minister announces that venues can reopen later this week, you won’t see us rushing to open the doors.”

Stuart McPhee, director of Siberia Bar & Hotel and a committee member on the newly-created group for hospitality firms in the city, said it was determined to find a way forward.

He said: “The hospitality industry in the city directly employs around 14,000 people and that does not involve anyone in the supply chain or contractors beyond. Although this group has been formed out of a negative situation, we are determined to use this to create a route forward for the thousands of hospitality settings across the city, enforcing a regime of positive representation.

“The second lockdown has prompted premises in the city to take action and create a positive unified voice that we feel was missing. Our first priority is the safety aspect in relation to COVID-19 guidelines so we can ensure all venues in the city are compliant and secondly, working on rebuilding customer confidence. This has led to the creation of our new assurance scheme that all venues will adhere to but we also have plans in motion for a new customer behaviour system unique to Aberdeen and a city-wide app which will help to strengthen safety procedures. These steps will help to ensure that operators are ready to open but we need this to happen as soon as possible to ensure the sector survives.”

Councillor Marie Boulton said: “I am really encouraged at the swift action taken by the hospitality sector in Aberdeen in coming together with one voice and one mission, which is to restores Aberdeen’s reputation as a safe, welcoming city.

“The trade have come together following a summit which we held last week after the announcement of a second lockdown by the first minister on the 5th August. The sector has a number of other businesses dependent on it, from food suppliers to taxis drivers to the shops in the city centre.  We can come out of lockdown stronger and wiser if we do it together, the premises, their patrons and the public sector. Aberdeen can create the template for other cities to follow.”

All hospitality businesses in the area are being invited to support the new group.

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