With a 10pm curfew coming into place from Friday, local businesses share what it means for them, and their fears that this will only lead to a rise in the number of illegal house parties.
After the once unthinkable happened in March, when hospitality businesses across Scotland and the rest of the UK were ordered to shut their doors completely, it seemed things could only get better when they were finally allowed to reopen in July.
The Eat Out to Help Out scheme launched by the UK government to encourage people back in to local restaurants, cafes and bars, brought a boost to some but not all in August. With a local lockdown coming into force in Aberdeen in the second week of the initiative, businesses in the city further lost out.
The need for one-metre social distancing and table-only service has reduced capacity in venues, and for most it has not been an easy road.
City centre businesses in particular have been adversely affected by continued absence of office workers – now, with working from home being encouraged for up to another six months, there is little hope of those regular customers returning any time soon.
Today the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced Scotland would be moving in line with England by introducing a 10pm curfew in bars and restaurants from Friday, in an effort to prevent a further surge in coronavirus cases.
Nationwide additional restrictions will also be put in place in homes, with household gatherings no longer permitted anywhere in Scotland. In bars and restaurants up to six people can meet from up to two households, under the recently announced ‘rule of six’.
But further restrictions on how we socialise mean further losses for hospitality businesses. In response, The Scottish Tourism Alliance has called for the government furlough scheme to be extended beyond October, and for the temporary reduced VAT rate of 5% for hospitality businesses to be continued not just into next year but ‘for the long term’.
Yesterday, Aberdeen Hospitality Together spokesman Stuart McPhee voiced his concern that many north-east firms would find it “very difficult to weather” new restrictions.
Adrian Gomes, owner of Aberdeen cocktail bar The Tippling House says the new restrictions will definitely affect his business, not just from a revenue perspective, but for his staff, too.
He said: “I’ve had a few days to get used to the idea of the 10pm curfew. We’re a night cap bar and a lot of our trade comes at the end of the night after 10pm and 11pm. It’s tough. It definitely means we’ll be working around reduced hours and reduced days.
“We recently launched our outdoor area but now they are looking for building warrants from October 1. By the time you go through architect fees, building warrants, how much is that going to cost? We’ve already shelled out on the barriers, gazebos, licenses and more. Do we really want to be paying more if trade will completely die off at the weekend?
“We’ve taken some people on since reopening and they won’t be eligible for furlough. Security for example; we have a doorman who works after 10pm, he re-joined us after reopening.”
Certain the restrictions will remain until February or March next year, Adrian is unsure what is best to do for his business – stay open on the quieter months, or to close the doors completely during them.
“I think we’re looking at these restrictions being in place well over the festive period and further. This 10pm restriction won’t go away in October or November. I think that’s us until February/March. We need to figure out if it’s worth opening in January and what kind of support will be available.
“They should extend furlough. The First Minister can’t do that without the UK government’s backing, so we’re reliant on that.
“Confidence has been shaken and to be honest, the city centre is a total mess right now. There’s cones and lines everywhere and it’s not an attractive place to be.
“The six people, two household limit has been kept which could have been really bad for bars if they had changed that. Most places have been enforcing the wearing of masks and that sort of thing already, and doing so really well.”
And while bars and restaurants will shut at curfew, Adrian is adamant that house parties and gatherings at homes will quickly become major issues.
“At 10pm every bar is going to empty and they are going to find the nearest house party to go to. Everyone seems to think this, but you’d think the Scottish government would have thought about this too? Bars and restaurants would be much safer. By midnight or 1am people are ready to go home, at 10pm on a Saturday they aren’t.
“Now we’re contributing to furlough, we’re not in the same position as we were when the first lockdown was put in place. We’re already working on reduced revenue and then that will be on reduced, reduced revenue.”
Steven Bothwell who owns Cafe 52 on The Green in Aberdeen and has run his own restaurant for 25 years echoed Adrian’s comments and also believes more house parties will take place.
Reopening just two weeks ago for the first time since the initial lockdown, Steve says that the restrictions coming into place contradict other measures the country doesn’t seem to have addressed as strictly.
He said: “The First Minister made a comment about going on holiday by plane and restricting travel. What I don’t understand is how hundreds of people from all over the world can sit on a plane together, having food and drinks, using the same facilities and not really having to quarantine – or for that to be policed properly, then how can restaurants not have guests who are socially distanced after 10pm? It makes no sense.
“We can’t welcome more than two households and six people at any one time, but yet people can go on holiday and not quarantine and get in taxis, go on public transport and that sort of thing.
“All of the restrictions she has put in place, the majority of bars and restaurants have continued to adhere to. Our last bookings will be brought forward earlier. The British and Scots always want to have another drink. They will come out earlier, drink quicker and drink more, and at 10pm everywhere will empty and there will be lots of people in the streets at the one time. People aren’t just going to go home, they will chance it and go back to their friends’ houses.”
With the government putting in place additional restrictions, Steve is concerned many businesses will continue to struggle to survive even further throughout the next few months with no additional funding or announcements on furlough being made.
He added: “If we keep going the way we’re going we’re going to see thousands of people across the country losing their jobs very quickly. I’ve had to look very closely at my staffing, thankfully I’ve not had to make anyone redundant, but I’ve had to use partial furlough for some staff.
“I’m in a fortunate position because I own my premises and have paid off my commercial mortgage, but I know thousands who will have landlords on their back for rent and electricity and gas companies looking for bills to be paid. It’s all these hidden overheads the public don’t see that they won’t have the money to pay for. Unemployment is going to go through the roof and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
“We’ve not performed any better than Sweden which has herd immunity in place instead of our lockdown. Sweden has had high numbers of deaths like we have, but they haven’t had to lockdown and the virus hasn’t screwed up their jobs or economy as much. There’s no restrictions really over there and everyone is being sensible without all these rules continuously chopping and changing.”
In Inverness, Don Lawson, owner of Johnny Foxes on Bank Street said he is very concerned over the impact of continued restrictions on hospitality businesses and wants to see the government’s furlough scheme extended.
He said: “Life just got a bit more difficult in the hospitality industry. What’s the difference between 10pm and 11pm? It’s a big difference to us, but does the bogeyman – that’s the virus – not come out until 10pm? That hour was an important part of our nighttime economy, especially at weekends.
“I’m very concerned and I have to say the Highlands is one of the safest places in the UK, you can only look at the cases, and arguably there is a regionalisation that could have been considered there but obviously we’re all in this together. It is what it is but I’m very concerned about the future of our industry.
“The furlough scheme has to be extended for the hospitality industry for it to survive. Six months has been spoken about and a lot of us won’t survive those six months.”
Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group, says that the curfew will have a massively detrimental effect on businesses, many of which are already struggling badly.
He said: “We are now staring into an abyss. A national curfew on Scotland’s bars, restaurants and late night venues will have a critical impact on those crucial later trading hours. Many of us are already trading at a loss and some members estimate that they will see their turnover plummet by more than 25% with the new measures.
“There is a real concern that the hospitality industry is being singled out for restrictions with very little evidence to support a link to coronavirus transmission. Across the SHG alone (which employs 6,000 staff) we have seen only a handful of positive cases since July.
“With 90,000 Scottish jobs at risk we are heading towards a cliff edge and time is running out. We have been speaking with government and that will be ongoing but there is only a matter of months before the restrictions on our industry will have irreparable long-term damage on our sector. We are very keen to play our part but there has to be a balance. Without meaningful financial support from government many businesses will not survive further than Christmas.
“With tighter restrictions even more will be plunged into the red and the consequences will range from redundancies as a minimum, to the closure of individual premises right through to insolvency.
“We have made significant investment to ensure that our premises are safely operating including enhanced hygiene measures and controlled physical distancing. We are already seeing an explosion of house parties and closing bars and restaurants at 10pm will only increase this.
“Responsible operators that offer a controlled environment are a key part of the solution. These restrictions will only force bad behaviour underground, where track and trace is almost impossible.”
And Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance said the survival of the hospitality industry depends on the extension of the furlough scheme and other financial support measures.
“Sadly, this is likely to be the last straw for many businesses which were only just managing to break even; the impact that this new rule will have on restaurants in particular in terms of restricting a second seating in the evening will result in a substantial loss of revenue, as indeed it will in other areas of hospitality.
“There will be only one way forward for Scotland’s tourism industry in light of today’s announcement; the immediate survival and future sustainability of the industry is now dependent on a tailored furlough package for the sector, a permanent reduction in VAT to 5% beyond 2021, a business rates holiday until the end of March 2022 for all tourism businesses and a recapitalisation of borrowing – a mechanism for creating business liquidity for businesses which are quite simply running out of cash.”
‘It must surely be safer to be in the controlled environment of our pubs’
Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said, with the industry having already spent an estimated £15million on training and social distancing measures, the curfew is a major blow.
“The recently introduced six-person two-household rule knocked customer confidence and the announcement today will only dent it further.
“The industry is struggling to survive and operators will question why further restrictions are being focused on our pubs, bars and restaurants. With only 4.6% of outbreaks in England related to hospitality venues and with one in 10 pubs in England already operating with some form of curfew, the ‘R’ rate is still increasing – many will fail to understand why these new restrictions for the industry are being introduced.
“The SLTA has asked the Scottish Government to provide information on the ‘R’ rate stemming from the Scottish pub, bar and restaurant sector.”
Mr Wilkinson continued: “The First Minister stated that a high proportion of transmissions and infections stem from household gatherings. The SLTA and industry recognises the need to support the Government and manage the risk of increasing infection rates, but we are concerned that the curtailing of opening hours of our pubs and bars will only lead to increased non-compliance in other areas such as households, an area which the First Minister identified as a key driver.
“It must surely be safer to be in the heavily regulated and controlled environment of our pubs, bars and restaurants.
“With these further restrictions coming into place, the UK and Scottish Governments must now act by providing a sector-specific comprehensive package of support for those most in need to ensure the survival of all sub-sectors of the licensed trade industry.”